PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Aaron Scheibe starts May 1 as the new chief of staff for Governor Kristi Noem. He succeeds Tony Venhuizen. KELOLAND News reporter Bob Mercer recently asked Aaron Scheibe about what’s ahead.
How do you see your role as chief of staff for this governor at this time?
As someone who has been in and around government and public policy at some level for most of my working life, first and foremost it’s an honor to serve in this position. In terms of my role, I really see my work focused in three areas. First, as an advisor to the Governor as she develops her plans for South Dakota. Second, as a leader in working with her staff and cabinet to advance her agenda and ensure state government operates both responsibly and responsively for South Dakota’s citizens. And third, as an ambassador of sorts to the Legislature and other key groups throughout the state that have a stake in South Dakota’s future success.
What message do you want to spread within state government?
Growing up in Pierre, my parents and my friends’ parents worked in state government. So, at a young age I saw the commitment state employees have to their jobs and the pride they have in serving the public. Now, as an adult, I’ve added an appreciation for what state government employees actually do and the impact they have. The Department of Health’s response to the coronavirus is an obvious example, but there are countless others. And it’s not just those working in Pierre; there are state employees doing great work all across the state every day. So, my message would be this: Thank you, and I look forward to working with you.
Did you confer with Tony Venhuizen about this opportunity?
I’ve known Tony and worked closely with him ever since I returned to South Dakota and joined state government in 2014. He’s done a tremendous job as chief of staff spanning two administrations, and I’m sure one day literally will write the book on the role. So, obviously, we talked and continue to talk. Beyond that, I’ll just say this: As chief of staff I think you need to have a good network of people you trust, who give you good advice, and who keep you grounded. I’ll continue to rely on that network going forward.
You were a member of Governor Noem’s senior staff, left for the private sector and are now returning. Walk us through those events.
I was involved quite a bit in legislative issues and the flood response during that first year (in 2019), and worked hard to make the governor’s transition successful. Then I had a great opportunity come up to practice law with partners I knew well and respected, which as an attorney is a hard thing to turn down. So, I transitioned into private practice, but was fortunate to help the governor’s administration at various points on some key issues like the federal coronavirus funding. I was able to stay involved. My decision to return came after much personal reflection and a decision that not only do I care deeply about policy, but perhaps have a set of skills and experience that would be helpful in advancing the governor’s agenda through my new role.
In the Daugaard administration you served as deputy commissioner for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED). What did you learn in your time there?
I will always have fond memories of my time at GOED, it’s an incredible agency with a critical mission and great people. Being deputy commissioner, the number two, was at times a difficult role. I led our efforts to resolve some of the problems the office had prior to my arrival and saw how critical it is to ensure accountability and public trust in government. I learned how important it is to manage all aspects of an agency – its people, budget, procedures, and its citizen boards – to make things happen. I worked with many different legislators and community leaders from across the state. And above all, I learned as deputy commissioner you’re accountable for it all, so your boss and the governor can focus on delivering the economic development wins the state deserves. All lessons not lost on me today.
Can you give a brief summary of your previous career and education? What stands out as a lesson that you’ll bring to your new role?
I went to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, graduating with a degree in economics, political science, and international relations. I joined the U.S. State Department shortly after I graduated, and spent several years overseas working as a diplomat at U.S. embassies in the former Soviet Union. I then returned to Washington, D.C., and worked at the State Department’s headquarters in a variety of positions, the last of which was as part of the career State Department staff for Secretaries Clinton and Kerry. While in D.C., I also went to law school at night for four years, graduating with honors and serving on law review.
In 2014 I returned to South Dakota, and I worked at GOED until I transitioned to Governor Noem’s staff as senior policy advisor at the beginning of her term (in January 2019). I’ve been in private law practice in Pierre since late 2019, where I’ve focused on business law, in addition to working with several state agencies as outside counsel.
I think the most important lesson I’ve learned over my career is the value of working hard, being the expert on your brief, and being able to work with all kinds of different people. And I also learned that kids from South Dakota can more than hold their own, anywhere in the world.
How did this new offer come? Who made it and when?
The governor asked, and I was honored to accept.
You’ll be the fourth chief of staff in 28 months for this governor. You also grew up in Pierre and came back. What makes chief of staff a good fit at this point in your life?
If you look at my career, I’ve had roles spanning everything from policy development to agency operations to negotiating large business deals and litigating in the South Dakota Supreme Court. I’m something of a generalist, and my wide variety of experience and perspective is something I know I bring to the chief of staff role, where no two days will ever be the same. I also have a good working relationship with many, if not most, of the governor’s cabinet and many legislators from my prior work. To me, it’s a good fit and I think I have something to offer in this new role.
Tell us about your family.
My wife, Laura, is originally from Omaha. We met in college in Lincoln and joined the State Department together as diplomats. She did incredible work on human rights and democracy promotion around the world, including places like Vietnam and Burma. She’s currently the director of career and technical education for the state’s Department of Education, where she’s implemented key workforce development initiatives like the JAG program and the governor’s recent Week of Work. I’m a proud husband and her biggest fan.
Family is everything to us. Our boys are 9 and 7. My wife and I left our careers in D.C. because we wanted to raise our kids in South Dakota.
Is there anything else you’d like to point out?
I’m not just about business – you can’t live in Pierre and not enjoy getting the boat out on the river!