No longer so young, still politically active

Yes, we’re talking about state Sen. Bob Gray, the past South Dakota Republican Party chairman; and Lucas Lentsch, the past South Dakota Republican Party executive director; and Rob Skjonsberg, one of three chiefs of staff for past Gov. Mike Rounds; and Jason Glodt, who recently resigned from Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s administration.

The three amigos – Lucas would make it a gang of four if he decides to roll back into realpolitick some day — constitutes South Dakota’s new Republican political consulting shop.

Gray and Glodt date back to then-Attorney General Mark Barnett’s office and his ultimately unsuccessful run for governor in 2002.

Barnett started as the favorite but hit a tough headwind in a three-way Republican primary won by Rounds, whose driver and everyday confidant was Skjonsberg. When Rounds won the governor’s election in November 2002, Skjonsberg naturally became his chief of staff.

Skjonsberg later left Pierre for a job in Sioux Falls he hoped would be more personally satisfying as a political lobbyist for Broin (now Poet) ethanol after the death of Jeff Fox left a vacancy in that spot.

In the past year Skjonsberg, who never was able to sell his family’s beautiful house in rural Pierre, returned to Fun City with his family and went to work for the Fischer Rounds insurance and real estate agency in downtown Pierre.

The presumption among many is Skjonsberg really came back to help Rounds prepare to run for U.S. Senate in 2014 when Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson faces the decision whether to seek re-election.

After the Barnett campaign, Glodt served as political director for the South Dakota Republican Party and later was hired by Rounds midway of his first term as governor to handle various areas in the Rounds administration such as game, fish and parks.

Glodt also continued to be deeply involved in legislative elections and supported the re-election of Rounds as governor and the election of Lt Gov. Dennis Daugaard as governor in 2010.

Glodt took leave every two years from state government to assist Republican candidates.

Gray meanwhile decided to become a candidate, rather than just working for one. He challenged and defeated Republican Sen. Patti de Hueck of Pierre in a 2004 primary for the Hughes County-area Senate seat  that Rounds previouslyheld until he was term-limited in 2000.

Gray, after his election, quickly won support from the Republican Senate caucus and, in just his second term, was selected as Senate president pro tem. That made him the No. 2-presiding officer in the chamber behind the lieutenant governor.

There were some testy times in the Senate chamber as supporters of Sen. Lee Schoenbeck maneuvered to put Schoenbeck in a light more favorable than Lt. Gov Daugaard in anticipation of a 2010 Republican primary for the governor nomination.

Then Schoenbeck didn’t run after all. And Gray’s interest reached much wider. He accepted appointment as South Dakota Republican Party chairman and presided over an unusually successful 2010 election cycle for Republican candidates.

His executive director was Lentsch, who had been a Republican legislative candidate in 2008 and later moved to Pierre to work in the central office’s key post.

After his 2010 victory, Gov.-elect Daugaard was in position to support his own choice for chairman of the Republican Party.

Gray, taking the route of political decorum, stepped aside.

Lentsch also left his Republican Party job but landed well with a key spot in the state Department of Agriculture.

Then, in a big career change, Lentsch somewhat unexpectedly resigned from his state government job, which paid $74,160 annually, to join Sen. Gray in the Reinke-Gray Wealth Management firm in Pierre.

The Glodt resignation this month seems to cement the deal among them.

He said in a recent email to friends and others that he is leaving his state government job, which paid $87,550 annually, to open a law firm and public relations firm. He’ll be partners with Gray and Skjonsberg — hence the GSG Strategies name.

Bob and Rob aren’t leaving their current day jobs, at least for now; and Jason typically left in even-numbered autumns anyway. Bob is term-limited as a senator after four consecutive terms, so his future, too, soon will be much more open to new possibilities.

And, amazingly for such a political city, there isn’t a public relations firm in Pierre.

For now, Lucas will be sticking to his knitting in the Reinke Gray office, although Bob says there could come a time when that could change.

The first initial in GSG belongs to Bob Gray. While the group hopes to work for a Rounds campaign for U.S. Senate, they intend the firm to be a permanent, broader business with possibly other political and grassroots work. Under state regulations Gray can begin to lobby the Legislature in 2014. In the meantime he has a business to run. And soon he will have two.

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About Bob Mercer

I am a newspaper reporter in Pierre where I cover state government, issues and politics for the Aberdeen American News, the Black Hills Pioneer, the Mitchell Daily Republic, the Pierre Capital Journal, the Rapid City Journal, the Watertown Public Opinion and the Yankton Press & Dakotan. I began covering the Legislature in 1985 and have lived in Pierre since December 1986. I grew up in Wisconsin, worked my way through college, took my first full-time newspapers jobs in Wyoming, and have lived in South Dakota since the summer of 1984 when I moved to Aberdeen to join the American News. I worked for the Rapid City Journal as its state government reporter in Pierre from late 1992 through late 1998. I spent four years as press secretary and a senior aide to Gov. Bill Janklow during his fourth and final term from late 1998 through 2002. I returned to journalism in January 2003 as a self-employed reporter, providing state government coverage to the Mitchell, Watertown, Spearfish, Pierre and, depending on the year, Aberdeen newspapers. In 2008, the Aberdeen American News offered to hire me as full-time member of the AAN staff, with my reports continuing to be available to the Mitchell, Watertown, Spearfish, Pierre, Yankton and Rapid City papers. The new arrangement has been in effect since January 2009 as the seven papers continue their remarkable dedication to their readers and the general public, as the only South Dakota news outlets with a full-time reporter covering state government in Pierre throughout the year. In addition to focusing on the Legislature during the annual winter session and its various activities during the interim periods between sessions, I spend many days throughout the year -- traveling as often necessary -- to cover state government boards and commissions which oversee the state universities, technical institutes, outdoors, water, environment, business, public schools, banking, agriculture, utilities, health care and various other areas of public interest. I purposely don't register to vote because of my profession; the last time I recall voting in a presidential election was the first time, 1976, when I had just turned 18. I think I voted for Jimmy Carter over Gerald Ford. Make of that what you want, just don't make much of it.

5 thoughts on “No longer so young, still politically active

  1. Bob Mercer Post author

    Well, Rob knows SF and Sisseton-Wahpeton country, plus all of the connections he made as chief of staff for a governor and all of his contacts in the ethanol industry, which is all of corn country. Jason knows legislative districts like the back of his hand. Bob knows RC from his youth, is a USD alum, knows a lot of SD from his GOP chairmanship work and obviously knows a lot of past and current senators, some House leaders and a lot of past and current lobbyists. If they don’t blow it, this could be brilliant, because a lot of traffic will need to come through their shop on one side or another of an issue.

    1. Ambiguous

      And LL is really from the North East. I don’t doubt they are connected with their backgrounds. 4 great guys. (I was thinking more in terms of Pierre is a small community and a drive from everywhere else. Both Thune and Noem campaigns are headquartered out of SF. Is this meaning Rounds’ campaign will be run from Pierre or is the campaign going to be in SF?

      Rounds will clean up in Pierre and other Republican areas but the more populated urban areas in the SE corner are where I was thinking this race will be won or lost.

  2. rubyred

    Assuming Rounds wins the Senate seat in 2014 I would put this team above any in SD right now. (yes that means Lauck and Nelson for Thune) They have it all and are the total package hopefully their candidate is up to their level…

    I’m surprised Noem’s team didn’t make a play to get Lucas Lentsch on their staff or reelection squad this year. He knows everyone and has a diverse background. If she is serious about running for US Senate he would fill a role she doesn’t seem to have filled yet. She needs a Jason Glodt type person who knows the activists and grassroots. Strong relationships win elections.

    Thanks mr. Mercer. I learn more interesting stuff every day on this blog!

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