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!
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