Lawrence, who recently completed the sale of his interest in the Lawrence & Schiller marketing firm, said he was preparing to retire and do ministry work until he received an invitation from Gov. Dennis Daugaard on Dec. 22 to consider taking the post.
No other candidates ran for any of the Republican state posts Saturday during the central committee meeting at the Casey Tibbs rodeo center in Fort Pierre.
The selection of Lawrence signals further acceleration in the shift of tactics by South Dakota Republicans in even greater use of social media technology, which had already begun under executive director Tony Post the past two years.
Lawrence succeeds state Sen. Tim Rave of Baltic, who was chairman for two years. Rave had followed then-Sen. Bob Gray of Pierre, who was chairman for four years.
Lawrence called on Republicans to remember three numbers: “Fourteen, fifty and one hundred.” He said they refer to the 2014 elections, the 50 years since Republicans last held all of South Dakota’s seats in Congress and the goal of 100 percent victories in the upcoming elections for U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, governor and all other statewide offices.
He also offered a theme. “We’re Republicans because we believe tomorrow is worth fighting for,” he said. “Tomorrow is worth fighting for. South Dakota is worth fighting for. Our grandchildren are worth fighting for.”
In addition to social media strategy, Lawrence suggested Republicans need to develop a more “winsome” image. He said the most-popular Super Bowl ad was the Budweiser spot with the iconic horse that races down a street to see again the man who raised it. “We need a little bit more Clydesdale in our message,” he said.
Lawrence recalled his years in newspaper and TV work before moving fully into marketing and public relations. He told the crowd about his work with Bill Janklow in his first campaign for attorney general in 1974 and his close relationship with George S. Mickelson, including being bumped from the fatal 1993 flight in which the governor and seven other men were killed in the state-airplane crash.
Dan Hargreaves, an Aurora County Republican who is president of South Dakota Right to Life, nominated Lawrence, and the seconding motion came from former state Rep. Al Koistinen of Codington County.
Hargreaves recalled how President Ronald Reagan in 1983 asked Lawrence to head a Year of the Bible campaign that remains in operation. Hargreaves described Lawrence as “a strong conservative.”
Said Lawrence: “If elected, I will be your servant, not your leader.”
Former state Rep. Kim Vanneman of Ideal was chosen as vice-chair to succeed Kristi Wagner of Whitewood. Vanneman wasn’t able to attend, but Lawrence announced some news about how he plans to proceed. He said he and Vanneman will be co-chairs. “Kim and I are equals,” he said. “We talked about it the other day.”
The new treasurer will be Pierre lawyer Justin Bell, who moves up from assistant treasurer. He replaces Brett Koenecke, who works in the same law firm and will now be an assistant treasurer. The new secretary is Sara Frankenstein of Rapid City, a lawyer who has been involved in several high-profile election lawsuits. She replaces Matt Konenkamp of Rapid City.
Republicans won every statewide seat available and held their legislative numbers equal in the 2012 elections. “We didn’t lose any ground. That was pretty amazing,” Daugaard said. He noted that party officials made some smart strategic investments. “The results that came about speak for themselves,” he said.
Koenecke added that he “couldn’t be prouder” of Post and his team’s work. Post in turn said he plans to continue “coupling our gumption with new technologies” in 2014.
Lawrence’s speech after his uncontested election showed his strengths as a story-teller and messenger as well as his deep beliefs in the Bible and Republican principles. “This is the perilous moment when we must rise. It is war,” he said.