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This illustration by Jennifer M. Kohnke originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune.
This illustration by Jennifer M. Kohnke originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

Humbly Fourth in the USA

Mar 16, 2012

South Dakota Magazine and the Chicago Tribune have almost nothing in common. The Tribune is owned by billionaire Sam Zell. It was in bankruptcy a few years ago. It is the eighth largest newspaper in the USA. The Trib once owned the Chicago Cubs but not any longer.

South Dakota Magazine is owned by a thousandaire.  We aren't rich but neither are we in bankruptcy. We are the largest magazine in South Dakota. Several of our staffers are Cubs fans.

And here's another difference. Public Policy Polling recently published a poll that shows how Americans like or dislike the 50 states. The best-liked states in order are Hawaii, Colorado, Tennessee and, naturally, South Dakota. Sadly, Illinois ranked 47th.

So the Chicago Tribune editors cranked up their poison press and trashed South Dakota. They concluded, "With no ill will to South Dakota, we have to ask. Seriously?"

The Chicago editors said they could understand Hawaii's high ranking because of its beaches. They appreciated Colorado because of its mountains. And even Tennessee, they granted, had a music culture. But South Dakota? "Seriously?"

Obviously, they've never been to South Dakota — Land of about 5,000 natural lakes and some of the most amazing and diverse rivers and reservoirs in the world. And we've got mountains, we just humbly call them "the Hills." As for music, I've seen and heard quite a few of those Nashville folks here in the state. One of our state's greatest singer/songwriters was Kyle Evans, a Wessington Springs cowboy who spent some time in Nashville but was too homesick to stay. When he got home he wrote a song that goes like this:

I'm in heaven on a horse on the
Wild open prairies of Dakota
Where life sings me a melody and
My heart sings in harmony
My troubles never been so few before.

Yes, we've got a pretty amazing country music community of our own. The Poker Alice Band is my personal favorite. Tomorrow night I'm going to Mac's Pub in Volin to hear Mike McDonald sing some ballads. Mike is a retired South Dakota postmaster and an amazing singer. A few years ago, the Old Courthouse Museum in Sioux Falls brought an Irish band to South Dakota for St. Paddy's Day and they asked Mike to do the warm-up. He sang his Irish heart out and the crowd went wild. I think many of them thought he was the main act. I never felt so sorry for anyone as I did for the poor Irishmen who had to follow Mike that night. Unlike beaches and mountains, good music is everywhere. Some great musicians just don't have agents.

So unlike the Chicagoans, we're not shocked that South Dakota ranked fourth. Americans are smart people. I'm a little surprised that Illinois ranked 47th because I don't see anything wrong with the Land of Lincoln. Certainly the Cubs have taught the state some humility. And, hey, not everybody can be fourth.

Jim Hagen, South Dakota's Secretary of Tourism, also took umbrage with the Chicago Tribune editorial and sent the newspaper a properly humble but corrective letter that you might also find interesting. 

See you at the beach. Or the Hills. Or at Mac's.


10:07 am - Fri, March 16 2012
Heidi said:
I think I saw on Jim Hagen's Twitter page that some folks from the Tribune are coming to South Dakota because of the response letter. We'll welcome them with open arms and kindness, I'm sure!
10:17 am - Fri, March 16 2012
Chuck Point said:
I am enthused that so many people think they like SD, I do. Interesting more of them don't either move here or move a business here. Oh well, it is nice to be liked.

We do have some very nice things and places. We also have harsh Winters and some folks find it hard to make a decent living. We get a little too excited about gun rights and may spend too much time trying make sure our non existent unions don't take over.

Oh, and if Illinois is such a difficult place to like and I don't particularly, why do all those people and businesses stay there? Even in Chicago, though they do have the Cubs and got stuck with the White Sox also. Must be some reason?
11:19 am - Fri, March 16 2012
Bernie Hunhoff said:
Chuck, you raise a good question. The Chicago Tribune editorial also insinuates that how well a state is "liked" might have something to do with politics. I'd guess the answer to that is not at all.

I think Americans and especially South Dakotans can either forgive, forget or ignore the politics of a state or region and look beyond it to the other things that are more important than government and politics.

Government is the weak link of South Dakota, in my biased opinion, but nobody could like the state more. I'd bet that's true of a lot of people. And probably true of other states. Politicians and journalists sometimes think the sun rises and sets on politics and government but it's really just not that important to most peoples' lives.
11:36 pm - Wed, March 21 2012
I think in their most honest opinion, bigger is better. But in my opinion having guided people from California to neighboring states they love our friendly atmosphere and open spaces. The people are what I think make this state great and great place to live and play.

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