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Friday, October 29, 2010

Candidate Forum as Job Interview: Who Gets the Job?

The videos for last night's candidates forum here in Madison are up and ready for your viewing and sharing! The Madville Times channel on YouTube has 39 videos from last night, featuring opening remarks from all 15 candidates for the five offices on the local ballot, along with all 17 questions asked during the forum. 17 questions: we covered a lot of ground!

As you watch these candidate videos, think of the forum as a job interview. All 15 of these citizens want a job. You and I and every other voter in Lake County are on the hiring committee. Who did the best job in these interviews?

I welcome you all, friends and neighbors, to review the candidates' statements and performances last night and at last week's AAUW forum here in Madison. Compare notes in the comment section below.

Here's how I evaluate these job interviews:
District 8 State Senate: Senator Russell Olson has the advantages of incumbency. Having served two terms in Pierre, he has more bill details handy for discussion. However, while the bduget is a difficult beast, Schmidtke seems more committed to protecting priorities like education and health care from budget cuts and cites a more detailed list of places to seek efficiencies, largely state perks and jobs. Schmidtke is not as informed on the ag productivity tax; however, Olson demonstrates a pigheaded commitment to an obsolete and unfair taxation model based on market value of land rather than the actual income and ability to pay of the owner.

Olson is the better salesman (political donations from car dealer Prostrollo tend to rub off on people). Schmidtke represents the better positions for District 8.

District 8 State House: Representative Gerald Lange manifests the clearest sense of greter purpose to serve South Dakota. He is motivated by his conscience and his church to lead South Dakota in a greater conversation about justice and equality. He sees our tax system imposing inequalities not only in wealth but in power. He sees rich elites controlling the state, hoarding their wealth, and shifting the burdens of paying for public functions onto the poor. He understands the long history of Republican domination and hypocrisy in the state.

Yet even as he lays out these grand perils to democracy, he always couches the discussion in terms of specific South Dakota policies: our immoral tax on food, our unethical reliance on video lottery (because, Lange sees, we'd rather get our money from losers than from winners), our failure to live up to our constitutional mandate to provide adequate and equal education for all students. Lange even offers the clear and obvious solution to the state budget deficit that no one else has the guts to mention: making Wal-Mart and other corporations pay their fair share with a corporate income tax, just like the income tax we currently limit to banks and insurers. Lange can be the practical and moral conscience of the Legislature. We need a voice like that to remind us of our highest ideals and say the things others lack the courage to say.

Representative Mitch Fargen stumbled a bit in his introduction, losing track of a recitation of his own key legislation from last session. However, he recovered with further discussion of specific legislative proposals and positions during the questions. He also offered a strong indictment of the idea that we have to cut education to balance the budget when we could instead just stop giving handouts to oil corporations.

Patricia Stricherz (who is a paying sponsor of this blog, but whose $25 has not bought these remarks) has shown clear improvement as a candidate since her first run for State House in 2008. Her prepared opening remarks shared a strong anecdote about her ability to fight against long odds to build and sustain a charitable organization, followed by a well-composed campaign pitch about her sympathy for the concerns of working people. She has studied the state budget and improved her command of practical facts and figures related to the job of State Representative. Her experience campaigning has increased her perspective on South Dakota issues. Were either Lange or Fargen not available for this job, Stricherz might be a reasonable second choice.

Jason Bjorklund still appears to have come to the wrong job interview. Bjorklund advocates repealing the national health insurance reform law. South Dakota cannot do that. He blames the recession on "legislation, regulation, and taxation." South Dakota legislation, regulation, and taxation did not cause the recession. He advocates expanding conceal-carry gun rights in other states. South Dakota has no say over other states' gun regulations. He advocates expanding free-market competition and choice in education. South Dakota lacks the wealth and population density in all but a handful of communities to make broad private education or charter schools in competition with existing public schools viable. Bjorklund is interviewing for a guest-host position on conservative talk radio, or maybe for U.S. Senate, most certainly not for South Dakota State Legislature.

Lake County Auditor: Roberta Janke has an obvious advantage over Shelli Gust. She brings 23 years of experience to the position, having worked in the office under retiring auditor Kay Schmidt. Both candidates share a commitment to public service and increased transparency. Both have demonstrated professionalism and ability to work with other departments. Janke simply has the longer, stronger resume.

Janke is essentially a status quo candidate; no one has demonstrated a need to change the status quo. With no ill reflection on Gust, I can say that Janke is the sensible business choice for stability in the auditor's office.

Lake County Sheriff: All three candidates are experienced law enforcement officers. Younger candidates Dan Wyatt and Jason Lurz have an advantage in expressing themselves with energy and enthusiasm. However, last night, current Sheriff Roger Hartman demonstrated he too can connect with citizens. In a question about dealing with crisis situations, Hartman told the most compelling story. He spoke of responding to a fatal car wreck, three children killed on a Sunday morning on the way home from church. With a somber simplicity that would do John Wayne proud, Hartman said that in an emergency like that, you do what you have to do. Then you go home, hug your own children, and then find a private place where you can shed a few tears of your own.

We have three good men running for sheriff.

Hartman can point to various administrative accomplishments in terms of hiring a fourth deputy and bringing in grant money for safety equipment. Lurz and Wyatt feel the sheriff's department needs to pay more attention to budgeting and public outreach. Both Wyatt and Lurz exhibit more inclination for proactive management and law enforcement. And it would appear, given concerns expressed at both fora about the need for better rural response and budgeting, improved management would be good for the Lake County Sheriff's Department.

Lake County Commission: Incumbency has its advantages. As I cited in my evaluation of the Lake County Commission candidates at last week's forum, Commissioner Scott Pedersen has the smarts and people skills to explain very clearly the actions of the commission and the needs of the county. Craig Johannsen is not quite as well-spoken as Pedersen, but his ten years of experience on the commission and with numerous other public bodies in the county inform his answers quite well.

In their first runs for public office, candidates Kelli Wollmann and Doug Erickson have both indicated a general desire to serve the community. That willingness to serve is admirable. However, campaigns are a competition. Everyone who files a petition demonstrates a willingess to serve; candidates must then distinguish themselves as communicators and policy experts. The proposed zoning ordinance revisions are a perfect test of candidate abilities. The zoning ordinance changes are clearly on the radar of Lake County voters, as indicated by the questions from the audience at last night's forum. Drafts of the zoning revisions have been floating around town since March. Pedersen has seen these revisions as commissioner; Johannsen has seen these changes as a member of the water quality committee. That work gives Pedersen and Johannsen have an advantage, but it is reasonable to expect other candidates to do the homework necessary to match such advantages. If Erickson and Wollmann have done that homework, they did not make that clear in their performances during last night's job interview. Judging by the information presented, Pedersen and Johannsen are the better candidates.

Dang, local politics is fun! Stay tuned for my final assessments and endorsements of the local and statewide candidates, plus ballot issues, coming soon!


  1. What are the endorsements and predictions?

    Prefer the Dem but Russell has an easy win. Fargen gets my vote and narrowly takes victory. Janke also easy win due to experience. Wyatt has been excellent: listens, stays calm, gets to the heart of the matter. However chatter tells me Lurz, although don't discount many older voters that may not see any reason for change. Pedersen is excellent and I'll vote Wollman over Johannsen. She would bring some new insight, but Johannsen will likely get the farmer vote and get back in.

  2. Having worked with all three candidates as a fellow law enforcement officer, I am somewhat privy to what the general public does not know.

    First, we must remember that Dan Wyatt was demoted from a rank of Captain down to a Patrolman. While he can be kind and friendly to the general public, he can be rather crude and will stoop to any level to get what he wants.

    A good example of this is when he was passed up for promotion after I was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. He would not back me up on traffic stops or calls, and even spread rumors and lies to my friends and family about me.

    There are two employees currently serving in the Madison Police Department that have absolutely no business being in law enforcement, let alone being Sheriff. One, being Dan Wyatt, and the other I won't mention because he is not currently seeking public office.

    I was so embarassed working with these two, it really made my decision to leave that department real easy.

    I would love to be more detailed about some of the exploits of Dan Wyatt, but in the interest of decency I won't. Plus I know Cory would delete it, this being a family blog and all.

  3. Cory,

    I disagree with you on the auditor debate. Just because someone has 23 years of experience doesn't make you the best candidate for the job. She didn't really answer the question you asked. Gust's answer was much better and shows that she has experience that would allow her to find better and more efficient ways of running the auditor's office.

  4. I can understand that position, Nichole. However, I'm willing to read Janke's answer as a direct answer to the question phrased as consisely as possible. Janke apparently does not believe electronic voting machines are sufficiently secure or reliable for voting in Lake County and is committed to maintaining a paper trail. Does that answer the question in anyone else's mind?

  5. Cory,

    Janke's answer to me said "Why change? It's always been this way." Gust actually gave it some thought and would be open to the possibility. It's normal to be afraid of technology, but if we never try, where would we be today?

  6. As I wrote my earlier comment I was thinking about Clint McCance (AZ school board bigot) and how little we may actually know about some candidates. McCance couldn't even spell, but how could we unless someone speaks up with something they entirely know to be true. Look how long it took for Anita Hill's story to get more backing. Just slightly joking, has anyone checked Facebook pages?

  7. John , Facebook is a great place to find out more about the folks that you are considering voting for.Some candidates have public access. I found Dan Wyatt's page illuminating. I didn't expect someone running for sheriff to have the infamous prayer for President Obama's death on their public page. Everyone has a right to thier opinion , this just really stikes me as odd.

  8. I check Dan's page—sure enough, there it is (copied in CAPS—sorry):


    Wow. Poor taste indeed. That's a problem.

    Nichole: I agree. On this issue, Janke was saying very clearly that she opposes change. Now is this specific change, electronic voting machines, a good idea?

  9. Cory,

    Yes, I believe at some point voting will be done on some type of computerized system. As Shelli pointed out, the automark machines is one step in that direction. As clear as the directions are on the ballots, people don't always "stay in the lines" or use the proper writing instrument to fill-in their ballots. If an automated system can be used to make the circles filled in properly, or even do away with the paper ballots, why not? If we can file our taxes electronically, why can't we vote electronically?

    Good question by the way last night!

  10. Would someone PLEASE endorse Jason Lurz as our new Sheriff? The under-current at the coffee shops and talking to people around the county indicate Jason has really gained traction in the past few weeks. I think he's been working his butt off in the small towns and various events like the Kiwanis pancake day. Roger Hartman said four years ago he would not run again. Hartman is already collecting retirement. Lurz seems like he would handle the office with professionalism and vigor. I hate to use the old phrase, "It's time for a change", but in the Sheriff's office, I feel strongly we'll have a new face in January.

  11. Nichole, you do make an interesting point. I file my taxes online. Why wouldn't I file my vote the same way? Heck, Toby and I have dreamed of moving the DSU interp contest to e-ballots.

    Still, I have just enough conspiracy theory in me, thanks to <a href="http://kucinich.house.gov/News/DocumentQuery.aspx?CatagoryID=1572'>Dennis Kucinich and Diebold</a>, that I'm not in a rush to do away with paper ballots for our exercises in democracy.

    Rod, I've been of the impression that either Dan or Jason would bring reasonable, intelligent, and needed change to the department. I've heard concerns about the character of both candidates (see above on Dan; see earlier post from Chris Olson on Jason being a bit hotheaded). In what feels like a tossup on policy, I could take something like the prayer for the President's death and make that a deciding issue.

  12. District 8 Voters:
    I wanted to take some time to say thank you to all of you that has supported me during this campaign. I have spoken with so many of you, unfortunately, there are so many more that I won't reached. Your kind words and prayers have given me hope and the belief that South Dakota families are ready for leadership that puts them first. In this time of economic hardship, I feel strongly that this next Legislative session will produce good things for South Dakota families! Balancing our state budget is first priority, I encourage you to stay at the heels of your Senators and Representatives to ensure that this indeed is their priority. Accountability! If I should be one of your next Legislators, I'll wear my combat boots for added protection. :) In all seriousness, South Dakota can not continue to operate with an unbalanced budget anymore than South Dakota families can with their personal budgets.
    May God continue to bless you all!
    Patricia Stricherz
    Cnadidate for State House


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