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Former state Sen. Bill Napoli builds war chest, considers run for governor
Former state Sen. Bill Napoli, R-Rapid City, is now considering a run for governor in 2010. A polarizing and prominent figure in West River politics, the strongly conservative Napoli says that despite the fact that four Republicans have already filed to run for the office, "no conservative candidate" has come forward. (Journal file photo)

It's all about the money.

Former state Sen. Bill Napoli, a hip-shooting conservative Republican who often clashed with the leadership of his own party, said Tuesday that he is considering a run for governor in 2010.

But first, he wants to feel comfortable that he can raise the money - lots of it - he needs to compete.

"That (money) is the deciding factor. It would be a million-dollar race," Napoli said. "If a person could raise $250,000 to start, that person would be a very viable candidate. And that $250,000 would beget the next $250,000."

The antique-car specialist from Rapid City said the candidates in the governor's race so far are too liberal to fully represent the more conservative principles of the average South Dakotan.

"There's really no conservative candidate that's come forward," Napoli said. "I think the candidates are so liberal and so far out in left field, they aren't going to be able to relate to the people of South Dakota."

Napoli said he gets consistent encouragement from conservatives throughout the state to run for governor and so far, he has about $30,000 in pledges if he decides to run. But he also knows he would need a lot more that that to be a competitive in a Republican gubernatorial primary that already has four candidates, including Lt. Gov. Dennis Daugaard of Garretson and state Senate Republican leader Dave Knudson of Sioux Falls.

Napoli said he is talking with supporters and wants to decide soon whether to run. He believes he would benefit from the election of President Barack Obama because it would highlight the liberal philosophies in comparison with Napoli's conservative approach.

Outside of Sioux Falls and Rapid City, South Dakota is predominantly conservative, Napoli said. He added that there are "quite a few conservatives left in Rapid City" and "a few in Sioux Falls," along with the greater mass of conservatives in other towns and rural areas. They share fundamental conservative values, he said.

"I think they want less government. They want government out of their pocket and off their backs," Napoli said. "They want to raise their children and run their businesses in peace."

During his eight years in the state House and six in the Senate, Napoli made a name for himself as a blue-collar advocate who spoke his mind, sometimes in situations where it caused controversy. His comments on a controversial abortion put him briefly in the national news spotlight and drew hate mail and profane telephone calls from across the nation.

Napoli's fans consider him to be a straight-talking conservative who won't bend his principles. But others view him more harshly, something Napoli readily acknowledges.

"I'm known as a radical redneck. That I've got to deal with," he said.

Daugaard couldn't be reached Tuesday. Neither could Ken Knuppe, a Buffalo Gap rancher who announced his campaign for the GOP nomination during the Black Hills Stock Show. The fourth announced Republican so far, Brookings Mayor Scott Musterman, said he wasn't willing to concede conservative ground to Napoli.

"I have a track record as the mayor of Brookings as a fiscal conservative that is quite obvious," Munsterman said. "I'm pro-life and believe that less government is better if we can do a good job at it. I'm not sure what the litmus test is for conservatives these days."

Knudson said, despite their philosophical differences on many issues, he and Napoli "got along fine" when they were seatmates during Knudson's first session in the Senate.

"I told Napoli then that it wasn't true that we'd never vote alike, because it was going to be a long session, and one of us was bound to make a mistake," Knudson said.

Knudson said he didn't worry that Napoli's often-combative style would be a divisive force in the Republican primary.

"I think Bill would run a vigorous campaign. I certainly would welcome him to the race," Knudson said. "I think each of the candidates has a different approach."

Contact Kevin Woster at 394-8413 or

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