Dennis Daugaard is the 32nd Governor of South Dakota. Daugaard and his running mate, former house speaker Matt Michels of Yankton, were elected in 2010 and sworn in on January 8, 2011. The Daugaard/Michels gubernatorial ticket was reelected in 2014 by the largest margin in South Dakota history.
Governor Daugaard has emphasized job creation, sound fiscal management, and efficient government operation. Days after taking office, Daugaard proposed and the Legislature passed a state budget that eliminated a $127 million structural deficit, without raising taxes.
That same year, Daugaard led emergency flood protection efforts to avoid catastrophic flooding along the Missouri River after the Corps of Engineers announced record-breaking water releases from Missouri River dams.
As “South Dakota’s #1 Salesman,” Daugaard promotes South Dakota as a great place to expand existing businesses and to locate new businesses. Under his leadership, South Dakota has enjoyed strong economic growth, exceeded pre-recession levels of employment, and was named “Best State in America for Business.”
Daugaard joined with the Chief Justice and legislative leaders to conduct inter-branch, bipartisan studies of the state’s adult and juvenile criminal justice and corrections systems. This led to bipartisan passage of comprehensive reform legislation for both systems that will increase public safety, hold offenders more accountable, and control escalating costs.
Daugaard signed the “Building South Dakota” legislation in 2012, enacting the most significant change to the state’s economic development programs since the Mickelson Administration. Daugaard is also addressing the need for a skilled workforce through the aggressive South Dakota Workforce Initiative, or “SD WINS,” and through the creation of the Build Dakota Scholarship program. The Governor’s dual credit program has allowed thousands of South Dakota high school students to get a jump-start on college or technical school at reduced rates.
The Governor has prioritized sound stewardship of the state’s resources, including adequate funding of transportation infrastructure, prudent management of the state pension plan, and maintenance and preservation of state buildings. Under his leadership, South Dakota was named “Best Run State in America” and obtained the highest bond rating of AAA.
In the fall of 2011 Daugaard launched the Better Government Initiative to improve efficiency and openness in state government. Daugaard opened the Governor’s Mansion to the public, released invitation lists of Governor’s events, and partnered with state agencies to move many government services online. The initiative is a continuing effort to cut red tape, and has eliminated 900 sections of code totaling more than 148,000 words thus far.
Dennis Daugaard grew up between Garretson and Dell Rapids on his family’s dairy farm, which his grandparents purchased in 1911 after they emigrated from Denmark. Both of Daugaard’s parents were born deaf, making sign language the principal means of communication for his family.
Daugaard attended a one-room country school near his home until the seventh grade, when the school was consolidated into the Dell Rapids School District. Following graduation from Dell Rapids High School in 1971, Daugaard attended the University of South Dakota. He worked his way through school by washing dishes, waiting tables, welding on the Load King assembly line, and sandblasting and painting water towers for Maguire Iron. Daugaard graduated from USD in 1975 with a B.S. in government and minors in mathematics and psychology.
Following graduation, Daugaard attended law school at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois. During law school, he held jobs as a bus driver, law clerk, and security guard. After earning his law degree in 1978, Daugaard passed the Illinois bar exam and worked in the Chicago area for three years.
Daugaard moved back to South Dakota in 1981 to marry his high school girlfriend, Linda Schmidt. Two years later, they purchased the Daugaard family farmsite where, over the next year, they built their own home. Their children Laura, Sara, and Chris are the fourth generation of Daugaards to live on the family farm. Dennis and Linda also have five grandchildren, Henry, Stella, Elizabeth, Greta, and Madeleine.
From 1981 to 1990, Daugaard worked for what is now US Bank in Sioux Falls. Daugaard was ultimately promoted to vice president, and was responsible for trust administration and new business development in eastern South Dakota.
In 1990, Daugaard left the bank to become the Development Director of the Children’s Home Foundation, the fundraising arm of Children’s Home Society of South Dakota. Daugaard worked for 12 years in that position. In 2002, he became Executive Director of Children’s Home Society of South Dakota. Daugaard left Children’s Home Society on October 31, 2009 to focus full-time on his campaign for governor.
Daugaard became involved in politics in 1996 when he was elected to the state Legislature. He was re-elected by wide margins in 1998 and 2000. His legislative record was particularly focused on protecting children and helping the disabled.
In June 2002, Mike Rounds selected Daugaard to be his running mate as the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor. The Rounds/Daugaard team was elected in 2002 and reelected in 2006. As lieutenant governor, Daugaard served as president of the Senate, was instrumental in the creation of the SD Ellsworth Development Authority, and was a leader of the SD Honor Flight program.
Watch the RGA’s American Comeback feature on Governor Daugaard: