Sam Landstra—Co-Chief Editor
Editor’s note: This article alternatively appears as a podcast.
When the election stood four weeks away, the mayor of Sioux Falls, SD got a haircut.
At the Legit Barbershop, Mayor Paul TenHaken sat in a barber chair, draped in a Kobe Bryant cape. While Hanis, a barber, gave the mayor a campaign trail trim, they talked about Hanis’ immigration history. He’d spent eight years in a refugee camp in Eritrea.
“We had an absolute blast, man.” TenHaken said. “I think each of our immigrants and refugees in our city has a story like that to tell.”
A few weeks later, TenHaken, a Dordt University alumnus, won his reelection, taking 73 percent of the vote. He defeated Democratic challengers Taneeza Islam and David Zokaites.
During his acceptance speech, TenHaken said, “I will work my absolute butt off to make sure Sioux Falls remains one of the best cities in one of the best states in the country.”
Before entering politics, TenHaken founded Click Rain, a marketing technology agency. During his ten years at the company, Entrepreneur Magazine named him to their Top 10 Emerging Entrepreneurs list.
Then, South Dakota’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year put down the business portfolios and presentations and picked up politics.
“You can call it a midlife crisis. You can call it whatever you want. But I was 39 years old at the time and decided I that wanted to serve people,” TenHaken said. “Politics is a great way to serve people.”
When he assumed office in 2018, the businessman-turned-politician utilized his digital marketing experience to connect with constituents. After he visited the Legit Barbershop, he posted to Instagram a picture of himself chatting with Hanis: “The power of social media in politics is absolutely incredible and can’t be underestimated.”
TenHaken strategizes his profile on each platform. On Facebook and Instagram, he gets personal: “What do I talk about? My kids, my family, my hobbies—stuff that really has nothing to do with me as a mayor but more as a dad, a husband, and a Christian.”
Though TenHaken used the apps to advertise his campaign, he also posted photos from his daughter’s gymnastics meets. After he lost a Super Bowl bet to his son, he shared a video of him gulping down a raw egg.
“And that stuff gets way more engagement, way more engagement,” TenHaken said.
On Twitter and LinkedIn, though, the mayor knows his audience prefers policy over parenting.
“They don’t care about that stuff. They want to judge you on policy,” TenHaken said. “So, that’s where you tweet articles and things like that.”
When he declared his candidacy for the mayor’s office, TenHaken shrunk his “digital footprint” in an effort to “stick to my lane.” He deleted several posts and comments relating to federal policy.
Now, TenHaken tweets on a local level: “My lane is roads and infrastructure, public safety, bridges, parks, libraries, economic developments, schools, housing.”
For him, whether his constituents are Republicans or Democrats, they “all want good roads to drive on” and “all want good paying jobs.”
TenHaken considers Sioux Falls a “purple city.” Though a Republican, he says he struggles with the label. While he’s used conservative fiscal policy to initiate housing developments, he also supports refugees and immigrants. A few weeks ago, he welcomed fifty new U.S. citizens to the city during a naturalization ceremony.
“I don’t even really know what conservative means anymore,” TenHaken said. “I get called a RINO. I’m a Republican in name only.”
TenHaken, a recipient of Dordt University’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2021, wears a bracelet with the word “Jesus” engraved on a washer. It keeps him accountable to his faith. He says his alma mater prepared him for “real world, Christian challenges in a secular society.”
During his first term, an email from a constituent “who had his facts wrong” challenged him: “I wanted to just tee off on this guy.”
TenHaken didn’t respond to the email because “Jesus wouldn’t swing at pitches in the dirt.”
Given his reelection, TenHaken hopes his constituents recognized his love for the city.
“The dude loved people and showed the love of Christ every opportunity he had. That would be the ultimate legacy,” Ten Haken said. “I’m failing at it miserably every day, but I’m trying. That’s the benchmark I’m trying to reach.”