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Deb Bowman: A Genuine Public Servant

There’s a difference between public servants and bureaucrats, and we have known or dealt with both. Our office spends an incredible amount of time and energy helping constituents bust through the federal bureaucracy and unfortunately, we often bump heads with federal bureaucrats. It is time-consuming and aggravating for constituents. After experiences like these, we unfortunately have a tendency to stereotype all government employees in that manner. 


Thankfully, that’s not always the case. There are examples of legitimate public servants, often behind the scenes, who truly seek to make the lives of our citizens better. One of those special individuals is Deb Bowman.


Deb Bowman was the truest, most sincere (and brutally honest) public servant I’ve had the honor of knowing.


For those of us who knew Deb, especially her family—her husband Randy, her children Brooke and Jessamine and her grandkids—our hearts ache. At just 65 years old, Deb passed away on September 17, 2019, after a fairly recent lung cancer diagnosis. Years earlier, Deb became a kidney transplant recipient and I believe that experience and the other hardships in her life shaped her view of public service.


Deb was a loyal friend who worked with me while I served as governor. She was a tremendous asset on my 2002 transition team, as a senior advisor and cabinet secretary. Prior to that, Deb was an advisor to Governors Mickelson and Janklow and she went on to serve Governor Daugaard before her retirement in 2014. 


It is not hard to understand how four governors saw the same value and passion in Deb. It is a testament to the legacy she has left. 


Deb was a fierce conversationalist. Her ability to identify with those less fortunate was her signature quality. She was able to put a “face” on the policy decisions that were made and reminded governors, legislators and state employees that the monetary and policy decisions we make impact real people and families. She was a tough and relentless advocate for those less fortunate. And, she inspired understanding about the role society and state government played when it came to children, the poor and the elderly.


Often, Deb would be outright arguing a position with me and she’d say; “Oh now come on Governor, that’s ‘bullcrap’, have you considered…” Needless to say, Deb won those debates multiple times and our state is better off for it.


She understood that her value was not mimicking the opinions being expressed around the table. She brought compassion to her advocacy and I believe, it made me a better governor. Her service was not without sacrifice. On top of time away from her family and the strain upon her health, her empathy was so deep and pure that she carried the weight of the vulnerable through long hours and personal anguish. Yet despite many times being dismissed as the lone, unpopular voice, she’d take a drive around the Capitol, think over her argument, and show up with a new line of reasoning. She was persistent.


When I think of the rare public servant like Deb, I’m reminded of Matthew 23:11; “The greatest among you must be a servant.” Deb was a phenomenal public servant – for all the right reasons.


Deb could have been the CEO of any organization and made a bunch more money. She was intelligent, a hard worker, a professional, a leader. She chose public service, and in doing so she was a friend, to me and to many. 


Thank you, Deb, for showing all of us what a true public servant looks like.