By Seth Tupper
Rapid City Journal
Could you stay civil after somebody threatens to run you over with a truck?
State Rep. Julie Bartling, D-Gregory, faced that and other challenges in 2006 when her sponsorship of a legislative abortion ban, which was ultimately referred to the ballot and defeated by voters, foisted her into the middle of a national debate.
She received threatening emails, including the one about the truck.
“I was just kind of in a numb state, if I can call it that, because of the name-calling and the ugly comments and remarks after all was said and done on that,” Bartling recalled.
But she maintained her commitment to civility and went on to make the trait a hallmark of her legislative career. Now, in her 16th year of legislative service, Bartling has been chosen as the inaugural winner of the Rapid City Journal’s Craig Tieszen Award for Civility in Lawmaking.
The award is given in honor of Tieszen, a Rapid City legislator and former police chief who died in a November kayaking accident in the Cook Islands. After his death, Tieszen was lauded across the state and across the political spectrum as a thoughtful and effective public servant with a commitment to listening and an uncommon devotion to civility. The Journal created the award to preserve Tieszen’s legacy and encourage legislators to emulate his civil conduct.
The Journal announced the creation of the award in December and solicited invitations in two ways: by sending two rounds of emails to every legislator in South Dakota, and by publishing two stories seeking nominations online and in print.
Twenty current legislators and one former legislator were nominated. A committee of Journal employees chose the winner, with input from Tieszen’s widow, Deb Tieszen, and her brother, Jim Pesek.
“My family and I are pleased with the inaugural choice for the Rapid City Journal’s Craig Tieszen Award for Civility in Lawmaking,” Deb Tieszen said. “Representative Julie Bartling deserves the award because she emulates the qualities that Craig demonstrated through his life and while a legislator. We thank the Journal staff for creating and sponsoring this award.”
Chris Huber, managing editor of the Journal, presented Bartling with a plaque Thursday during the South Dakota Newspaper Association’s annual Newspaper Day luncheon at the Ramkota Hotel and Conference Center in Pierre.
Bartling is a Democrat, and Tieszen was a Republican. Despite the distance between their politics and legislative districts, Bartling said she knew and respected Tieszen.
“He had a way about him that just made you feel so welcome, and he listened and joined in conversations,” Bartling said. “And I’m just truly honored to be the first winner of an award in his honor. It just means a great deal to me.”
Award nominations from Bartling came from current and former legislators of both major political parties, and from a lobbyist.
One of the nominations for Bartling came from former legislator Lee Schoenbeck, a Republican from Watertown.
“She never says an unkind word about anybody, or loses her composure in any setting,” Schoenbeck wrote. “With you or against you, if you know her, you know a friend.”
Bartling is currently the assistant minority leader in the House and is one of 16 Democrats in the Legislature, compared to 89 Republicans.
“To not succumb to bitterness or hostility while spending life in the minority really takes a special person,” Schoenbeck wrote. “Julie is that person.”
Schoenbeck also noted Bartling’s effectiveness. Last year, she was the prime sponsor of six bills or resolutions that were passed by the Legislature and many more pieces of legislation that passed with her as a co-sponsor.
Lobbyist Eric Ollila also nominated Bartling.
“Rep. Bartling is a bit like a ray of sunshine with a huge, smart brain,” Ollila wrote. “She is unfailingly polite and genuine.”
Bartling said she learned civility from her parents while growing up on a farm as one of 12 children in a Catholic family.
“I grew up being raised by some really good, strong parents who always taught me respect and taught me that other people’s views matter,” Bartling said. “We may not agree, but we can be respectful in our disagreements.”
Civility has prevailed during most of her time in the South Dakota Legislature, Bartling said, but she has been dismayed by the erosion of civility in national politics.
She hopes to stand against the spread of that behavior into her home state.
“When it comes to public service,” she said, “I don’t believe the name-calling, the antagonistic attitudes and the disrespect that might get thrown around is a way to really accomplish anything.”