Eye on KELOLAND: Treasuring politics


SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — For the first time in many election cycles, the name of Pam Nelson won’t be appearing on the November ballot. The longtime Minnehaha County treasurer isn’t running for re-election, putting a pause on a political career that’s spanned decades. But this pioneering politician isn’t closing the door on public service.

The lines of people waiting to do business at the Minnehaha County Treasurer’s office aren’t as long as before. Shortening the wait time is just one of the challenges Treasurer Pam Nelson has had to deal with during the pandemic. She says it’s all just part of the job.

“There’s always something that comes to play to make it busy. But the thing I like about this job and what most people that work for me like about this job is you don’t have to sit around looking for something to do. There’s always something to do, you’re always busy, it’s not always the same, there’s always a new twist,” Nelson said.

Now, Nelson is adding a new twist of her own, stepping down as treasurer after 16 years on the job.

“I think everything’s always tough to leave, but there’s always something new that needs to be done,” Nelson said.

Nelson’s career in Democratic Party politics spans more than 45 years, starting in 1974 when she was elected to the Sioux Falls School Board.

“I never decided to go into politics per se, there was always an issue I was trying to promote, fix, or something I wanted to change,” Nelson says.

Nelsons’ drive for change then took her to the South Dakota legislature where she served in both the House and Senate. She was part of that early wave of women being elected to state government.

“When we had, I think eight or nine women in the legislature in the senate you know, that was a huge amount at that time,” Nelson said.

Many women see Nelson as a political trailblazer. Pam Cole also served in the legislature and is now the executive director of the South Dakota Democratic Party.

“She’s been in service so many years, 40, I believe, and in so many different roles, that she paved the way for us. I mean honestly, for women in South Dakota, probably both Republicans and Democrats, because I think she has a very moderate approach to how she handles things,” Cole said.

Even though Nelson is leaving the treasurer’s office, she’s not ruling out a future run for public office.

“There are a lot of things I might want to do. I might want to be a county commissioner, I might want to be on the city council,” Nelson said.

Cole welcomes another potential run for office by Nelson, saying her experience is an important political resource for South Dakota Democrats.

“It is that mentoring of those that come before us that really sets the stage for us and really helps us to see that we need to be helpful as well,” Cole said.

Even though Nelson is stepping aside for now, she sees a promising future for her party and thinks Democrats can loosen the stranglehold Republicans have held on statewide offices, as long as candidates stay true to the people they want to represent.

“I just see things that need to be done, and I try to do them and most people think leaders lead, I think followers make leaders, so you gotta find the group and what the group wants to do and then you lead there. Because I don’t think you can lead where people don’t want to go,” Nelson said.

The two candidates running to replace Nelson as treasurer are Democrat Pat Starr and Republican Kris Swanson.

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