HURON – A basketball analogy comes to the mind of state Rep. Lana Greenfield when she offers advice to freshmen legislators already having higher political aspirations.
“You’ve got to have a certain amount of bench time,” the third term Republican from Doland said Monday in Huron.
“You’ve got to sit on the bench. It doesn’t do you or anybody any good to think that you’re going to get out there and become a political climber all at once because you’re still a student of the game,” Greenfield said.
“And you’re a student of the game for many years, perhaps,” she said at the Beadle County Republican Women luncheon. “And maybe you’re always going to be that student of the game.”
She says there’s nothing wrong with that. When people put the label of politician on her, she pushes back.
“I’m always quick to tell them my perspective, that I’m not a politician,” she said. “I’m a citizen legislator and that’s all that I want to be.”
But of course Greenfield had accomplished much before she won her first term in the House.
A mother of three and grandmother of three more, she spent much of her career in the classroom as a high school English teacher, the last 26 years in Doland. The Greenfields also owned a convenience store and gas station in Clark for more than 23 years and currently operate a restaurant and lodging area in Doland.
Their oldest, Brock, had been serving in the Legislature for a number of years and some thought he was the one who got her to run for the first time nine years ago.
It was not him, but a young Republican in Sioux Falls who called her while she was at work one day and asked her to consider it.
Taken by surprise, and busy at the time preparing salads for restaurant customers, Greenfield said she’d think about it.
It was her husband, Don, who encouraged her to enter the race. He even went and picked up the petitions for her.
She had been forewarned that campaigning in heavily Democratic Brown County would be a challenge for a Republican, especially so for a first-time candidate, but she set off to meet voters where they lived.
It was hardly a smooth beginning.
She’ll never forget what happened after she knocked on her first door in Aberdeen and introduced herself.
“And the guy said, what are you a Democrat or a Republican?”
“I said, ‘well, I’m a Republican, but I think it’s important to represent all–’ boom, the door shut!” Greenfield said.
“And I thought, OK, that’s my start here in Aberdeen. It’s going to be a long trail.”
But she persevered, “and I found out that people were pretty decent.”
It was also an uphill battle because Greenfield was running against two incumbents.
“The walking was tough,” she said. “And being out there by myself. My husband helped me on weekends. Brock did what he could do, but he had his own race to run.
“The journey was long and it was hard and there were many days when I’d get home and I’d say, ‘gosh, I don’t want to go out tomorrow. I hope it rains. I just want to take a break.’”
She lost that first campaign by about 400 votes.
Two years later, Brock was redistricted so the two Greenfields were then in the same district. Her options, if she was to run again, were to run against her son or against one of her husband’s best friends.
She decided to sit it out.
Her first victory came in another two years when there was an open House seat because Brock decided to run for the Senate.
Running for the state Legislature not only takes time, it takes more money than she thinks people realize.
Thousands of dollars are spent on highway and yard signs, mailings, newspaper advertising, door-to-door handouts and hangers, and little trinkets tossed to folks lining parade routes in the district’s small towns, she said.
“I think the average candidate probably spends between $10,000 and $15,000 and people from the bigger areas probably tend to spend more perhaps,” Greenfield said.
There’s help from county GOP organizations, of course, and donations from supporters around the district. “Every little bit helps,” she said.
“You can’t really think of it as her campaign or his campaign,” Greenfield said. “It’s all of our campaign because we’re trying to get legislation through that we think promotes common sense values in South Dakota.”
She remembers her first days in Pierre as a District 2 House member.
“I think we’re all elated when we finally feel a sense of victory, and I think that we are always thinking about how we’re going to shake things up,” she said.
“Everybody’s going to listen to us when we get out there, we’re going to tip the world upside down,” Greenfield said.
She came to realize the fallacy of that, and an initial notion that everyone is nice and friendly.
“They said you’ll see that for awhile,” she said. “But I found out that people aren’t very happy when you don’t sign on to their bill or when you speak against their bill on the floor.”
Still, they are all – Republicans and Democrats – in it together, she said. They talk about the different issues, listen to different points of view, even pray at times. One such gathering is called the Catacomb Caucus.
“There’s a lot of power in prayer out there,” Greenfield said. “We realize very soon that we can’t do it of our own accord.
“I never felt like it was a man’s world or a woman’s world,” she said. “I’ve always felt that we all work together as legislators. I’ve always felt that we’ve had a deep respect for each other.”