We've moved!

Social Icons

twitterfacebooklinkedinrss feed

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Grading the District 8 House Candidates: Gerry Lange

Once again, here's my best guess at the odds for our District 8 State House candidates:

Now I haven't subjected these numbers to rigorous mathematical tuning; please view them more as a comparative measure of the candidates. Stricherz is still a very long shot; if Johnson's name recognition and business ties can pull him through, it's a safe bet he will be the only Republican heading to the House for District 8.

So how do I figure Gerry Lange's odds are equal to Jerry Johnson's? As regular readers know, any assessment I make of Gerry Lange's political possibilities is profoundly skewed by my affection for him as a neighbor and friend. I see in him the kind of man I want to be when I'm 80: physically and mentally vigorous, idealistic, forthright. He reads voraciously, sells lots of Kiwanis pancake tickets, and gardens with a skidsteer. Even if were still a Republican, I would still admire Gerry deeply. We should all be as engaged in family and community as Gerry.

I thus shift with difficulty to offering a clear-eyed assessment of Lange's chances of winning a return trip to Pierre. Take it for what it's worth.

I set Lange's odds equal to Johnson's in this race for several reasons. Both men have similar name recognition. Lange may even have an edge. Johnson had Lange as a professor at Dakota State College back in the 1970s, as did many area residents. Where Johnson has two terms as city commissioner under his belt, Lange has 16 years of experience in the State Legislature. He's been at the forefront of politics in this district for two decades.

But where Johnson's disadvantage is that he doesn't say much, Lange's may be that he says too much. He has a million things on his mind, and he's passionate about them all. (I know this problem; I have this problem.) From his reading and his long experience, Lange sees connections between our lack of investment in education in South Dakota, our selfish consumerism, the profligacy of Wall Street, and the irresponsibility of tax breaks during a time of war, and he wants to talk about all of those things.

I love that big philosophical view. Voters who know Gerry will say, "Yup, that's our Gerry!" But a lot of voters will say, "What the heck's he talking about?"

We have seen the ups and downs of Lange's wide-ranging knowledge and rhetoric at the two candidate fora in Madison. Lange was wonderfully forthright about various issues, calling the Regents' paydate-shifting scheme a shell game and noting without apology that South Dakota is behind other states in education and energy development. Where most Democrats try to cast their education proposals as doable without raising taxes, Lange has been willing to speak up for tax reform as a necessary part of solving the education funding problem. But if tax reform means new taxes, Lange says it also means getting rid of bad taxes like contractors excise tax, which stands in the way of developing wind power. He showed he can be practical, too, noting that a smoking ban in bars and restaurants might be good in theory but would not fly politically.

But Lange also showed he can go off on tangents. He was a little less focused in his opening and closing statements in the Madison Chamber forum. The jokes he shared from his Indian friend over by Flandreau fell flat, and pitching his book from the podium made even me squirm a bit. He strives at times for Lincolnesque oratory, but even attempts at developing an intelligent, extended theme can seem wildly out of place among other speakers offering two minutes of bullet points from their resumes. I admire such efforts to elevate the discourse, but again, a lot of local voters may just wonder, "What's he talking about?"

And then there's age. Some folks appear to think Lange is just too old for the job. Some will try softening the argument and phrase it as, "Well, Gerry's had his time in Pierre. He's done his service. It's someone else's turn now."

I don't like that argument. I've talked with Gerry. I've read his numerous e-mails, articles that he forwards about all sorts of political issues. I know he's as sharp and as capable of legislating as anyone else in the race. In some cultures, age is a sign of wisdom: the smartest man in the room is the grayest. But the anti-old-guy sentiment is out there, and it will deflate Lange's vote count.

Lange is the most experienced public servant in the District 8 race. That means he's been around long enough to make great friends and great political enemies. He has as much passion for public service as Jerry Johnson professes; the only difference is, Lange shows it. That passion manifests itself in elevated oratory and discussion of issues that sometimes seem out of place in plain old local politics.

Lange's idealism, intelligence, and experience set him apart from all the other candidates and give his supporters great reason to vote for him. Lange's ideas and age also give opponents handles for criticism. How those factors will balance out at the polls is perhaps the most interesting local question in next week's vote.

Lange has as good a shot as Johnson at winning a seat in the Legislature. Coming up, I'll tell you why Mitch Fargen has an even better shot.


  1. What about the County Commission race?

  2. Jeepers, how about some patience? I'm not getting paid, you know. ;-)

    I'll have more on the county commission candidates soon enough (and sooner, if rumors I'm hearing from up Nunda way hit the papers). For now, I can direct you toward my evaluation of their performance at the Oct. 21 Madison Chamber forum.

  3. By the way, you can make this a paying gig by clicking on the Tips jar in the left sidebar! ;-)

  4. I too like Gerry Lange as a person. But I can not forget his response after 911 to the legislature that the US was to blame for it, that essentially we got what we deserved, and I will never forget that.

    It's the same as Johnson calling Republicans Taliban. I will never forget that either, and hopefully many others won't either next Tuesday.

  5. Gerry Lange is a good person, good family man and intelligent, but has become ineffective as a legislator and that's why voters put him out to pasture two years ago. His rhetoric has become so historical in nature and he continues to beat the same old drum of "state income tax", comparing us constantly to North Dakota and other states that are so much more progressive in taxation and education funding. I agree with Gerry on the education side, but the problem is nobody will listen to him anymore in Pierre, therefore his voice is silent and nothing gets done with his sponsorship. I admire Gerry for running again, but feel Jerry Johnson and Fargen will be easily elected in District 8.

  6. In the past months of this election cycle I have had many opportunities to interact with Mr. Lange. I agree with your assesment of him as a man to be admired for his stance on many of the issues which are affecting us. One thing puzzles me about your comments though. In reading your blog in the past few weeks I have noticed your strong stance for abortion. It is to the point where you are attacking people in out community who are wonderful people, much like Mr. Lange, who make Madison and Lake County such a wonderful place to live. I have not noticed you attacking Mr. Lange for his pro-life choice. If you did not know that, I would be suprised. I had the opportunity to learn of Mr. Langes pro-life stance at a recent pro-life meeting. I also learned from Mr. Lange he has been deeply involved in the pro-life movement for many years. I usually enjoy your insight into the politics of our day but feel your stance on abortion is off the mark. Not WHAT you believe, but how you go about attacking those who don't feel the same way as you.

  7. Hold on, Anon: whom have I "attacked" in Lake County for being pro-life? I did highlight Dan Roemen's support for IM11, and I've been writing "Vote No on 11" on all of my receipts, but I've defended his right to express his view. Elaborate for me on that "attack" point, please.

    As for Gerry, my wife and I are keenly aware of his position and his votes in the Legislature on abortion. Gerry and I disagree passionately on that position. If abortion votes were the only issue distinguishing him from other candidates, I'd vote for the other folks. Fortunately, while Gerry is flat wrong on abortion, he's got better answers than the ruling party on education, taxes, and the economy.

    But you do raise a good point: do abortion politics have a big impact on the votes for State Legislature? At the fora I've covered, I don't recall any candidate mentioning abortion (and thank goodness: I think there are bigger political issues for the Legislature to resolve). If abortion positions do matter to District 8 voters, that might actually hurt Gerry's chances: Referred Law 6, the 2006 abortion ban, went down hard in Lake, Moody, and Sanborn Counties and won only a slim majority in Miner.

    Will Gerry's position on abortion win your vote, Anon? Will it win Dan Roemen's? Will it lose Gerry any votes?


Comments are closed, as this portion of the Madville Times is in archive mode. You can join the discussion of current issues at MadvilleTimes.com.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.