A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:
Last Monday, South Dakota lost a statesman and we also lost a friend.
Walter Dale Miller was tall, quiet and unassuming. He was born on his family’s ranch near New Underwood and he spent his life on that ranch. Walt spent years on the local school board, and was elected to the State House in 1966. That was the first of ten times that his friends and neighbors chose him to be their representative in Pierre.
In Pierre, Walt quickly emerged as a leader, and he became one of our state’s legendary legislators. He didn’t give a lot of speeches or sponsor dozens of bills. He chose his words carefully. But when he did speak, people listened, and they followed his lead. Walt was the only person in the history of South Dakota to serve as speaker, speaker pro tempore, majority leader, assistant leader and majority whip. That’s the kind of respect his peers had for him.
In 1986, George S. Mickelson was looking for a partner to join his ticket, and he looked to Walt. George had served in the State House with Walt and knew that Walt was steady, capable and respected. George invited Walt to be the first full-time lieutenant governor. Walt wasn’t flashy and he didn’t seek attention, but during his time in the Mickelson Administration he was an important partner to Gov. Mickelson.
Then came the tragedy of April 19, 1993, when Gov. Mickelson and seven others died in the crash of the state plane. For the first time in South Dakota, a lieutenant governor succeeded a governor who had died in office. And for the first time, we had a full-time lieutenant governor to step in. Many South Dakotans remember being reassured by Gov. Miller’s calm, steady leadership during that tragic time.
In the days that followed, Gov. Miller was challenged again and again. The river flooding of 1993 was among the worst in state history, and he led response efforts. A penitentiary riot ended without bloodshed thanks to Gov. Miller’s restraint and leadership. A court ruling that suspended video lottery required Gov. Miller to impose deep mid-year cuts to keep the state solvent.
When Walt ran for his own term in 1994, his campaign slogan was “Cool in a Crisis.” It was the perfect slogan to describe a man who was perfectly suited to lead South Dakota during a very difficult time.
The State Capitol memorial service on October 5th coincides with Walter Dale Miller’s ninetieth birthday. That day is a time for all South Dakotans to say “thanks,” one last time, to the quiet, west river cowboy who stepped up when South Dakota needed him.