HURON — Term-limited state Auditor Steve Barnett knows he will have to work just as hard as he did eight years ago if he’s going to become South Dakota’s next Secretary of State.
The young father faces challenges once again, both on the road as he seeks voter support and at home, where he and his wife, Nicole, are raising four children, the oldest of whom is six.
In 2010 when he decided to run for Auditor, Barnett had to resign his federal job with Sen. John Thune because candidates can’t do both.
“So if that wasn’t motivation to work hard and win a race, I don’t know what was,” he said in an appearance before the Beadle County Republican Women on Monday.
“Because we had a child on the way, we were living off Nicole’s teaching salary, and I did not have an income at the time,” he said.
Current Secretary of State Shantel Krebs is running for the U.S. House seat of Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., a gubernatorial candidate in the 2018 election.
Barnett, a native of Aberdeen, worked on the unsuccessful 2002 Thune race against Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., after graduating from the University of South Dakota with bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He then went to work for Wells Fargo in Sioux Falls, but soon got a call from the Republican Party asking him to join Thune’s 2004 staff in his race against Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
After Thune’s victory, Barnett worked in the senator’s Aberdeen office doing constituent services in 16 counties in northeastern and north central South Dakota.
By 2010, he was ready to try his own run at public office. He won re-election in 2014.
In his Huron speech, Barnett described the duties of the auditor’s office in a power point presentation covering the divisions and responsibilities of each.
State auditor is an elected position, he said, but is really more intergovernmental in nature.
“You’re dealing with more of the state agencies; there’s not as much constituent outreach like I used to do with Senator Thune,” he said.
Barnett has no announced opponent yet in his campaign for Secretary of State.
But he said it’s early, and the dynamics of the race unfolded long before the serious campaigning is likely to get started when Noem announced her intention to run for the seat Gov. Dennis Daugaard will leave next year.
“I’ve really enjoyed public service,” Barnett answers when asked why he’s running. “I’ve always been drawn to that office.”
He said that began when he registered to vote at age 18.
Barnett said Krebs has done a good job in making the office more efficient and added he will continue to embrace new technology.
“I call it a catch-all office,” he said. “It’s really up and running well.”
Barnett said he also wants to try to enhance voter registration and increase voter turnout. Turnouts as low as 9 percent in local elections is disappointing, he said.
“If we can kind of improve that a little bit I think that would be good,” he said.
Baby boomers have a high rate of voter turnout, but more young people need to be made aware of the registration process and encouraged to turn out for elections, he said.
The Barnett name is well known within South Dakota Republican Party circles.
His late grandfather, Joe Barnett Sr., was a member of the state House of Representatives for 19 years, serving as House majority leader and speaker. A distant cousin, Mark Barnett, served as attorney general and was a gubernatorial candidate and currently is a circuit judge in Pierre.