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Friendly War Between the States Heats up in South Dakota, North Dakota

For the most part, the rivalry between South Dakota and North Dakota has been a good-natured one on both sides of the border.  The states came into the Union on the same day—and both mirror one another to the point of confusion.  Recently, the battle for supremacy took a public turn, and the war of words got turned up a notch or two. 

Most of the world really doesn’t bother to compare and contrast either state that ends in Dakota.  It’s usually dismissed as flyover country, or lumped together as “The Dakotas,” without much of a thought beyond that.  But those who examine them closely, primarily those who live in one of the states, have their own pegs to hang their hats on.  Dusty Johnson is a long-time public servant in South Dakota—now working as Chief of Staff for Governor Dennis Daugaard.

As Johnson notes, “Everybody knows North Dakota and South Dakota are like brothers—you may fight a lot, you may spar a lot, you may compare yourselves a lot—but you know deep down in your heart, at the end of the day, you’ve got a lot of things in common, and you get along and love each other, even when you’re fighting.  And that’s certainly the case between the two states.”

Johnson freely admits to heating the rivalry a while ago.

He explains, “I was talking with a journalist about how you recruit people into a state—and South Dakota and North Dakota have had quite a population growth over the years.  And you know, the reporter tried to get us to do a little compare and contrast—you know, why is North Dakota’s economy doing a little better, and is it because they have some things that we don’t. 

I did not know when I was doing that compare and contrast that I’d be lighting a fire that would engulf us both—but it’s been fun.”

Johnson completed the interview, and likely didn’t think a lot more of it—but the reporter, like any good reporter would do, ran with it.

“Well, the Associated Press picked up the story a few days later" Johnson says, "and it ran in a few places in North Dakota—and that’s when I started getting the hate mail.  And of course, it wasn’t hate mail, it was good-natured chiding.”

At first, though—some feelings were bruised across the border.  Andy Petersen heads the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce, based in Bismarck.

Petersen's first reaction:  “I was absolutely taken back by the comments.  You know, we look at South Dakota as a great place to visit—we really appreciate our neighbors to the south.”

Petersen then thought about what he had read—and reached a simple conclusion:

He says, “Ah, I just said maybe they’re a little jealous that we’re doing a little better than they are at the moment.  We’re kinda like siblings; you want your brother or sister to do well, but at the same time, you want to jab at them every chance you get.  At the end of the day I said, ‘You know, they have Mount Rushmore—but we’re doing okay without that.”

There are several ways to tell South Dakota from North Dakota—in South Dakota,  a college football coach will sing anywhere, anytime—an example is Joe Glenn with the USD marching band. 

In North Dakota—

Coaches don’t sing as much, if at all--but they tend to leave.  Craig Bohl was just hired away from North Dakota State, to become the football coach at the University of Wyoming.  That makes three schools—N-D-S-U, the University of North Dakota, and Dickinson State—on the hunt for coaches.

Drive along the roads of North Dakota, and the beautiful yellow flickertails are celebrated as the state bird.  Cross the border into South Dakota at the right time of the year, and the state bird goes from its place as the State Bird, to another place—next to the potatoes and gravy.

There’s another difference people can spot, even with the two states enjoying strong economies.  North Dakota, in fact, has one of the best economies in the U-S—thanks to oil and natural gas deposits in the western part of the state.  That’s creating job growth, to the point where if you’re anywhere short of comatose, you can find work in North Dakota.  South Dakota’s  Dusty Johnson says that’s well and good—but:

“There’s a reason they call these things ‘booms,’ though—it’s an oil boom they have going on out there.  And the bad thing about a boom is that eventually, it’s going to go bust.  And the kind of growth in South Dakota is not based on any kind of a boom cycle.”

That may be the case, according to Andy Petersen in Bismarck.  But Petersen points out civilization is close by from any point in North Dakota.

Petersen surmises, “You know—I think—we have more major cities than South Dakota does.  If you look at a grid of North Dakota, every hundred miles, you’ve got a city.  So we’ve really got these cities plotted out that makes our traffic flow a little easier.”

A reminder—this battle isn’t serious; it’s a tongue-in-cheek prodding between the two states that basically get along well, respect each other, and need each other.  But Johnson says he’s addressed a concern or two.

Johnson says, “I was talking to a friend who lives in Lemmon the other day—and he was a little nervous that this cold war might go hot, and that Lemmon was gonna get caught between the conflict.  Obviously, that’s not gonna happen; North Dakota and South Dakota have a lot in common. 

" Frankly, our country would be a lot better off if it looked more like North Dakota and South Dakota.”

In the interest of seeing, once and for all, the strengths of both states—and to keep border communities such as Mobridge, Ellendale, Hankinson and Peever safe from any skirmish—Andy Petersen has an idea:

“I think we ought to have a little tourism tour here" says Petersen, "so we can show the good folks in South Dakota all the nice things we have here—that you can have a good life and a job.  And I’d be willing to come to South Dakota for a tour, and then we can settle things over pizza and beer.”

Andy—make it chislic and kuchen, and we’re there.