A piece of gravel thrown up by a truck cracked the windshield of Dick Gregerson’s car Thursday as he drove home to Sioux Falls on Interstate 90.
It was no way for a fellow to be treated after his final meeting as a member of the state Transportation Commission.
Gregerson wrapped up 16 years on the commission that decides where and how to spend several hundreds of millions of dollars on South Dakota’s roads and bridges each year.
As he turned 80 this year, the Sioux Falls lawyer, lobbyist and former legislator remained highly active professionally and politically.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard recently decided to appoint Kevin Schieffer of Sioux Falls to the seat held by Gregerson since his appointment in 1996 by then-Gov. Bill Janklow.
Gregerson clearly enjoyed serving on the commission and spent the past year as chairman. Rodney Fouberg of Aberdeen, who has been vice chair, will succeed him in wielding the gavel at meetings.
Gregerson was one of four commissioners remaining who were first appointed in the 1990s. The others still aboard include Sam Tidball of Fort Pierre (1994), Fouberg (1996) and Mike Trucano of Deadwood (1997).
There are nine members overall.
Although Gregerson wasn’t specifically told he wouldn’t be reappointed, the Daugaard administration in the past 19 months has made a point of installing new people on state boards and commissions as terms expire.
“I’d been on a long time,” Gregerson said. “I’m not sorry I’m off.”
Among Schieffer’s recent campaign contributions is $2,000 that he donated to Daugaard’s campaign fund last December.
Schieffer also gave $4,000 to Daugaard’s election fund in 2010 after Daugaard won the June primary.
Gregerson, a Republican, is also a frequent contributor to political campaigns. Gregerson donated $2,000 to Democrat Scott Heidepriem’s campaign fund in 2010.
Daugaard, a Republican, defeated Heidepriem in the 2010 general election.
Gregerson is one of the senior-most attorneys at the Woods Fuller Shultz and Smith law firm of Sioux Falls.
He served two terms in the state Senate, from 1979 through 1982, coinciding with the first of Janklow’s record four terms as governor.
Gregerson has lobbied at the Legislature for decades and was a strong supporter of Janklow. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t willing to challenge his friend.
During his final term as governor, Janklow convinced the Legislature to pass a law giving the governor or the Transportation Commission the authority to determine if a railroad project met the requirements to use eminent domain to acquire access over private property.
Janklow was opposed to the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern railroad’s plans to run a new coal line from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin mines through South Dakota to points east.
The railroad’s chief executive at the time was Schieffer, the man now replacing Gregerson on the commission.
Janklow, later in private practice, represented some of the private landowners along the proposed route. The issue bogged down before the Transportation Commission.
Eventually the issue went away after the railroad was acquired by the Canadian Pacific in 2008 and the new ownership dropped the coal-line project.
Schieffer doesn’t work for the railroad any longer, and Janklow died in January.
“That law really does need to be changed,” Gregerson said.
Gregerson “has been a good, longtime member of the commission. The governor always considers other candidates, even when there is an incumbent,” Tony Venhuizen, the governor’s communications director, said Thursday.
“Very often, he decides to reappoint the incumbent. In this case, he decided that Schieffer's experience would make him a good commissioner as well.”