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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Debate Coach Tornberg Runs for District 16 House

I've noted previously that one sure route to being a player in South Dakota politics is to do high school debate. District 16 in South Dakota's far southeast corner will offer a fascinating test of that hypothesis as we see not a debater but a debate coach campaign for State House. Ann Tornberg of Beresford is the lone Democrat challenging D-16 incumbent Republican Jim Bolin of Canton and newbie GOPer Patty Milller of North Sioux City (not to be confused with Pat Miller, wife of former Governor Walter Dale Miller and defeated candidate for state auditor).

Tornberg coached the powerhouse that was Beresford debate for over two decades, offering a great Class A counterweight to the powerhouse that was Madison debate (far too many debate teams have collapsed since the 1990s—maybe Tornberg can find a legislative fix for that!). Under her coaching Beresford always brought the heat, not just in debate but in all the speech events. In 2000 Tornberg crossed the county line to make the Sioux Falls Lincoln debate team even scarier for a few years.

On top of debate/ed cred, Tornberg brings that farm cred we're so fond of here in South Dakota. She's a farm girl, still living on a dairy and grain farm with husband Mike. She's been involved in 4-H, FFA, the Extension Service, and the State Fair. Her Beresford debaters had farm cred, too—I recall their winning the late great Mundt tournament one year with a terrific South-Dakota-specific policy case built on evidence from South Dakota sources, a gutsy, creative, and all-too-rare accomplishment in South Dakota debate.

For what it's worth, Jill Callison thinks Tornberg has parade campaigning in the bag.
Tornberg will make a great legislator. She knows the ins and outs of the Legislature thanks to her teaching and coaching experience, not to mention three years pushing education issues as Sioux Falls Education Association president.

She'd also make a heck of a whip: she's tough! One of my most vivid Tornberg memories is from my first judging experience at a national qualifying tournament. I was tapped to judge the final round of humor next to coaching legends Jack Holmquest and Doug Tschetter. Even now, I'd feel a little small next to those fellas; back then, I was just a college freshman who knew just enough to make the judging cut. We judged seven speakers, including one of Tornberg's girls (I think it was Heidi Heeren) who was really, really good (of course, it was finals at Quals: everyone was really, really good). After we submitted our ballots, Tornberg came up to me looking... well, let's just say serious. She showed me the results we had submitted: Holmquest and Tschetter had ranked Heeren 1 and 2 (I don't remember which was which). I had ranked her 7, last. My vote dragged Heeren down to third place. Only the top two go to Nationals, the Holy Grail of all debate/interp existence.

Are you sure you voted right? she asked, verifying that I hadn't gotten my numbers out of order. I had marked 7 and meant it... but Tornberg made me think really hard about it. I suspect that seriousness could come in handy in Pierre when it comes time to round up votes on a close bill.

Jim and Patty, if you schedule any public debates, you'd better come loaded for bear; Tornberg definitely will!

p.s.: Tornberg gets bonus points from me for using the free Wikispaces service for her campaign website... and for recruiting daughter and debate champ Michelle Andrews for handling the Web content! One fond debate memory of Michelle: I was judging a policy round at Speech Fiesta. I was flowing the round on my laptop—still an novel concept at the time. Michelle was taking her swing at the opposing team's arguments. She took aim at some particular point, roadmapped by saying she would offer an 11-point response, and said, "Let's see if Mr. Heidelberger can keep up on his computer." She flew through all 11 points with perfect clarity; my fingers flew and kept up... barely. I always appreciate a debater who can transcend the heat of the moment, acknowledge the human context of where we are, and show she's really having fun.

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