SD Democratic Party Chair Randy Seiler dies, drawing bipartisan outpour of condolences
"He felt [public service] was a glorious opportunity; not an opportunity to harness anger, but rather to harness some meaningful conversation," Rep. Dusty Johnson said. "He will be missed.”
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Randy Seiler, the outgoing chair of the South Dakota Democratic Party and a longtime public servant in the state, died on Monday, April 17, the party announced Tuesday.
“In his memory — extend kindness to a stranger, read a book, mentor a young person,” his wife, Wanda, wrote in a Facebook post following his death. “Or if you are lucky enough to be a grandparent, plan the next adventure with your grandchildren.”
The former United States Attorney for the District of South Dakota suffered a heart attack while running with his dog at the Oahe Dam near his home in Fort Pierre last Thursday. He was transferred to a hospital in Sioux Falls and entered a medically induced coma but was unable to recover.
“I am in shock. We have lost one of the great leaders of our party. I personally have lost a mentor and friend,” Jennifer Slaight-Hansen, the incoming South Dakota Democratic Party chair, said in the announcement of Seiler’s death. “I fall short of words to express my sadness on his sudden passing. I pray his soul rests in peace. I wish Wanda and his family immense strength as they move forward.”
Initially scheduled to take over the post on May 1, Slaight-Hansen will begin her duties early.
Other Democratic leaders in the state expressed their condolences, too. Jamie Smith, the former House minority leader and the party’s most recent gubernatorial candidate, wrote in a tweet that he would be “sorely missed.”
“I join with South Dakotans across the state in remembering Randy and his immense contributions to our state,” Smith said. “Randy was a good friend, an excellent leader for South Dakota Democrats, and a true gentleman.”
Born in Herreid, Seiler spent time in the Air Force, serving a tour in Vietnam and earning the Air Force Commendation Medal for meritorious service. Other pieces of public service in his career included time on the Mobridge School Board and Fort Pierre City Council.
The bulk of his career was spent in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of South Dakota, a nearly 30-year span that culminated in a stint as U.S. Attorney from 2015 to 2017.
His bipartisan nomination to the office was just one indication of his relationships across the aisle, a theme that characterized the outpouring of condolences from several of South Dakota’s statewide leaders.
“He did not bring a kind of toxic brawler mentality to the public space. He just really felt like this was supposed to be a state and national debate about where our country should go,” Rep. Dusty Johnson told Forum News Service. “And I would get a sense from him that he felt that was a glorious opportunity; not an opportunity to harness anger, but rather to harness some meaningful conversation. He will be missed.”
U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, a personal friend of the Seiler family, also released a statement following the news.
“Randy Seiler was not only my neighbor but a good friend. I always appreciated our candid conversations about issues facing South Dakota,” he wrote. “He cared deeply for our state and our citizens. Our neighborhood will not be the same without Randy. I’m praying for Wanda and his family.”
After the end of his time in federal service, Seiler made the leap into politics, running an ultimately unsuccessful campaign for attorney general in 2018. Part of his platform included a different approach to tackling the state’s addiction problems, including expanding community-based treatment and prosecuting drug dealers.
“The people who are incarcerated for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses are going to get out of jail and re-enter the community. Do we want that without having addressed the issues that resulted in their incarceration in the first place?” he told WNAX radio in Yankton during the campaign. “I think it's worth the investment to invest in programs that address the issues that led to the criminal conduct.”
In 2019, about six months after his election as vice chair of the South Dakota Democratic Party, he stepped into his final role as chairman of the party, helping lead the organization out of considerable debt during his tenure.
“You don't turn from a historically red state to a purple or even blue state overnight,” Seiler told Forum News Service following the 2022 statewide elections. “But there is hope on the horizon.”
Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or email@example.com.