Dent-gate? Thune damages tuba

The email arrived with the subject line “Durable,” and we presume that means the tuba.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., played tuba at Jones County High School in Murdo, SD.

In the Harold Thune Auditorium in his hometown of Murdo, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., poses with the tuba he played – and dented – in high school.

In the auditorium named for his dad, Harold, in Murdo, Sen. John Thune visited an old friend late last week. Thune’s office is so far declining to release details of how the dent came to be. The accompanying statement arrived with the photo:

John Thune showing off the tuba he played in the 1970s at Jones County High School — taken in the rafters of the Harold Thune Auditorium in Murdo during tonight’s Jones County Invitational game between Jones and Lyman counties. ¬†The tuba is still being used and still has the big dent that John put in it.

I never figured Thune for a tuba player, but now I really want to see some photographic evidence from the 1970s. Wouldn’t it be extra awesome if he wore American Hustle-style glasses?

And, oh yeah, inquiring minds need the rest of the dent story.

Thune gives Christie props on national TV

South Dakota’s own John Thune offered potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie a few drops of the milk of human kindness on MSNBC’s Morning Joe today:

We all know that South Dakota’s junior senator, himself a potential 2016 national ticket candidate, is ever the gentlemen, polite to a fault. So it’s no surprise that he did not bash Christie over “Bridgegate.”

What’s more noteworthy, for those into nuance, is that he volunteered some rather positive remarks beyond a circumspect sentence or two, saying Christie is doing all the right things, that New Jerseyites appreciate the transparency. Thune even called Christie a true conservative.

Thune might be making a pass at Christie’s supporters, knowing they are likely to be looking for an alternative soon. He could be positioning himself as a non-Christie hater for the Garden State gov himself, should he still grasp the 2016 presidential nomination.

Perhaps he believes Christie is getting a bum rap – that would place him in a tiny minority.

Whatever it is – his unfailing good manners, angling ahead of 2016 or genuine sympathy – Sen. Thune planted a flag in some interesting ground.

Tim Johnson’s secret to success

It’s not difficult to get things done, according to an old saying, if you don’t care who gets the credit.

That may be a fitting tribute to Tim Johnson, one of three South Dakota Democrats who served more than 20 years in Congress in the past six decades. He announced his retirement Tuesday at USD, in a typically low-key event that blended humor with touches of sadness.

Johnson was the least charismatic, the least well-known, the least controversial of the three big Democrats. He was also the most politically successful.

George McGovern was a national, even a global, figure for four decades. Tom Daschle rose to become the Democrats leader in the Senate, and a key adviser and mentor to President Obama.

McGovern, who served for 22 years, ran for president three times, and considered races for the White House in two other election cycles. Daschle, who put in 26 years, pondered runs for the presidency in both 2004 and 2008.

Tim Johnson, who almost certainly will leave with 28 years in Congress, never saw himself as a future president, at least as far as we know. He had other goals.

Johnson mentioned a few on Tuesday as he announced his plans to retire from his business in less than two years: He worked to bring needed water to both cowboys and Indians in South Dakota.

Johnson pushed to keep Ellsworth Air Force Base open. He backed projects that boosted his home state, using the old, often-arcane rules of Congress, and was a very effective legislator.

And he reached out to Republicans and independents in SD, and enough of them noticed to elect him to the Legislature four times, to Congress five times, and to the Senate three times. He did so, it’s worth noting, by landslide margins in 6 of his 8 statewide races.

The two times he was in close elections, he defeated Republican icons: Larry Pressler in 1996, and John Thune in 2002. Who else in state history defeated such a pair of opponents in back-to-back elections?

No one.

Meanwhile, both McGovern and Daschle ended their careers as defeated candidates, rejected by the voters of their home state. It stung.

Tim Johnson rolls off into the sunset undefeated, 12-0 in general elections, and 15-0 in all races, with a reputation as a decent, modest and successful politician with a wry, clever sense of humor. He is admired by his fellow vote-chasers, too.

I hope he writes an autobiography, because he has been much, much more than just another politician.

South Dakota voters knew that for 36 years.

Thune steps out on Fox with CNBC

Let’s hope Greta Van Susteren doesn’t find out about this.

Sen. John Thune spent an hour as a, gasp, guest host!, on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” Monday. Yeah, me either.

Thune, who is adept with the media, both in the lounges of South Dakota and in the main rooms of Washington and New York, is usually seen on Fox News, where it seems like he or Rep. Kristi Noem appear with Greta VS on a daily basis.

But as chairman of the Senate GOP Conference, Thune has the responsibility of leading the Republican charge on TV and through the media. He is glib, charming and informed, so it’s a natural fit.

In the clip on YouTube, Thune discusses the looming fiscal cliff while the host drools over how tall he is and how well he wears a suit. JT laughs that off, but it is amazing how much the national media focuses on looks.

But so do voters, so politicians who resemble the people who deliver the news on TV have an edge. It seems things have gotten uglier since this trend took deep root.

Thune once again cites a lack of presidential leadership, calls for a reduction in government spending on entitlement programs and says President Obama seems hooked on raising taxes. Shocker.

The R’s and the D’s are still battling over whether or not they should allow the economy to slide. It seems that the obvious answer is, no, don’t do it, but such is the state of modern politics in America.

Compromise, anyone? Thune said he would vote for something that would address the problem, including some revenue increases. He said going over the cliff would be a major mistake, but says Obama seems willing to go there.

The fact is, the much-feared cliff is really more of a gradual slope. There is time to craft a deal that can pass both houses and get Obama’s signature. Failing to do so would assuredly damage the economy and the country.

Maybe if Obama appeared on Fox again, Speaker John Boehner got a gig on MSNBC and both sides actually listened to the other, some progress would be made. Thune would probably be willing to guest host with both of them.

The 10 most interesting politicians in SD are …

A poster to this blog offered a take on the 10 most interesting politicians in South Dakota and it was a good list, filled with fascinating vote-seekers. The challenge was to offer your take.

Here’s my list. If you have one, chime in.

1. John Thune. Mentioned for president and VP in 2010, 2011 and 2012, spoke at this year’s RNC and now campaigning for Romney, he has by far the highest profile in the nation for a South Dakotan, and a ton of respect at home, where he was unopposed for a second term in 2010.

2. Tim Johnson. While he chairs the powerful Senate Banking Committee while battling health challenges, SD political watchers speculate on will he or won’t he run in 2014. TJ has never lost a race in his life; will he jeopardize that in two years to seek a fourth Senate term?

3. Dennis Daugaard. He was a quiet, part-time lieutenant governor but DD grabbed the reins of state government in 2011 and has been a powerful, effective and surprisingly political governor. He will be hard to beat in 2014, even with a right-wing challenge in the primary.

4. Kristi Noem. Three years ago an almost unknown state rep. from a tiny town, she leaped to Congress and a House leadership slot. She may well have a prominent future in SD for years to come.

5. Mike Rounds. He was DD’s old boss and a popular two-term governor despite grumbling from some on both sides of the aisle as to his real effectiveness. Another will-he-or-won’t-he in 2014, although it seems for sure that he will run for the Senate.

6. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. Three years ago she may have topped this list, but a surprising defeat in 2010, a turn as a lawyer for a DC firm and now a return home to SD puts her on the list of what’s up next. Her youth, talent and pedigree makes it seem obvious she will run again, but for what and when?

7. Marty Jackley. The attorney general and former U.S. attorney is experienced, very media-friendly and clearly ambitious. There are a lot of young Republicans eager to move ahead, but Jackley is at the front of the elephant herd.

8. Brendan Johnson. If any young Democrat has a future in SD politics it’s a guy whose name is very familiar to voters. Tim’s son is the U.S. attorney in the state and an affable, back-slapping pol, unlike his more-reserved dad. It seems a question of when, not if, he runs for political office.

9. Mike Huether. The mayor of Sioux Falls prodded and pushed and got the convention center approved and at his favored site. He may be considering a move into state or federal office next.

10. Stace Nelson. The big, burly former Marine has raised hell in Pierre as a legislator, irritated some of his fellow Republicans and battled and beat a large dairy operation in his home county. Nelson is vying for a return to the capitol in 2013, where he would surely make news and cause some headaches again.

There are many other contenders: Matt Varilek, Jason Gant, his sparring partner Stan Adelstein, Matt Michels, Dusty Johnson, George McGovern, Tom Daschle, Val Rausch, Sam Kooiker, and others. But I’ll stick with those 10.