ProFile: Troy Heinert

by Ruth Nicolaus

Troy Heinert takes care of cowboys and constituents. In rodeo, the Mission, S.D. man works as a pickup man, and in the world of politics, he is a senator in the South Dakota State Legislature.
He grew up on the family ranch west of Mission, the son of Margo and the late Harold Heinert. When he was twelve, his dad died, and his mom moved the family to Pierre.
In high school, Troy team roped and rode bareback horses, and continued the bareback riding while in college at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, S.D., and at Sinte Gleska University in Rosebud. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and taught school at Rosebud Elementary for ten years, all the while competing in the PRCA and at Indian rodeos.
Troy’s dad Harold and stock contractor Jim Korkow were best of friends, and when Harold passed away, Jim said, “you’re my boy now,” Troy said. “He never treated me any different than he treated TJ (Jim’s son.) If TJ got a twenty (dollar bill), I got a twenty.”
It was through Jim that Troy began picking up. He started with 4-H and high school rodeos, working through the summers for Korkow Rodeo. After he quit riding barebacks twelve years ago, he picked up more steadily.
He works many of the Korkow Rodeos, along with rodeos for Stace Smith, Three Hills Rodeo, and Wilson Rodeo. He’s been selected to pick up the Indian National Finals Rodeo five times, and was chosen this year to work the Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo in Minot, N.D. this month.
He loves picking up. “It’s as close as you can get to a bucking horse without having to get on them anymore. It’s fun, especially when you know the horses and you can put yourself in a position to help the guys make good rides, and help that horse buck, and see a match-up click.”
He loves spending time with the bucking horses. “To be around them, to sort, feed, truck them, learn their personalities. They learn your voice, and if a horse is throwing a fit in the chute I can ride up to it and start talking to it, and you can see them pay attention and stand up.”
Four years ago, Heinert ran as a Democrat in the 26th District, for the S.D. State House of Representatives. He won, served a two year term, then ran for state senator in 2014. He won that election, and is running again this fall, unopposed.
He feels he has met a lot of his goals as a representative for his district, which is predominantly Native American. He is a member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe, and it is important for him “to be a voice for Native Americans and cowboys,” he said. “My district has three reservations in its boundaries, and we don’t have many opportunities for a voice. I have a lot of people depending on me to be that voice, and I’ve been able to do that, and to get people to understand some of the issues we see on the reservation, to see why things are the way they are, and what they can do to help.”
As a senator, he is able to show people unfamiliar with Native Americans and reservations what it’s like. “I think, even in South Dakota, there’s a lot of people who just don’t know what our healthcare system is like, what our education system is like, what poverty looks like, and the different relationships the tribes have with state and federal governments.”
He is very proud that he was able to pass an Achievement Schools Grant program, which allows public schools to apply and create a cultural school for Native American kids in the district. “That’s the first time it’s happened in South Dakota,” he said.
Being a cowboy in politics is also an advantage. “There are some farmers and ranchers in the legislature, but when it comes to ag issues, even something in transportation and trucking, it helps to have that background knowledge of what it means to load a truck and go down the road.”
Heinert is the Senate Assistant Minority Leader; fellow cowboy Billie Sutton, a former saddle bronc rider, is Senate Minority Leader and has been a part of South Dakota politics for the last six years. Heinert credits Sutton with helping him get his feet under him in politics. “I had a great mentor in Billie. He had been there a while, and he knew the ins and outs, and that gave me a head start.”
He is married to Gena; they have three children: sons TJ, who is 22, and Harold, who is ten, and a daughter, Jordan, who is 21.

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