Eye on Keloland Features Alumna

Nancy Erickson '84 is the Secretary of the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C.

When Nancy Erickson from Brandon campaigned for George McGovern in fifth grade, she knew somehow she wanted to have a life in politics. And she does. After working for Senator Tom Daschle for nearly two decades, Erickson was named Secretary of the Senate.

Her job has been around since the U.S. Senate began. South Dakota native Nancy Erickson's role as Secretary of the Senate is most prominent on swearing-in day.

"It's a very special day. The Vice President swears in new members and members who've been elected and after they take their oath of office, I"m seated at the rostrum with the Senate oath book," Erickson said.

It's a book that dates back to 1789.

"We store the oath book in a vault in our Senate dispersing office and when they bring that book over to me, I'm always nervous about keeping my coffee cup far away from it. I don't want to ruin that book," Erickson said.

Besides swearing in day, Erickson's role is mostly behind the scenes. But her signature goes on all the bills that pass the Senate and House, right before the president's.

"I always think of my third grade teacher in Brandon, Mrs. Dannenbring, hoping she would be proud of my signature. It's legible when I sign those bills," Erickson said.

Day to day, Erickson's job is more like managing a major corporation. She heads up 26 departments with 240 people underneath her.

"I love the Senate. It's just an incredible honor to come to the Capitol every day, to be able to serve the members in this institution. And I'm proud of people I get to work with," Erickson said.

One of her jobs is to review Senator's election and appointment certificates and that landed Erickson in the headlines this year. It was right in Erickson's office where she met with Roland Burris and his team of attorneys to tell him he couldn't be sworn in.

"We had a very cordial meeting. I joked with someone, 'I'm from South Dakota. We're good and kind people.' And it was just unfortunate the certificate didn't comply with our rules and he could not be sworn in," Erickson said.

Appointed by ousted Illinois Governor Rodney Blagojevich, Burris' appointment certificate was missing the Secretary of State's Signature.

"I don't like being in spotlight. I like staying behind the scenes in the work I do. It got so much attention," Erickson said.

Erickson is in her third year on the job and she says her surroundings in her office still amaze her. They include an original painting by the so-called Michaelangelo of the Captiol: Constantino Brumidi.

Angela Kennecke: What does it mean to have something like this hanging in your office?

Erickson: It dates from 1794. Nicer artwork than I have in my house at home for sure.

There's also the original painting of President Andrew Jackson from the Senate Collection and one on loan from the Smithsonian.

"I wanted a painting that reminded me of South Dakota," Erickson said.

But nothing beats the view this Augustana Grad had outside her window.

"Especially in he evening, sometimes the sky is pretty dramatic behind the Supreme Court. Actually have a bird's eye view of the Court sitting at my desk . I pinch myself many times. I never take it for granted what a privilege it is to have an office this size with a view," Erickson said.

Erickson hopes she can inspire others from her home state to pursue their dreams.

"When South Dakota young people come out here, I've had the opportunity to visit with them and give them advice about pursing opportunities in Washington," Erickson said.

Because Erickson says she's proof you never know just how far you can go.

Erickson retains a close friendship with former South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle. She says despite the fact that a tax problem led to Daschle declining the nomination as Health and Human Services Secretary, she still expects the administration to consult with him on health issues. She says several former Daschle staffers have key positions in Health and Human Services.

Angela Kennecke