Michelle Lavallee (Billie Sutton campaign)


Billie Sutton, the Democratic state senator running for governor, today announced his running mate will be erstwhile Republican Michelle Lavallee, who is switching parties to try for lieutenant governor, Sutton announced Thursday. Sutton will ask the state Democratic Party Convention that opens Friday, June 15 in Sioux Falls, to nominate Lavallee with him at the top of the ticket.

“Michelle brings balance and bipartisanship to our campaign,” Sutton said in his news release announcing his pick. “She’s an urban, fiscally conservative business leader with years of experience in South Dakota’s private and public sector.”

Sutton, a former professional rodeo cowboy, is running against U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, R-SD, who won the Republican primary election for governor June 5 over state Attorney General Marty Jackley.

He’s taking an unusual step in choosing Lavallee, a longtime Republican who just helped a Republican get elected mayor of Sioux Falls, then switched her party registration.

“She’s not a career politician but instead is a successful, well-respected business woman with deep-rooted South Dakota values who has the background and experience to help drive my plan to build a stronger South Dakota economy,” Sutton said.

Lavallee has worked as a marketing and business executive, with management jobs at Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, Raven Industries and the University of South Dakota.

She grew up in Tulare in a four-generation farming and ranching family and earned an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Business at Northwestern University in Chicago.

She’s been married to Paul Lavallee for 34 years and they live in Sioux Falls and Huron.

Tony Venhuizen, Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s chief of staff, wrote on his blog — which is about the history of the state’s governors —  that Lavallee will be the fourth woman to join as the undercard on a Democratic governor ticket, following Shirley Halleen in 1986, Elsie Meeks in 1998 and Susy Blake in 2014. If she and Sutton win, Lavallee would be the first Democratic woman to be lieutenant governor and the second female lieutenant governor. The first was  Carole Hillard of Rapid City, who was Gov. Bill Janklow’s second from 19950-2003. She died in 2007 in Europe after an accident while on vacation.

Republican Pat Powers, who blogs at Dakota War College, was dismissive, writing today about news coverage of the choice that Sutton “is expounding on why he chose a Republican to switch parties to run with as (his lieutenant governor) instead of looking to his own party of failed ideas and failed candidates. . . .Billie Sutton seems to spend an inordinate amount of time pretending to be like Republicans, when at the end of the day he’s still just a Democrat.”

Democratic blogger Cory Heidelberger, at Dakota Free Press, posts Lavallee’s political contributions this century:

  • $5,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2000

      * $1,000 to Senator Tom Daschle, D-S.D.,  in 2000 and another $500 in 2003

  • $1,000 to Senator Tim Johnson, D-S.D.,  in 2000 and another $1,000 in 2001

  • $1,000 to Rep. John Thune, R-S.D.,  in 2000 and another $1,900 in 2002.

  • $4,000 to President George W. Bush in 2003

  • $1,500 to Democrat Stephanie Herseth in 2004, $750 to the Congresswoman in 2008 and another $250 in 2010

  • $500 to Republican Shantel Krebs in 2017.


“As Venhuizen emphasizes, Lavallee brings no political experience to this task,” Heidelberger wrote. “But Lavallee apparently has big money and connections to big money. We’ll see how much of that money she can bring to the cause of sending a Democrat to the Second Floor of the Capitol for the first time since the 1970s.”

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