"Lobbyist" is often a dirty word. The public imagines murky money, secret deals, and winning at all costs.
One of my best friends, Greg Dean, was a lobbyist – the “Dean of the South Dakota lobbyists” – who earned that designation by representing the reason we have lobbyists in government: Their power for good.
Greg loved democracy. He thrived in the “sausage-making” of it. He adored South Dakota, especially its Capitol building. His LinkedIn background photo features the iconic structure set against an amazing South Dakota sunset.
Sadly, the sun set on Greg’s life unexpectedly on Jan. 19 during his favorite time of year – legislative season.
Greg worked on big things in Pierre on behalf of the 17 independent broadband companies across South Dakota that own SDN Communications.
But more importantly, he worked on behalf of you and me and all the state’s citizens who didn’t have a connection – broadband or political.
Most notably, he helped shepherd the biggest technology investment in South Dakota history through the last three legislative sessions – $185 million to extend broadband to every corner of his beloved state. Gov. Kristi Noem’s administration often publicly thanked him for his hard work and credibility in convincing lawmakers to support the investment.
As a result, some of South Dakota’s most remote residents, and even populated developments ignored by the giant internet providers, are now connected to the World Wide Web, thanks to Noem’s agenda and Greg’s credible convincing.
The Wessington Springs farm boy took pride in rural places getting connected. He compared it to the economic revolution that electricity brought to farms in earlier generations. There was a time when he thought he’d have an agronomy career. He earned an agricultural degree from South Dakota State University and belonged to FarmHouse Fraternity, where he formed life-long friendships with future constitutional officers with whom he’d work, Public Utilities Commissioners Chris Nelson and Kristie Fiegen.
Ultimately, his love of government lured him to Gov. George Mickelson’s administration. He helped plan the 1989 year-long state centennial celebrations. He also helped with the gubernatorial transition to Walter Dale Miller after the tragic plane crash that killed Mickelson.
Incredibly competent and attuned to the nuances necessary in legislative work, Greg carried himself with an “Aw shucks” attitude, always self-deprecating but quick to boost anyone around him. His modest character sometimes hurt his own cause. The industry might have underestimated and undervalued him at times, but lawmakers never did. In 20 years of working with him, every legislator I encountered praised his character and ability to summarize our complex industry.
I’d relay those compliments to him. He’d brush them off, saying,
Good days were also when he could learn something new. Our industry affords us conferences in fascinating cities. Greg would always pry me and Midstate Communications General Manager Chad Mutziger from the conference hotel in free time to go explore the city, especially government and historic sites. The baseball fanatic got us tickets to watch a Boston Red Sox game atop the Green Monster and meet Wally the mascot. We even made the ESPN highlight clips that night. Greg was as giddy as a schoolboy.
Unlike some egos and seniority-seeking bravado in Pierre, Greg didn’t define himself by his work. His proudest titles were father to three boys and husband to Jill. Too humbled to overtly brag about them, you could still spot the pride swell in his chest when he’d speak of “my bride” or Blake, Bradley, and Bennett. He’d sport an unmistakable broad grin and a twinkle in his eyes at the start of any story about a home run or game-winning basket by his athletic sons.
He never counted his legislative wins. Instead, he counted blessings at home and in his relationships. I’ve lost count of how many Thanksgivings and Christmas mornings he’d text Chad and me, wishing us a happy holiday. Then he would sign off with how he counted us among his best friends. I believe it, but I also believe he sent out several more sincere texts like that to his prodigious portfolio of best friends.
“Dean of the lobbyist” or “Director of Industry Relations,” (his preferred and actual title), call him what you wish. But all who know Greg Dean across this great state will say he was the best human possible.