Dear Fellow South Dakota Democrats: This past Friday, I turned 58 years old.Â But it is was not only a birthday, it was also my 40th anniversary as a registered South Dakota Democrat.Â Fore, I vividly remember registering at the Minnehaha County Courthouse back on my eighteenth birthday in 1979, after a day of classes at the old Washington High School.Â Since that time much has happen to and with the South Dakota Democratic Party.Â In fact, we have all been through a lot as a political party.Â There have been victories and there have been many defeats, but in recent years we have drifted into a malaise, which cannot be corrected by staying the course, rather only remedied by taking on a new course and seeking new leadership, and in so doing, that is why I declare my candidacy today for the chairmanship of the South Dakota Democratic Party. I seek this challenge, because I have been a fighter all my life for the values, which the Democratic Party are and are suppose to be about.Â In my lifetime, I have been a student, even a student leader as a former Student Body President at a USD, a store clerk, a janitor, a member of a union, even at times a self-proclaimed and recognized â€union stewardâ€ in non union employment situations, a political activist, a banker, and an insurance agent. I have worn many hats, which prepared me for this position, and these experiences have further taught, or reassured me, that we as Democrats are right on the issues, but those issues cannot be heard nor implemented here in South Dakota if we continue the same course.â€¦ And as I think of the course we must take, I reflect upon the memories of my Democratic life, which stretch over fifty plus years, with some symbolic while others are of substance, which cause me to run today to help my political party to reach the stars of a greater hope.Â Fore, I remember attending a Democratic women’s coffee, that my mother hosted at our house in ’64, when I was 3, where one of the local Democratic women leaders gave me a LBJ/HHH button, which flashed, that I still have to this day.Â I shook RFK’s hand in ’68.Â I attended Democratic Forum for the first time in 1971 at age 10.Â I stuffed envelopes for McGovern in ’72. Â At age 12, I attended the Ward Clark dinner – a SDDP fundraiser – with fellow family members and with Senators McGovern, Abourezk, and Adlai Stevenson III in attendance. In the mid 1970s, I remember attending a premier showing of Â â€˜Give’em Hell, Harry!’ at the Western Mall theater in Sioux Falls, which was a Democratic fundraiser, with then Governor Kneip setting right behind me as we all laughed as Truman’s character in the film enlightened us all.Â And before much of this, I especially remember as a child working at the fair in Minnehaha County with my older sister, as passerbyers would ask us at the Democratic booth if it was pronounced, â€œNip or Nipe?â€Â With them thinking the â€œKâ€ was silent.Â Then later in life as a young adult, I volunteered and interned for then Rep. Tom Daschle in DC, was Student Body President and Young Democrats President at USD, and a delegate at a national political convention before my 20th birthday, where I heard in person one of the greatest political speeches of the 20th Century, when I and others were reminded that, â€œThe hope still lives and the dream shall never die.â€ Throughout my Democratic life, I have served many positions within the Democratic Party, too.Â Not only YD President at USD, but I have also been past treasurer and vice-chair of South Dakota Young Democrats, chairman of the Legislative District 12 Democrats, treasurer, vice-chair, and chair of the Minnehaha County Democratic Party, and a Democratic nominee for the State Senate in District 12, a delegate to five state Democratic conventions, and a course was a voting delegate as a part of the South Dakota Delegation to the 1980 Democratic National Conventionâ€¦..Â In fact, I served at that national convention some 40 years ago with Billie’s grandfather.Â He was a Carter delegate, while I was a Kennedy delegate. My personal electoral experiences have been very intriguing, too.Â Before receiving my BA in political science with minors in history, french, and economics from USD, along with a summer at Georgetown University studying comparative political and economic systems, and having been a Truman Scholarship nominee from South Dakota, I was elected Student Body President at USD, while also being President of Young Democrats on a northern plains campus in the age of Reagan; a time when College Republican could get hundred plus students to show up for a meeting to defeat McGovern, while Young Democrats were in the teens in attendance.Â And I accomplished those feats because I understood the math involved and my strategy overcame any issue of popularity; an understanding which then played a great part in allowing me as a 19 year old to be found standing on the floor of Madison Square Garden at the 1980 Democratic National Convention as well. Â When running for the state senate, I lost in ’92 by a 49 to 51 margin to a very popular Republican incumbent in a very Republican legislative district.Â And for what it is worth, I carried six of the eleven precincts in my district that year; and I often joked prior to the advent of Bush43 and Trump, that I actually won the electoral college in District 12 back in ’92, too.Â The last time I ran for the state senate in ’96, I was the only Democratic state senate candidate outside of the heavily dominant Democratic District of 15, in the city of Sioux Falls, to carry more than one precinct, when I stood for election that year.Â And the real reason I have had these proud feats is because I understand that it is more than message…. It is also the mathâ€¦..In fact, before taking early semi-retirement, I worked for a major retailer for almost 30 years, were I was a district â€˜All Star Salesperson’ for over 20 years and ranked nationally three times with a 2nd and two 1st place national placings in sales with my employer.Â And like my electoral feats, I understood it was the math and not just the art of the sale, which made we successful with my employer.Â And I believe, it is now that understanding which needs to be applied to our South Dakota Democratic Party…. Â And I also ask you to realize that throughout these electoral and employment feats and endeavors, I can proudly claim that I have been married for 31 years, and my wife, Beth, and I have two great children with Master’s degrees, straight teeth ;-), and now good paying jobs. Â But that is my story, but what is the story of the SDDP today?Â Well, it is a story of a political party that appears to be dependent upon a â€œRock Starâ€ strategy, where we throw anything at the wall hoping that something sticks.Â In this post McGovern era, our party has become overtime too sanitized, too stale, and too cautious as well.Â Realities that worked for a time, but whose self life has now been spent.Â Fore, it is time we recognized as Democrats that it is not really 2019, rather it is 1953, and we must begin again to rebuild the party.Â Because we have gone full circle as a political party and it is time we seized an opportunity to be proactive in our decision making and accept a frankness of where we really are right now as a political party….Else we will continue to dwell in a world of continual malaise. Â 2018 was a lost opportunity in my opinion, where we allowed image and an attempted message to ignore the need to understand the math involved in order to truly win elections.Â Our culture as a political party needs to change.Â We must recognize that if we do not understand the math involved in a political race, then we do not understand what we are really up against.Â Currently, we spend a third of our party budget on staff, but to what avail?Â Had it not been for the racist comment by a Republican Minnehaha County legislator and the efforts of the women’s organization LEAD in Minnehaha County, we would have actually lost seats in the state legislature this past election cycle – but a cycle we were told was a part of a â€œBlue Wave.â€
So it is time to ask, if we are better off than we were four years ago as a political party?Â I believe the answer is â€œNo.â€Â It’s â€œNo,â€ because our party no longer knows or cares to know how to win elections.Â Because elections cannot be won without an effect canvass/GOTV effort, whichÂ was definitely lacking in 2018.Â Nor can a Democratic Party win, if it tries to play the religion card, or does not trust a woman’s choice, or is willing to be an enabler to a culture that contributes to the deaths of many of our children while in schools throughout the land each year; with all of these latter comments illustrating an ill fated attempt to be what we are really not as a political party….and thus no wonder as to why we lost so greatly in 2018.
With 2018 as a missed opportunity, it is time to take advantage of 2020 and beyond, but to do that, we need a strategic plan that takes us through 2030 and here are my ideas: – Establish a more adequate messaging of what exactly our legislators are trying to accomplish in Pierre as a minority political party. – Recognize the importance of a full slate and that no Republican personality is too great to be challenged; i.e. Thune/2010 – Continue work to develop the vote on the reservations, but also attach that strategy to particular legislative districts – like District 15 – which are underperforming for us as a political party. – Develop a boot camp in addition to YELL on how to run elections with an emphasis on the art of canvassing/GOVT to create the next generation of young men and women party leaders in the tradition of Hildebrand, Jarding, Erpenbach, Hauffe, and Samuelson – and the boot camp should be named after the great South Dakota political strategist, Pete Stavrianos.
– Target races in a proactive manner and not rely merely upon a matching funds program.
– Re-establish a political culture in our party that recognizes that is takes more than message to win, noting that we also need to understand the math involved in order to win elections. – Develop a 2030 plan to return the Democratic Party to relevance over the next few years in preparation of the 75th anniversary of McGovern having taken over and organizing our political party – a plan that encompasses ending the Republican super majority in Pierre, regaining a majority on the PUC, and having at least one member of the South Dakota delegation in Washington as a Democrat.
– Develop a 2022 Plan, too, to deal with the pending reality of further Republican gerrymandering in this state and other factors which could uniquely make 2022 a challenging year for Democrats in South Dakota. – Hold state conventions where picking constitutional candidates is the last thing we do and not the first thing we do, so that democracy can breathe.
– Deputize a 100 Democrats throughout the state with a goal of registering 50,000 new Democrats in South Dakota by 2024.Â (That’s less than 9 per deputy per month.)
– Seek-out greater contributions from former affluent South Dakota Democrats who now reside outside of South Dakota – especially in D.C.
– Develop a true canvassing and GOTV program to assist statewide candidates, with local candidates then benefitting from this as well. – Keep offices in Rapid City and Sioux Falls with long term plans to add a permanent office in Aberdeen and satellite offices in Brookings, Vermillion, and Pierre during election years, and when the legislature is in session.
– I also agree with some of the ideas of the other candidates for State Chair as well, when they call for expanding relations and coordination with county parties, continuing to develop our use of social medias, and continuing the growth of Founders
Club and other potential fundraising programs.
As far as a running-mate for this chairmanship race, I will also add, that while others have chosen a running mate in hopes of winning, I am running so the Party will win again and my vice-Chair will be your pick – the State Central Committee’s -Â and not mine, because we must all work together to get the job done.Â Fore, it is time we became once again a political party and not just continue as a social club.Â And I am also not running as a part of a ticket, because I have a greater confidence in my beliefs than any need to be dependent upon an other’s personality, or status, to carry me. In conclusion, the struggle regardless of the outcome on March 23rd does not end there, it only begins a new chapter for us all.Â Because whoever is the new chairperson will need the support of us all.Â So let us make this a positive campaign from the start, knowing that whether you support my candidacy or not, we need a change; and I believe I am that change who also brings a strong understanding of the institutional history of our state political party and where we have been, and what we need to do to be more…..But If you like the status quo on the other hand, then don’t consider my candidacy or vote for me…. Â And as a fan of the late musician, Prince Rogers Nelson, I think it’s time that we turned something red into purple and will you join me in doing so?â€¦.
Thank you very much for your consideration and hopefully for your support,
Respectfully, John Kennedy Claussen, Sr.,
vice-Chair of the Minnehaha County Democratic Party
and Chairman of Legislative District 12 Democrats