If Vegas took bets on the District 8 South Dakota State House race, they'd offer these odds:
Consider Stricherz's response last Tuesday night at the Madison Chamber forum to the opening question, "What do you hope to accomplish during your first term?" This one's a freebie: tee up your favorite talking points, your big vision, and swing for the back 40. Fargen talks ethanol and education. Lange talks tax reform and education. Johnson talks funding and accountability in education. Stricherz talks about not making guys register as sex offenders for having sexual contact with young girls in their peer group.
Now Stricherz was trying to make a point (one worth discussing) about the need for the law to distinguish between real offenders and teenagers who aren't dangerous criminals. She likely knows some young people who've been hit hard by the law for doing something that maybe all parties involved feel didn't do any harm. I hesitate to even write that last sentence, for fear readers may get the wrong impression from what I'm saying unless I write a lengthy explanation. I don't want to write that lengthy explanation, because, honestly, there are bigger legislative fish to fry.
Stricherz acknowledged those bigger fish—energy, education, the economy—but insisted that leniency for young sex "offenders" is the "one issue" that "keeps coming up."
Um, I've done some door-to-door this year. No one has brought this issue up. I haven't seen press on it. I haven't seen blog posts on it. Stricherz is the only person I've heard mention it.
On the one hand, I admire Stricherz for using the public forum to bring up an issue that maybe isn't on everyone's radar and perhaps should be. But politically, it was a mistake. She takes an easy question, brings up a sensitive issue that needs more explaining than time allows, gives opponents an easy line to twist, and makes an implausible claim to boot.
Stricherz also got hung up on solar energy. An audience member brought the issue up at the AAUW forum a couple weeks ago. Interesting, but not a front-burner issue for most voters. Yet Stricherz made it a centerpiece of her response on economic development Tuesday evening. Again, maybe there's a plan brewing here, something that takes longer to explain than a two-minute response, but Stricherz came off sounding like one of my young debaters who gets caught off guard by a tricky argument and then devotes herself to briefing out that one argument, even though in the grand scheme of things, it's not a big voting issue.
Understand, I don't say these things about Stricherz out of any personal or partisan animus. As I said, I've had enjoyable and extended conversations with her. I think she would be a good legislator, maybe even my favorite kind of legislator, a maverick who won't let anyone boss her around and will truly stand up for the little guy. Unfortunately, the Madison Chamber of Commerce—oops, I mean, the Republican Party—doesn't like that kind of maverick. And even if they did, Stricherz hasn't figured out how to project that spirit, that passion for service, into the public persona of an effective politician.
Stricherz has some great ideas that need to be heard. Unfortunately, we aren't hearing them on the campaign trail, and Stricherz won't get to make those ideas heard in Pierre... at least not this time around.
Stay tuned: more to come on Fargen, Lange, and Johnson!
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