SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Since the late senator and congressman’s death last month on his 92nd birthday, South Dakotans have spent time recalling Jim Abourezk’s time in Washington.
What the public might not know is how he profoundly impacted the career of another one of the state’s most prominent political figures. Abourezk represented South Dakotans in the U.S. House from 1971 to 1973.
“I know it’s customary in announcing for a political office to promise all sorts of magical things will happen if you’re elected,” Abourezk said in 1972. “But it seems to me that South Dakota’s had enough evaporating promises from politicians. In 1970 I ran for and I was elected to the Congress, and I said at that time that I could promise no overnight solutions to the very serious problems facing our state. I pledged simply that I would tackle these problems head-on and work as hard as I knew how to begin solving them.”
And as he looked to the Senate, he wouldn’t guarantee paradise.
“As a candidate to represent South Dakota in the United States Senate, I can only repeat the same warning and the same pledge,” Abourezk said in 1972. “If the people choose to elect me to represent them in the United States Senate, I can’t promise that South Dakota will become the land of milk and honey. But I can assure you that if I am elected, they’ll be no doubt in anybody’s mind that South Dakota is being represented in the United States Senate.”
He went on to serve one term in the Senate, from 1973 to 1979.
“I don’t know that there are any senators who had more of an impact in one term in the United States Senate than Jim Abourezk did,” former U.S. Rep. and Sen. Tom Daschle said.
Daschle, who served both as the Senate’s majority and minority leader, praises Abourezk’s legacy.
“In six years in the Senate, he probably has accomplished more on the behalf of Native Americans than anybody before or after,” Daschle said. “I would say the same with Arab Americans. He was an outspoken, sometimes lone voice on behalf of Arab Americans as well.”
Abourezk was sponsor of the Indian Child Welfare Act that received President Jimmy Carter’s signature in late 1978.
“I don’t know of anybody who has contributed more to the rights and to the challenges that the Native American community faces than Jim Abourezk,” Daschle said.
Abourezk also had a profound impact on Daschle, who worked as a legislative assistant to Abourezk as well as in an Abourezk constituent office.
“When I ran for the House the first time in 1978, had it not been for the experiences that I had in working with Senator Abourezk and for the opportunities that he gave me, I’m not sure I could have ever gotten started in politics,” Daschle said. “He was incredibly instrumental in giving me that opportunity.”
Daschle served in the U.S. House from 1979 to 1987. In 1984, Abourezk poured cold water on any notion of a return to politics. He hadn’t even been a candidate for reelection in 1978.
“No, if you see me in any kind of politics, please kick me, as a favor to me,” Abourezk said in 1984.
That chapter was over, but his story continued.
“I’ve served my time,” Abourezk said in 1984. “I did what I could for my constituency in South Dakota, and I thought it was time for me to move on.”
Abourezk’s time in Congress ended the same year that Daschle’s began. Today in 2023, Daschle is grateful.
“I deeply appreciated the mentorship and the support that he had given me early in my career,” Daschle said.