Troy Heinert is a small business owner from Mission, S.D.
He and his wife, Gena, operate Chute 2, a restaurant and bar that is also connected to the clubhouse of Prairie Hills Golf Course, located just outside Mission.
He’s also a rodeo cowboy pick-up rider who’s responsible for the safety of the cowboys who ride saddle broncs, barebacks, and bulls.
Heinert, 42, has been an elementary school teacher, a high school wrestling coach, a member of the Todd County High School school board.
What spare time Heinert has also is occupied with serving as a South Dakota State Senator as a Democrat in the heavily-Republican leaning state legislature.
Heinert describes himself as one of who is doing mostly what he loves — owning a business that supports his local community, working rodeos which he has been around since he was a young boy, and now serving his constituents in the state legislature.
“I’ve been around horses, and rodeos all my life, and it’s what I love most,” Heinert said on Friday before the second night of the Beef Empire Days PRCA Rodeo at the Finney County Fairgrounds Arena. He works with the Korkow Rodeo family from Pierre, S.D., and spends much of his summer months traveling with them.
“I like that connection with the cowboys, and with the horses,” Heinert said. “When you can work for a single contractor for the most part, you can position yourself and enjoy what you do. Knowing that I have to be on my game to get them off the horse, or away from the bull, and get them to the ground safely, that’s the ultimate goal. A lot of these guys are my good friends, and they’re making a living for their family, so it’s up to me to help them complete their ride.”
Heinert has owned and operated Chute 2 for the past eight years after the restaurant had been closed down while the bar and golf course had fallen into disrepair.
“There’s not a lot of activities, not a lot of good places for our community to gather,” Heinert said. “So this is one way we could give back. I didn’t want to see it go away.”
As one could expect, South Dakota, much like Kansas, is beef country. So hamburgers and steaks are the prime menu items at Chute 2.
“Everything’s Choice Certified Angus Beef, and our cook does a great job,” Heinert said. “But the best item on the menu is my mom’s famous Cowboy Spuds. Once you try them, you’ll come back for more. And only my mom and Gena know how to make them.”
The Heinerts have three children — sons T.J. and Harold, and daughter Jordan — and the opportunity to have some of them travel to rodeos makes it truly a family affair.
“We’re very fortunate in that we’re doing what we love most,” Heinert said.
Heinert also is a self-taught guitarist, who has written a few cowboy/western songs. He says it is one way of relaxing in an otherwise busy life.
“Actually, I think the more people drink the better I sound,” Heinert said with a smile. “I’m not that good, but I enjoy it.”
And if the small business ownership and rodeo/cowboy lifestyle wasn’t enough, it now is his legislative career that occupies a good chunk of his otherwise “free” time.
And what motivated him to pursue the political landscape of South Dakota?
“My grandpa on my mom’s side was a county commissioner,” Heinert said. “When I was 8, I went with him to a meeting. He had been a WWII and Korean War veteran and he told me it was his civic duty to give back. At the time, I had no idea what civic duty meant, but he explained it to me. He said it was important to give back and stay involved and that stuck with me.”
Heinert was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2012 and served in that capacity for two years before winning a hotly-contested race for the State Senate in 2014 against a former state senator from his region. Being part of a super-minority has its challenges, Heinert said.
“It’s difficult at times, and they feel like they (Republicans) don’t need us, but about halfway through (legisilative session), they found out they needed us. My main focus is to represent my area and what my constituents want. You have to pick your battles. Sometimes, you just kinda have to trick ‘em into making them think an idea is theirs.
“For me, I’ve always wanted to do what is best for the average person. I worry about the people, not about the corporations or the lobbyists. Rodeo has helped me more with being a good legislator than the legislature has helped me be a good cowboy. I think in both arenas you have to think fast on your feet.”
Heinert’s heritage (he’s 5/16 Native American, Roseboud Sioux) also gives Heinert a distinct perspective unlike most legislators.
He attended and graduated from Sinte Gleska University, a Native American University located in Mission. He earned a bachelors of science degree in education. The University’s name comes from a tribal chief, whose name translated means Spotted Tail.
“The perspective I have is different than most,” Heinert said. “But that’s not the thing I look at most. I look at what is the right thing, the fair thing to do.”
Heinert has been close to the Korkow family for much of life, having spent childhood days with T.J. (third generation Korkow) at rodeos, while his father and Jim Korkow were close friends. Heinert’s dad died in 1985 when he was 13 and since then, Jim Korkow has been like a father to Heinert.
“I remember after my dad died, that Jim came up to me and said, ‘you’re my boy now. We’ll look after you.’ And they have. That’s what makes what I do even more special. We’re all family.”