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Well here's some interesting news from South Dakota:

Although South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson has not said whether he intends to seek re-election 2014, some Democrats are discussing a way of keeping his seat in the family – and in Democratic hands – if he decides not to run.

The activists are promoting the idea of Johnson’s son, Brendan, who is U.S. attorney, seeking the nomination if the senator decides to retire after his third term ends.

Lingering effects from a 2006 brain hemorrhage have intensified questions about the senator’s plans. He chairs the Senate Banking Committee, but his speech and his physical stamina remain impaired.

Johnson, 66, has $1.2 million in his campaign account to use if he chooses to run. Still, he would face a tough race, with the state having shifted toward the Republican Party in recent years. Senate aides to Johnson declined to comment on Johnson’s future.

Some Democrats believe Brendan Johnson would give the party a chance to hold the seat.

“Brendan is one who walks into the room and works it well,” said Steve Dick, a Sioux Falls Democrat and veteran aide to former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle. “He’s positioning himself. That’s what people are talking about.” - Argus Leader, 2/21/13

Brendan Johnson has long been rumored to be a potential candidate for the U.S. Senate if his father, Senator Tim Johnson (D. SD), where to retire.  Johnson has declined to comment on possibly running for his father's seat:

In a telephone interview, Brendan Johnson declined to comment, citing his federal post. Johnson, 37, has been U.S. attorney since 2009.

"One of the promises I made to myself when I took the position was I wasn't going to publicly discuss politics," he said. - Rapid City Journal, 2/21/13

Former Congresswoman and Blue Dog Caucus Whip, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D. SD-AL) has also been mentioned as a potential candidate to run for the U.S. Senate if Johnson decides to retire.  For now, I want to focus on Johnson's son as a potential candidate.  Here's a little background on Johnson's son:

Brendan Johnson was nominated by the President as the 40th United States Attorney for the District of South Dakota and was confirmed unanimously by the United States Senate on October 15, 2009.  Brendan serves as South Dakota’s chief federal law enforcement officer and supervises the prosecution of all federal crimes and the litigation of civil matters in which the United States government has an interest.

On November 10, 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder selected Johnson to chair the Native American Issues Subcommittee.  The Native American Issues Subcommittee is the longest-standing subcommittee of United States Attorneys within the Department of Justice and is focused on improving law enforcement efforts in tribal communities.  Attorney General Holder also selected Johnson to serve on the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee.  This committee consists of 17 United States Attorneys from across the country and is tasked with the responsibility of advising the Attorney General of the United States.  Johnson also co-chairs the South Dakota Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee, is a member of the Midwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Executive Board, and serves on the Department of Justice’s Terrorism and National Security Subcommittee.

Prior to becoming the United States Attorney, Brendan was a federal law clerk in Rapid City for Chief Judge Karen Schreier and later worked as a  Deputy State’s Attorney in Minnehaha County where he prosecuted cases ranging from attempted murder to narcotics and domestic violence.  In addition to his public service, Brendan practiced criminal and civil law as a partner in the law firm now known as Johnson, Heidepriem and Abdallah LLP. -

Johnson nomination for U.S. Attorney received high support from even big name Republicans like former Governor Bill Janklow, former State Attorney General Larry Long, former Sioux Falls Mayor Dave Munson and several state and local law enforcement officials.  In 2009, Johnson was selected to become Chairman of the Department of Justice’s Native American Issues Subcommittee:

United States Attorney Brendan V. Johnson has completed his term as Chairman of the Department of Justice’s Native American Issues Subcommittee (NAIS), but will continue to advise the Attorney General in his role as a member of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee of U.S. Attorneys (AGAC). Johnson has served as chairman of the NAIS since 2009, shortly after his confirmation as U.S. Attorney for the District of South Dakota.

Attorney General Holder thanked U.S. Attorney Johnson for serving as chair of the NAIS for the past three years, 2009-2012. “Brendan Johnson’s dedication and commitment to improving public safety in Indian Country will continue to positively impact tribal communities for years to come. His leadership has brought the U.S. Attorney community together to address a myriad of important issues in Indian Country, and his guidance has been an invaluable asset to this department. I look forward to my ongoing work with U.S. Attorney Johnson as a member of the AGAC.”

As NAIS chair, Johnson was instrumental in bringing South Dakota Indian country issues to the forefront. In July 2011, Attorney General Holder, Associate Attorney General Thomas J. Perrelli, and approximately 30 United States Attorneys from across the country visited South Dakota to meet with tribal leaders in Rapid City and Pine Ridge. The Department of Justice has worked closely with tribal communities to empower tribal courts, increase law enforcement cooperation, and improve public safety in Indian Country. In South Dakota, this new spirit of cooperation has produced a significant
increase in prosecutions as well as the development of new programs designed to empower tribal court systems. - David Lias Word Press, 2/8/13

Of course the South Dakota GOP tried to discredit Johnson's nomination by claiming that Senator Johnson broke his promise in staying out of his son's nomination process:

When 34-year-old Brendan Johnson applied for the U.S. Attorney's position, he made it clear to KELOLAND News, his father, who is the ranking senior senator in South Dakota, would stay out of the process.  But last week when Brendan Johnson's nomination was delayed, Senator Johnson contacted Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy to find out why.

South Dakota Republicans feel Johnson broke a promise.

"The reality here is Senator Johnson made a commitment earlier this year to steer clear of being involved in the appointment of Brendan Johnson, clearly the Republican Party feels the decision should be based on merits and qualifications, not what your last name is or who you know," executive director of South Dakota's Republican Party Lucas Lentsch said.

Senator Johnson's office tells KELOLAND News Brendan Johnson was appointed by the President but confirms the Senator did check on the status of his son's nomination only because there are several positions that remain unfilled, not just his son's.

"Senator Johnson is only doing his job on behalf of the people of the state to make sure all of these nominees are getting through and being filled and has made inquiries on other positions that remain unfilled just as the U.S. Marshals are being filled in ," Senator Johnson's communication's director, Julianne Fisher, said. - Keoland, 10/8/09

Johnson's work in cracking down on 39 unsolved cases of murder on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, dating back to the 1970s, has earned Johnson high praise from Native American leaders:

“It was a good day for us. It was the first time a US attorney who represents South Dakota ever even responded to us on these cases,” Poor Bear told the Native News Network in a telephone interview late Wednesday night.

“I told Brendan Johnson: 'Our hills run red with the blood of our people,'” said Poor Bear. “I have a lot of respect for Brendan Johnson. I felt his heart was sincere to bring closure for the families. I feel now we have somebody who understands our pain, confusion and anger over the lack of investigations into these murders,” continued Poor Bear.

“I am glad we have new sets of eyes looking at these cases. We have a lack of trust of the FBI. Back then they were accomplices in these murders. We have people who know firsthand the FBI gave the GOONS guns and bullets so Indians would kill other Indians,” said Poor Bear.

Poor Bear was referring to the Guardians of the Oglala Nations – or GOONS – as they were referred to during the Dick Wilson administration in the 1970s. The abuses of the Wilson administration led to the 71 day Wounded Knee occupation in 1973.

During the "Reign of Terror," the GOONS openly wanted to kill members of the American Indian Movement.

“Unfortunately, so many of the FBI would close cases without notifications to the families. These families deserve closure,” said Poor Bear. - Native News Network, 6/14/12

Johnson has truly developed a great relationship with the Pine Ridge Reservation, making his a trusted friend to the South Dakota Native American community:

The time that he has spent on the reservation has not been solely for the purpose of investigating crimes or gathering evidence. Johnson unlike his predecessors has invested a significant amount of energy attempting to establish relationships with people living on the reservation and attempting to gain a better understanding of Native American culture. He has gone in to the community to meet with youth, spent a night patrolling with tribal police, and has even attended a sweat lodge ceremony.

“I am very appreciative of all of the time I have spent on the reservation and of understanding the proud culture and history of the tribes in SD. I don’t think you can gain that appreciation and respect if you are spending all your time in the federal courthouse,” said Johnson.

Like his father, Brendan Johnson has quickly established himself as an advocate for Indian country. In many circles he has become known for his vocal support of the highly politicized Violence Against Women Act that has recently stalled in the United States House of Representatives. The failure to pass VAWA has been attributed to opposition to the expansion of tribal jurisdiction that is included in the senate’s version of the act that would allow non-Native offenders to be prosecuted by tribal courts.

“A lot of people do not support VAWA and I do support it,” said Johnson “There are two reasons why I support VAWA. One, if a non-Indian commits a domestic violence offense on one of our reservations in South Dakota, and the victim and the witness have to travel a long distance to the Federal court house the result is we lose too many of those cases. I would rather see tribes be able to prosecute non-Indians for domestic violence offenses,” he said. The second reason why Johnson is a major supporter of VAWA is an indicator of the direction he would like to see tribal courts to move in the future.

“The second reason I support VAWA is it once again demonstrates the importance of our tribes to hire legal professionals for their prosecutors and defense lawyers and when they do it allows them to increase their sovereignty,” said Johnson.

Surprisingly Johnson’s goal is not to simply fill federal penitentiaries with Native American offenders. Part of what make him unique compared to previous United States attorneys is that he is an advocate for both the strengthening of tribal courts and for the expansion of tribal sovereignty.

“One of the things that is important to me is the law enforcement structure of Pine Ridge. I would like to see Pine Ridge be able to prosecute more of their own cases… instead of having them brought in to the federal system,” said Johnson.

In addition to supporting legislation like the Violence Against Women Act, he has also thrown his support behind the implementation of the Tribal Law and Order Act which also strengthens tribal courts and potentially tribal sovereignty. Johnson feels however that there are some things that tribes must do in order to be able to handle the additional responsibility for tribal judicial systems. - Indianz, 1/14/13

Johnson's resume as U.S. Attorney in his work with Native American issues, cracking down on crime on the Pine Ridge Reservation and his support for the Violence Against Women Act makes him a strong candidate to succeed his father.  We learned from the past Senate elections in Montana and North Dakota that Democrats can win in rural red states like South Dakota with the help of the Native American vote.  Johnson is a true blue public servant who cares about the issues affecting Native American tribes, just like his father.  Having him as Senator would be a great thing for South Dakota tribes and Native Americans would have another strong ally in the Senate.

The 2014 U.S. Senate race in South Dakota is going to be one of the closest races in the country.  Former Governor Mike Rounds (R), who is running for the seat, has both great name recognition and has the backing of Super PAC funding and his former Lt. Governor, current Governor Dennis Daugaard (R. SD), is doing everything they can to buy this race for Rounds:

Rounds might very well owe his political career to the state's loose campaign finance regulations.

He benefited from large PAC contributions as a fledgling gubernatorial candidate in 2002. Rapid City lawmaker and philanthropist Stan Adelstein funneled $60,000 to Rounds' campaign via two contributions from the Building Rapid City PAC, which was almost entirely funded by Adelstein. Of that $60,000, $25,000 came at a critical point late in a three-way primary race when Rounds was gaining momentum but running out of money.

Candidate Rounds also received more than $200,000 in 2002 in two separate contributions from Adelstein's A Better South Dakota PAC. While that PAC was organized by Adelstein, it was funded by a series of $5,000 contributions from several individuals.

Adelstein's fortune hasn't reached the heights of Sanford's, but he has been actively involved in South Dakota politics on both sides of the aisle since taking over the family construction business as a young man in the 1950s.

Rounds won a Cinderella victory in that three-way GOP primary in 2002, and went on to easily win the general election and serve two terms as a popular governor, from 2003 through 2010. - The Center For Public Integrity, 10/24/12

Rob Skjonsberg, Mike Rounds crony
Rob Skjonsberg, Mike Rounds Crony (Right)

PIERRE — Gov. Dennis Daugaard on Thursday appointed an associate of former Republican Gov. Mike Rounds’ to a board that awards state economic development loans, a move the state’s top Democratic Party official called a blatant effort to help Rounds’ campaign for the U.S. Senate.

Daugaard, a Republican, appointed Rob Skjonsberg, of Pierre, to the state Board of Economic Development. Skjonsberg worked eight years in the banking industry before becoming Rounds’ chief of staff in the governor’s office in 2003. He later worked at POET, an ethanol producer, and is currently chief of staff at Rounds’ real estate and insurance company in Pierre. Skjonsberg also is a partner in a political consulting firm that is helping Rounds’ campaign for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, who has said he will announce later whether he will seek re-election. - The Daily Republic, 1/4/13

Rob Skjonsberg was the Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at POET, which is one of the largest ethanol producers in the country and is based in South Dakota.  The ethanol industry is a huge driver of South Dakota's economy.  Now Johnson has a predominantly green voting record on the environment but has a very pro-ethanol voting record as well.  But Rounds is the preferred candidate of POET because he will gladly do their bidding in the Senate.  So POET has a lot invested in this race but that doesn't mean Rounds isn't vulnerable:
you have to further wonder whether the Democrats will turn the campaign into a referendum on how Rounds managed state government during his eight years in office. The 10 percent budget cuts that his successor, Gov. Dennis Daugaard, felt necessary to impose; the difficulties now surfacing within the South Dakota Retirement System because of policies encouraged during the 2000s; the deadlock over and shifting fate of the Homestake underground laboratory project; the second state-government jet that was purchased under the Rounds administration; the mini-controversy over Valhalla in Custer State Park; even the size and uses of the new governor’s mansion are just some of the topics that will be considered by Democrats. - Pure Pierre Politics, 9/13/12
Like I've highlighted before, Rounds also has a terrible relationship with South Dakota's tribes:
For me, his delay in seeking a disaster declaration for aiding the SD reservations devasted by ice-storms and blizzards in Dec. 2009 and Jan. 2010, were especially hard to accept.  After filing the request in March 2010, the Presidential declaration followed and aid was given.  But the delay was tragic. - meralda's diary, 2014 Senate race - SD, 11/29/12
Here's the story meralda is referring to:
Unfortunately, there was a delayed response in the Governors office submitting the disaster declaration, for the Christmas blizzard that immobilized the entire state of South Dakota for several days. FEMA was in the field across South Dakota assessing damages, when the January ice storm and blizzard hit causing a crisis in many areas and devastating Cheyenne River Reservation. - NDN News, 3/10/10
Why would Rounds delay federal disaster relief for South Dakota's Native Americans?

That's what this is about:  The state of South Dakota, under the auspices of the Rounds administration, does not want to spend any extra state money to get federal disaster assistance for the reservations.  

And now that private aid is pouring in, thanks in large part to the efforts of Kossacks over the last two weeks, the governor's office has the perfect excuse not to move forward with the federal disaster process.  Inadvertently, we may just have given him exactly what he wanted:  Time to wait out the weather and public sentiment.  (Not that we had a choice in the matter; lives were at risk.  But the fact that some folks are now in a better position thanks to private efforts should in no way excuse the state of South Dakota from its obligations to its citizens.) - Aji's diary, Why is S.D. Gov. Mike Rounds Denying Federal Aid to Indian Reservations in Crisis?, 2/16/10

Senator John Thune (R. SD) was also one of the 22 Senators to vote against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act and voted against the Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief bill which actually helps Native American tribes:
The relief bill is designed to pay for Hurricane Sandy aid, not set policy. But tucked inside is a major change in protocol.

Tribal leaders can now appeal directly to the federal government for a disaster declaration – bypassing the state. Robert Holden is the deputy director of the National Congress on American Indians. He says there has been a history of governors ignoring disasters in Indian Country, so this is a welcome change.

He says not every tribe has the resources to do proper damage assessments and appeal directly to the federal government. - KTOO, 1/30/13

Like I've said before, Native American tribes have the most to lose in this race and having both Thune and Rounds in the Senate would be a disaster for South Dakota's tribes.  I for one like the idea of Brendan Johnson being the Democratic nominee if his father were to retire.  Johnson's praise from high profile Republicans for the U.S. Attorney position and his dedication to the safety and justice for Native American tribes makes him a terrific candidate for the U.S. Senate.  It's perfectly understandable why South Dakota Democrats would like Johnson's son to run.  Brendan Johnson wouldn't be the first son of a Senator to succeed his father's old seat.  Harry F. Byrd, Jr. (I. VA) succeeded his father, Harry Byrd (D. VA), for his Senate seat right after his father decided to retire.  Of course Stephanie Herseth Sandlin is also constantly mentioned candidate but I prefer Brendan Johnson over her.  It's not because she's a Blue Dog, this is South Dakota we're talking about here.  I've supported Blue Dog Democrat Joe Donnelly in his run for Senate despite his views towards immigration and abortion.  But Donnelly voted for the Affordable Health Care Act and still won his congressional seat in 2010 whereas Herseth Sandlin voted against the Affordable Health Care Act and narrowly lost to Tea Party Congresswoman Kristi Noem (R. SD-AL).  However, I would recommend reading Herseth Sandlin's answers when she was feature in Time Magazine's 40 Under 40 list:
Who is your political hero/inspiration?
My grandmother had great influence on me. She was secretary of state in the 1970's, and that's when I was born. She showed me the importance of public service, and she was admired by people regardless of their political party.

What's your go-to political blog?
I would probably say the one that I go to the most is the Argus-Leader [a newspaper in Sioux Falls, S.D.] political blog. ... I feel old by you asking me that question. It's like asking "So what's the song you most recently downloaded onto your iPod?"

If you weren't working in politics, what would you be doing?
Teaching. Before I had decided to get into politics, I was laying the groundwork to have a career in the law, but that was really to lay the foundation to teach, either at the college level or law school level after my federal clerkships. I love the classroom.

What's the most overlooked issue facing America these days?
Pockets of severe poverty in Indian country that exist in our country that a lot of people aren't aware of. I represent nine sovereign Sioux tribes. In South Dakota, some of the tribes are in the most remote, rural areas of the country. They lack essential infrastructure. Some communities don't even have clean drinking water. We have among the highest rates of teen suicide. ... In terms of the nation's consciousness, I just don't think people are aware of the magnitude of the crisis. It's overwhelming.

Where do you see yourself professionally in five years?
I hope to continue to be serving South Dakota in Congress. And, personally, keeping up with the little boy who will just be starting school. - Time Magazine, 2010

Emphasis mine.

So with so much at stake and with Rounds and his cronies doing everything he can to secure his chances at winning this race, it's no wonder South Dakota Democrats want to get ready for this race as soon as possible.  Tim Johnson should be making his decision soon.  He's the Chairman of the Senate Baking Committee and he yields a lot more power in the Senate than John Thune so it's a decision he has to think carefully about.  He also has over $1.2 million in the bank so he would be off to a great start.  If he decides to run again or step down and pave the way for his son, expect a lot more diaries from me on this race.  It's going to be a tough race for sure but it's one that we should not write off.  Winning this race is important because it will send a clear message to the GOP that they cannot ignore the Native American constituents concerns in states like South Dakota by nominating candidates like Mike Rounds.

Originally posted to pdc on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 10:58 AM PST.

Also republished by South Dakota Kos, The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party, and Native American Netroots.

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