• Tidemann seeks second term as Dist. 7 senator
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of profiles of area political candidates. Larry Tidemann, a Republican, is seeking his second term as state senator from Legislative District 7, which includes the City of Brookings and Brookings and Medary townships. He is opposed by Democrat Pamela Merchant of Brookings, who previously held the District 7 seat. Her profile appears in Saturday’s Register.
BROOKINGS – Larry Tidemann has had a good life – a farm kid who grew up to run the state’s Cooperative Extension Service, a distinguished academic career, a comfortable retirement.
What motivates a person like that to trade his time and energy for another job that pays poorly and comes with a new headache every day?
“Service to the people,” the state senator from Brookings says simply. “I’ve spent 33 years serving, educating, helping people meet their needs.
“I say I’m a legislator – I’m not a politician. I don’t necessarily want to work my way up to a new level or a different job. I want to put myself in a position where I can help people in solving problems.”
What his service isn’t about, he says, is power, although as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and now as vice-chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he’s one of the most powerful legislators in Pierre.
It’s the small victories, he says – like helping a mother of two autistic children convince the lawmakers not to shut down an autism grant program, or pushing through legislation that could help make the state the energy capital of the nation.
“Accomplishments like that, that’s what I live for,” Tidemann says with a broad smile. “Things that help people. They may never even know about it, but that’s what turns me on and keeps me going back there (Pierre).”
A career in lawmaking wasn’t remotely on his mind when he was growing up on the family farm near Baltic, land homesteaded by his grandfather in 1872.
“I milked cows, fed pigs, picked eggs,” he recalls, and when he finished at Baltic High, he headed for South Dakota State University. In 1970 he earned a bachelor’s degree in dairy production, and two years later, a master’s.
The young dairyman’s first post-college job lasted 11 years: he signed on as the Lincoln County Extension Agent.
His work was rewarding, he says, but none of his efforts more so than his helping to establish both the Lincoln County and South Lincoln County rural water systems.
“It was a great team effort,” Tidemann says today. It was a highlight of his service that he helped bring good, clean water to farm communities throughout the county.
His work as a county agent was noticed by his Extension supervisors, and he was promoted to ag program leader and director of field operations. In 1999, he was tapped to become an associate dean at SDSU and director of the South Dakota Extension Service. He served as the organization’s chief officer until his retirement five years later.
No rest for the weary, though. The year he retired, Tidemann took his knowledge of agriculture and his administrative successes and signed on for another job – running for, and winning, a seat in the state House of Representatives. He rose quickly through the ranks, and his knowledge of budgeting and a skill with numbers propelled him to the leadership of House Appropriations. After three terms in the House, in 2010 Tidemann made the jump to the Senate, once again serving in appropriations. He continues as a member of the Legislative Executive Board.
Tidemann admits he hasn’t done it all alone. His wife and partner, Gail Dobbs Tidemann, has had a distinguished academic career of her own at SDSU, retiring this year as dean of general studies and outreach programs after more than 25 years of service. Like her husband, she immediately stepped into another role as president-elect of the board of the Brookings Area United Way.
The Tidemanns raised two sons in Brookings, Jared, 24, in his final year of law school at the University of Indiana and currently interning with the NCAA, and Josh, 20, a senior at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management; he’s headed for a career in the financial world.
Although his focus has been in Pierre, Tidemann has remained active in the community he’s called home for 34 years. When his kids were younger, he coached soccer and baseball and was a hockey dad (“I couldn’t skate very well”), and he’s active today in Optimists, the Golden Service Club and Brookings Chamber work. He also sits as a member of the Growth Partnership board and is treasurer and a council member at Ascension Lutheran Church.
As he ratchets up his campaign for his second term as state senator, Tidemann admits, “Some voters may not agree with every decision I make, but if you ask me, I can explain the reason why. … I’m more about finding solutions to people’s problems, finding a compromise.
“I want people to know that I’m willing to listen, and I’m committed.”
Contact Ken Curley at kcurley@-brookingsregister.com.