The funeral is Saturday in Vermillion for Alan Clem, who was a long-time political and government professor and researcher at the University of South Dakota. He was born in Nebraska and cut his political teeth working for two U.S. congressmen from Nebraska. He joined the USD faculty in 1960. Among his students through years thereafter was Larry Pressler, who as a Republican won election to the U.S. House of Representatives and then served three terms in the U.S. Senate. My sense has always been that Professor Clem was a significant influence on a 1983 book, U.S. Senators from the Prairie, on which Pressler was author. (Amazon currently lists several copies available at $150 minimum for the hardcover and $31.70 paperback.) The book provided biographical notes and speech excerpts for South Dakota’s 23 U.S. senators to that point.
Alan Clem was listed as author of several books during his USD days. They reflected his nuts and bolts approach to elections and the politics that can influence elections. I never attended any course or seminar where he taught, but I purchased several of his works through the years. One changed how I worked on election nights. A statistic he emphasized was voter registration numbers and voter history at the precinct level in a county. Knowing the precinct numbers and history allowed an observer to see where a precinct’s results were headed, and enough precincts with results provided the basis for declaring a winner in a contest in that county. Enough county results became the basis for declaring a winner in a statewide contest. This is now common practice on election nights, but at the time in the mid-1980s that simple approach became a reliable tool for this reporter.
His style was dry. I met him a few times at various political events. I liked that he showed up to watch the action. I didn’t like that his writing seemed to heavily rely on the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, but those were in days before news websites, and like many people he appeared to overlook the news outside of the reach of the Sioux Falls newspaper. Regardless, Alan Clem was a major figure at USD; the university prepared a detailed news release a few days after his death Monday. The USD release even included some fun insights and telling quotes from two sons. I always got a kick out of the title of one of his books: “The Government We Deserve.”