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Matt Michels Steps Back from Lt. Gov. Duties, Out of Gubernatorial Succession?

Matt Michels has asked to scale back his lieutenant governor duties to half-time for health reasons. No, he didn't catch mad cow disease from his pink-slime sandwich in South Sioux City. Michels tells Josh Verges he messed his back up during the Missouri River flood last year:

Michels said he developed muscular pain in his back last year while leading the state's efforts to combat flooding on the Missouri River.

"Everybody was running around, not getting much sleep," he said. "I haven't addressed it correctly, and it's aggravated by driving."

Although Michels lives with his wife in Yankton, he has been driving to and from Pierre for work each week throughout the year. Going forward, he'll work mostly from Yankton, communicating with the governor and staff by email.

He still plans to be in Pierre at least one week each month and he will continue to run the Senate when the Legislature is in session [Josh Verges, "Matt Michels Reduces Role as Lieutenant Governor," that Sioux Falls paper, 2012.04.18].

Reading the various signs and whispers about the South Dakota political cosmos, I've hypothesized the following order of succession ordained by the Daugaard ascension of 2010:

  1. Dennis Daugaard 2011-2018
  2. Matt Michels 2019-2026
  3. Dusty Johnson 2027-2034 (after returning from four terms in Congress)
  4. Tony Venhuizen 2035-2063 (declares self Governor for Life in 2041; deposed in coup led by underground network of SDSU alums and very large extended family from McCook County)

Shy of Dems finding the magic candidate who can crack the 40% ceiling, I might regard a 2019 Michels Administration with something less than dread, given his willingness to defend the idea that the government is us.

Now Michels appears to be stepping out of that order. Dusty Johnson is moving up, taking on Michels's duties running the Bureau of Personnel and the state employee health plan. How many other young eager Republicans are imagining their point of entry moving eight years sooner on that hierarchy? Jon Hansen 2034?

I do not begrudge Lt. Gov. Michels his choice. I hope spending more time back on home ground and less time in the car does his back some good. But I do wonder: does Michels's return to Yankton precurse a full return to the private sector in 2014?


  1. mike 2012.04.19

    Unfortunately for Dusty he won't ever be Governor. I'm not even convinced Matt Michels will be. Daugaard is only the second LG ever elected to serve as Governor in our states history (I think).

    My money would be on Marty Jackley in 2018 but I would hate to choose between him and Michels.

  2. Rachel 2012.04.19

    Yeah, this is the guy who, surrounded by feminists on Women for Women Day in Pierre, made inappropriate admiring noises when Billy Sutton's wife was introduced in the gallery (you know, something gross like - geez, Billy, I can see why you've kept her hidden away! Heh, heh!). Guess what, Matt! She's smart, too!

    SO glad he'll still be running the Senate.

  3. Rorschach 2012.04.19

    Lt. Governors elected governor:

    Charles Herreid - 1900
    Peter Norbeck - 1916
    William McMaster - 1920
    Carl Gunderson - 1924
    Nils Boe - 1964
    Dennis Daugaard - 2010

  4. mike 2012.04.19

    Oops. 2nd since 1964. That doesn't make it likely especially since I doubt whomever runs in 2018 will get a free pass against Knudson, Munsterman and Howie.

  5. Troy Jones 2012.04.19

    Here is my thought:

    1) It has zero impact on succession whether he is full-time or part-time. If he remained full-time, I don't think it would discourage someone else (ala Jackley/Dusty/Schoenbeck/Rounds/young Mickelson who is running for the Legislature this year as his dad opposed Lowell Hansen/Other (ala Noem wasn't even in the legislature 7 years before she ran for Congress) from opposing him in the primary. And, being part-time doesn't decrease his liklihood for being the inevitable as Dauguard proved to be (after running an effective primary).

    2) His decision to go part-time gives us no indication of where he will be in 7 years with regard to wanting to be Governor. I can't imagine a Lt. Governor even having an inkling what one might do so far out.

    3) I don't think, if this is your implication, the move indicates either a move by the Governor to affect his succession (I can't imagine him even contemplating it) or a power play by Dusty to change the calculus. Matt just decided this was best for him today (health & family).

    4) Does Dusty/Jackley/Michels/Other run for Congress if Noem runs for the Senate?

    5) Circumstances can change. Today is the 19 year anniversary of the plane crash. Before it happened, you had Mickelson wondering what his future was, if any. Run against Pressler? Does Johnson never become Senator? Does Thune (or Herseth or Janklow) ever become Congressman? Do a Janklow and come back and Rounds (or Dauguard) ever become Governor? Rolly Dolly was on the plane and was contemplating a run for Governor. If Janklow ran again does he try to be LG or wait 8 years. No plane crash and Kirby doesn't become Governor. Does he not run against the inevitable Mark Barnett and not create an opportunity for Rounds? My point is only politics is a dynamic field that the unknown and unexpected can have huge consequences.

    Bottom line: Any politician (or potential) who is thinking beyond the next election (not even their election ala Michels) is a fool. They can only control what THEY are doing today to make the lives of SDakotans better which in the end is the best politics opening up the future doors.

  6. larry kurtz 2012.04.19

    Good eye, Troy: exactly why John Thune should be you guys' veep candidate. He doesn't have to leave the Senate and since a Romney/Thune ticket will down in flames, Mitt will take the hit and don Juan can run at the top of the pack in 2016.

  7. Rorschach 2012.04.19

    Troy is absolutely correct on this one. It's impossible to predict the players in a governor's race 6 years out, and Michels's decision to go part time has no effect on anything. That said, I would expect a lively GOP primary for governor in 2018. When will the Dems break the GOP lock on the governorship? Only time will tell.

    Thanks Cory for giving us something frivolously interesting to discuss. Keep it coming.

  8. Troy Jones 2012.04.19


    Can't believe I left that one out (except I'm confident Romney will win).

    But, you and I will definitely not know who is right until November.

  9. Rorschach 2012.04.19

    Romney's more likely to win than to go hunting without a camera nearby.

  10. Jana 2012.04.19

    Just another theory, but the Governor has surrounded himself with young idealogues that dictate his governance and Matt might not be particularly comfortable with that.

    Just a thought.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.04.19

    No implication of power play, Troy... but taking on more responsibilities within the government puts any person in a better position to run for office later, doesn't it? More contacts, more operational knowledge....

    Jana: intriguing!

  12. Robert J. Cordts 2012.04.19

    According to Troy Jones the Republicans are fools for looking ahead to the next election. Why did Governor Daugaard and the Republican dominated legislature upgrade the lieutenant governor position from a part-time position to a full-time position if they weren't planning ahead by using the lieutenant governor position as an internship for governor. Either we need a full-time lieutenant governor or we don't. Matt Michaels' back condition shouldn't factor into whether or not the position is full-time or not. I suspect that there is more to this job downgrade than back problems. Then again, maybe our executive branch is too spineless to admit their real intentions and motivations.

  13. larry kurtz 2012.04.19

    Okay, Troy: Romney/Thune wins in a landslide (sorry, mom). Who does DD annoint appoint to finish the term?

  14. LK 2012.04.19

    I wish had Troy's rose colored glasses along with a Diet Dew glass that was always half-full, but something about this story and the way it's being reported and spun doesn't pass the smell test.

    Maybe I've watched too many college and pro football coaches quit "in order to spend more time with the family" and then get another job in 6 months or so.

    The cynic in me makes me wonder if the pain in Michels's back isn't coming from the metaphorical knife. I'll agree that politicians should "make the lives of SDakotans better," but I'm not willing to concede that many don't view gaining political office and power and end unto itself.

  15. Kevin 2012.04.19

    Doesn't anyone else think it sucks that this guy gets paid $60,000 for working one week a month? Didn't DD make $20,000 a year? So much for being fiscally conservative.

  16. Jana 2012.04.19

    The video of the young ideologues celebrating the passage of HB1234 spoke volumes as to who was running the Governors office.

    Their sense of triumph, that only was a fraction less than winning the Final Four, was telling. That doesn't happen for just any bill.

    They had no compelling proof that their ALEC inspired legislation had efficacy, they just knew they wanted to win, no matter what.

    For these kids it's a game. They have had their whole formative years defined by the likes of Rove and Atwater. They were just barely out of diapers or grade school when Governor Michelson died.

    Ideologues are dangerous. Just wondering when the adults will go back to governing.

  17. John 2012.04.19

    You all forgot that Matt is still on the Avera payroll.

  18. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.04.19

    Good point from Robert: if the decision to make the position full-time was strictly policy-based, we wouldn't be downgrading it for fully personal reasons; wouldn't we be replacing Michels with someone willing/able to do the full job?

    Jana and LK: what evidence might we find in Michels's past votes, statements, etc. that would suggest he would be so uncomfortable among ideologues that he would step away from an expanded position of power? A Facebook friend mentions that Michels played a big role in writing past anti-abortion legislation; wouldn't that suggest he'd fit in with ideologues? Or is that a different flavor of ideology from the young guns in the current inner circle?

  19. Troy Jones 2012.04.19

    Sheesh. You guys are hilarious.

  20. Jana 2012.04.19

    Like I said, just a thought. Wonder how Stace, Ellis, Howie would rank his past votes as a 'true' conservative.

  21. LK 2012.04.19


    Just to let you know, I'm not the only one who sees the "spend more time with family" phrase cynically.

    A Washington Post blog had a similar reaction in January:

    "Cue the knowing smirks.

    "With the resignation of Bill Daley, who reportedly wasn’t working out all that well as White House chief of staff, we have once again been handed the cliched spend-more-time-with-his-family rationale.

    "Not three weeks ago, Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson — who was facing a difficult re-election battle — said the same thing.

    "When did this start? As best I can tell, it goes at least as far back as Watergate, when John Mitchell used it as his reason for resigning from the Committee to Re-elect the President. And we all know how that one ended up…

    "In all the years I’ve been in Washington, the only person I can remember sounding even remotely credible saying that was George W. Bush adviser Karen Hughes."

  22. Troy Jones 2012.04.20


    You made my point. Because family reasons is so often used as a deception, Matt felt a need to put more detail so people didn't think he had had an affair or had cancer.

    But the real point I am learning is for most of you, anything said by a Republican is to not be trusted. Well, I learned a long time ago people who think others are always lying are the liars.

  23. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.04.20

    Oh good grief: now we're all liars for wondering if the use of a standard catch phrase might hint at some unstated motivations? I'm willing to entertain a logical exploration of the possibility that there could be other reasons for Michels's choice and the scale-down of the position than the publicly stated reason. I won't buy them until I see more evidence, but neither I nor the hypothesizers are liars for considering such possibilities.

    But the above commenters have gotten me more interested in the policy question: if a full-time L.G. was good policy last year, why is it no longer good policy this year?

  24. Dave 2012.04.20

    In South Dakota, if you're lieutenant governor, your main job is to sort of hang around just in case something happens to the governor. And serve as president of the Senate when the Legislature is in session, and, well, basically run errands for the governor.That's pretty much all that Daugaard did while Rounds was governor.

    All but five states have a person with the title of lieutenant governor, but in most, he or she has something else, by law, to do while waiting. According to Julia Hurst, executive director of the National Lieutenant Governors Association, there are about six lieutenant governors who are directors of homeland security, and about eight who are designated to run or work in their state’s economic development division.

    In Indiana, the lieutenant governor, currently Becky Skillman, has multiple roles set out by law, including head of the State Department of Agriculture, the Office of Community and Rural Affairs, the Office of Energy Development, the Office of Defense Development, the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, and the Office of Tourism Development. The lieutenant governor also serves as the president of the Indiana Senate. In two states, the Senate president has the title and succession responsibility of lieutenant governor.

    States that lack a lieutenant governor still have a succession plan, and the 20 gubernatorial successions nationwide in the past decade haven’t created any major problems, whether or not the successor was a “lieutenant governor.” Voters might dislike the person who takes the governor’s seat, but at the end of the day, there is someone sitting in it, and that is the point of succession.

    It's time for South Dakota to begin thinking about changing the state constitution to either eliminate the office of lieutenant governor or at least make it a “real” job. Heaven knows that in this budget year alone, far more important things have been cut by the legislature and the governor.

    Being lieutenant governor in South Dakota means riding the rubber chicken circuit and serving on a few committees. In this time of fiscal constraint, the person who legally succeeds the governor should actually hold a real job in state government, and do work that actually needs to be done.

  25. LK 2012.04.20


    Whether you believe me or not, I believe that all politicians, Democrat and Republican, have the "lean and hungry look" that Shakespeare's Julius Caesar attributed to Cassius. Further, I agree with Caesar that "such men are dangerous."

    I'm more likely to trust Michels than most, which is why I think that some long knives got planted in his back.

  26. Bill Fleming 2012.04.20

    LOL. Troy feeds us a classic Bertrand Russell paradox disguised as a truism. ("All statements are false, including this one.")

    Another variation of it is:

    Q. How can you tell if a ............... (fill in the blank with the category of person you want to diss) is lying?

    A. Their lips are moving.

    Good one TJ. You are one clever devil ;^)

  27. Robert J. Cordts 2012.04.20

    I just think members of the Daugaard administration are liars. Daugaard was wearing an Army uniform (BDU) the other day in Afghanistan while doing a television interview. I realize that he is commander-in-chief of the SD National Guard but I think it is a stretch for him to wear the uniform of the armed forces. Wearing leather and chaps to promote the Sturgis rally is one thing but putting on the uniform of the armed services is another. Has he ever served in the military? I have not found any information indicating that he has. Daugaard is either pretentious or deceitful - I don't know which is worse.

  28. LK 2012.04.20

    "No one in this world, so far as I know—and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me—has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby."

  29. LK 2012.04.20

    I should have added that Betrand Russell deserves to be accompanied by H.L. Menken.

    Just hit post too soon

  30. Troy Jones 2012.04.20


    FYI: High value targets (Senators, Governors, etc.) who go into hostile territory are often advised/required to wear BDU's for security reasons. My memory is a bit fuzzy as it was 30 years ago. But I remember a picture of a Senator or Congressman (guessing maybe Bill Bradley or I think his name was McMillan who was also a former NBA player) who went to Lebanon/Israel during that conflict and he was wearing BDU's (looked like capris) and dress shoes because they didn't have pants and boots that fit him. It was hilarious looking but the purpose was security.

    Don't know if that played a part in the Governor's attire as I don't know what threats the Governor was under but it wouldn't surprise me.


    I hear you. I give you something to think about. If the first and foremost criteria for a Lt. Governor is to be capable in the event of a tragedy, do we really want to put required responsibilities (ala running a department) which might result in LG selection criteria superceding the successor in the event of a tragedy. Whether it be Joe Biden or Matt Michels, I am hesitant without a lot of thought and consideration to a change.

  31. Robert J. Cordts 2012.04.20

    He was indoors and out of harms way when he made his public statements for the television cameras. Those circumstances are different than the ones you described.

  32. Troy Jones 2012.04.20

    Robert, but we don't know where he had just been or was going.

    From my perspective, if any Republican or Democrat wears BDU's in hostile territory, whether they had served or not, I will not question them. Every time I hear of an elected leader or someone like Hilary going to Afghanistan or Iraq, I fear for them. I understand why they must place themselves in harms way (gather information or in the case of the Governor or President to inspire the troops) but I get nervous.

  33. Troy Jones 2012.04.20


    In the end, all I want to really say is:

    1) "Personal reasons" only lead to speculation that is often unfair and unwarranted (ala sick or something nefarious). Private family matters are just that and we should try to respect them as much as possible.

    2) As soon as I saw Michels through in a reason (his back), he was reacting to what ALL politicians learn (and abhor) is too often non-specification leads to speculation he didn't want.

    So in effect, the environment is now damned if you give too much information and damned if you give too little. Maybe I'm too idealistic but I'd rather having us argue over a policy.

  34. Robert J. Cordts 2012.04.20

    The policy issue in question was the downgrade of the lieutenant governor position from a full-time position to a part-time position because of Matt Michels's bad back. The justification for this decision brings up credibility issues of the Daugaard administration. Some of us don't trust the Daugaard administration and there are plenty of reasons why.

  35. Charlie Johnson 2012.04.20

    Bob and Cory have the right question. Why is the role of th Lt. governor being changed just because of a bad back. The state(people of SD) should decide the role of the lt. gov. not let it be determined by the "flavor of the month" according to the Governor. I'm sure Matt Michaels was brought in full time to start the adm. off because he has strong administrative skills something the existing Governor sorely lacks which is obvious. My quess GDD is increasingly a political liability-better to put my some distance out there for one's own political future.

  36. Mike Quinlivan 2012.04.20

    To all:

    I think one simply to judge the "family" reasons on an individual basis; my Democratic/liberal brethren are perhaps being a bit to cynical, and Troy is, imho, being far to blasie. It is fair to ask questions. Truth be told, and I only base this on personal interactions with Mr. Michaels, he seems to nice to perhaps be the arm-twister a full time LG would need to be. He provided helpful advice to me in regards to future career moves, and has emceed the Yankton Polar Plunge for the Special Olympics since its beginning; regardless of the weather, attendence, or how busy he has been. My sister-in-law Natty has benefited from his kindness, as she is a participant in the games, and has also been battling cancer for the past year and a half. I don't know much about his politics, and the questions brought up seem fair. But really, LG's in SD are so powerless, I never bought that it would last as a FT job.

  37. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.04.21

    Huether? I offer my support to any Democratic primary challenger right now.

    Troy, I don't wish to delve into Michels's personal life. But I see clear political implications, and I see an indictment of the argument Gov. Daugaard made last year that we needed to invest significantly more money in a government job during of fiscal austerity. Gov. Daugaard is now scaling back that job. Either the period of fiscal austerity has passed (in which case, put K-12 per-student funding back where it should be!), the pressing needs of that job have passed, or the governor was wrong about the need for that job. Which is it? (And that's a question we can answer without saying one thing about Michels's personal life, right?)

  38. Rorschach 2012.04.21

    Or maybe Cory, we're not a government of laws as we would hope to be, but rather a government of men. Just another instance of the institutions of government being changed to fit the desires of one person rather than the needs of the public.

  39. Troy Jones 2012.04.21


    I think it legitimate to ask about to policy implications. But first you speculated on the impact 7 years from now. And, some questioned Michel's rationale. If there was something real, you would hear rumblings.

  40. Charlie Hoffman 2012.04.22

    Mike Q., I don't want to meddle in the middle of others blogs, again, but for you to say that the person who leads every Senate session with the power to call sitting Senators out of order powerless just is not so Sir.

Comments are closed.