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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Madison Chamber Forum: What the Candidates Said

Not a bad crowd, considering there was a ball game on TV.
(And no, Bob was not checking scores on his Blackberry while emcee-ing!)

Hey, late night readers! I just got back from recording tonight's candidates forum, sponsored by the Madison Chamber of Commerce and broadcast live by KJAM. Tonight was the last big public event for all of the local candidates Lake County voters will see on their ballot on Election Day, November 2, just five short days away.

Below are my notes of what the candidates said on the issues. With fifteen candidates for five different offices, there was a lot to take in. Read, digest, and stay tuned for my commentary tomorrow.

The notes are rough paraphrasings [with just a few moments of editorializing in brackets]. Occasionally I'll slip into first person, writing things as the candidates said them. If you want exact wording, see the videos. Yes, there will be video! I got everyone on video this time (including you, Bobbi! :-) ), and I'll be uploading those Chamber Forum videos overnight to the Madville Times channel on YouTube. Enjoy!
* * *
Round 1: Bob Sahr masters the ceremonies, and we start with the District 8 Senate candidates. Pictured above: Sahr at the mic, Senator Olson to his left, then Schmidtke at end of table. Introductions first, then questions.

Senator Russell Olson gets to introduce himself first.
  • Lists committees, including Tribal Relations
  • Says politics is risk vs reward for candidates; you risk time away from family, hard to travel to Pierre with new baby only 2 months old, missed half of the little one's life during last session
  • risk not keeping everyone happy, differing with supporters.
  • reward is being able to represent voters and keep promises: I've fulfilled every promise I made as State Senator
  • we've balanced the budget without raising taxes or using reserves
Clark Schmidtke introduction:
  • Married for 23 years, director of Trent Assisted Living Center, Army vet
  • Pierre is broken and needs to be fixed.
  • I've always been a fighter for what I believe in and will fight for District 8.
  • We need to cut the budget, and I have specific cuts in mind. I'm against raising taxes but also against cuts in education and Medicaid.
  • We are in a recession, but a lot of our problems did not come from the recession.
Question #1 (from Chamber Governmental Affairs Committee): South Dakota faces budget shortfall, no stimulus: what do we do?

Schmidtke: First thing is to push for capping spending at 3% or rate of inflation, cut full-time state employees; we had 12,800 pre-Rounds, now 14,500. Consolidate departments, use computers to save staff. Restore competition, eliminate no-bid contracts.

Olson: We also have to keep dangerous people incarcerated; ed, med, and jails leaves only 5% of budget; we could cut everything else and still be $30M in the hole! We made difficult cuts last year, we will continue to find even more efficiencies next session.

Question 2 (Chamber): What would you do to spur economic development in District 8?

Olson: I sit on board of directors of economic development; we are totally reviewing policies to get more capital in hands of small business owners. Just have to get the right funds in the right hands of the right people.

Schmidtke: Try to raise money without raising taxes; focus on low/no-interest loans for businesses we already have in South Dakota instead of wining and dining big biz from elsewhere.

Question 3: (from me!) Farmers have expressed dissatisfaction with the ag productivity tax. Would the candidates support replacing the ag productivity tax with income tax; if not, how do we fix this troublesome tax system?

Schmidtke: Not really up on the property tax situation; I'll look at it, see what the options are. People are telling me they don't like income tax structure, but in time I think we'll need something like that. We need to help the farmers, but I don't know what to do with it right now. I'll listen, study, find out.

Olson: If you want to get rid of me in Pierre, get a majority to do income tax. [Well, now I finally know how to get rid of Russ!] I will never be part of a body that supports income tax. I never supported ag productivity model; I support fair and true market system; we could exclude top third and bottom third of sales, get good value from middle third.
* * *
Round 2: District 8 State House Candidates!
District 8 State House candidates (seated at front, L to R):
Jason Bjorklund, Rep. Gerald Lange, Rep. Mitch Fargen, and Patricia Stricherz.

Patricia Stricherz:
  • Says she built Operation Homefront non-profit chapter in South Dakota from scratch, did it while recession hit and national office began focing national organization to cut and merge chapters.
  • Has fought to keep the program open, even though national office took away her equipment and funding. Stricherz has continued helping families using own resources to convince national office to return support; plans to charter independent chapter next year.
  • Folks are worried about keeping jobs, keeping food in table; I've had tough times, can identify with your struggles and concerns. [Appeal to emotion... pretty well-composed.]
Rep. Mitch Fargen:
  • Chose Education and Commerce committees, important to District 8.
  • Worked on bills protecting landowner rights on wind easements and promoting blender pumps. [stumbled just a little in this part, had trouble remembering second half: I think Mitch has been having some long days at work and on the campaign trail]
Rep. Gerald Lange:
  • Again, celebrating democracy! [same theme as in his opening remarks at AAUW forum last week]
  • Democracy is not easy, but politics, now a nasty word.
  • Came to Madison in 1964, saw history major at DSU eliminated by computer revolution.
  • Won election to Senate in 1990 after two unsuccessful campaigns.
  • I sought office because "there was a bigger classroom." We need to understand South Dakota has a rotten tax system. [Gerry! You just defined leadership! Leading a the conversation, treating the community as a classroom where we must all help each other learn through conversation! Big hearts on the flow!]
  • The bishops came to us a few years ago and asked us to get rid of the sales tax on food.
  • Losing election in 2006 got my dander up, showed me we still had to make an effort for tax reform.
  • We have an income tax on banks and insurance companies, why not Wal-Mart? There's the answer to the $100M deficit right there.
Jason Bjorklund:
  • Born and raised in Madison
  • Currently truck driver for MN company [hey, Jason, why haven't they moved here?].
  • Recession caused by too much "legislation, regulation, and taxation."
  • Worked in law enforcement in Air Force, also as sniper-spotter.
Question #1 (Chamber): What are your thoughts on education funding?

Fargen: last year, I proposed a 1.2% increase, that got killed last session. We had the money for it, but gave away cash to TransCanada. We only needed $4M for education increase! We could also have put money toward roads and bridges, toward raises for state employees.

Lange: In 1993 or so I introduced a bill to tax the 1099 stocks bonds CDs and other intangibles. Two Republicans (Keith Paisley and Larry Gabriel) had introduced that idea in 1989; state chose video lottery instead. We'd rather get the money from losers than from winners; that's a sad commentary on our ethics.

Bjorklund: We're in a recession, we need to hold the line on education spending. We do not need to spend more on education; look at Washington DC and Detroit with highest spending per student and highest dropout rates and highest failure rates.

Stricherz: I ran in 2008: it's sad that we're still arguing about this issue. Gov. Rounds initiated a pilot laptop program that cost the state $2.9M a year to sustain; we should cut failed programs like that, put it back in general education.

Question 2 (Chamber): Top priorities if elected?

Lange: Get rid of sales tax on food. Then eliminate sales tax on other items. Folks in lower income bracket pay 10% of income in taxes; that's basically an income tax! Those folks would spend that money on other things and stimulate the economy. The folks controlling the state pay about 2% of income in taxes. That's not democracy.

Bjorklund: Defend rights to life, liberty, and property. Second, work on repeal of national health care bill: people should have right to choose own doctors, access best medical care they can afford. Finally: expand gun rights. I want to see us be able to conceal-carry in more states.

Stricherz: Most important: dive into budget, get closer into balancing it. Can't do anything else effectively if we don't do budget right. Then cut excess spending, take care of education, roads, bridges.

Fargen: Balance the budget! We haven't done it seven of last eight years!

Question 3: (No one else in audience raises hand, so I take another swing): Given the state budget crunch, can we save money by consolidating schools? What is the minimum size of school district the state can afford to support?

Bjorklund: I'd like to see all of our schools stay open. Have tax dollars stay with student, let parents decide where kids go to school. Market would make that decision for us. Chester has had good bump just with open enrollment; need to expand choice.

Stricherz: School funding formula is per child, $4654 per child. Funding is there; we need to fund our schools, not worry about size.

Fargen: Should not force any consolidation! I want to get rid of the 100-school minimum. Conde was mostly funding its own school with local money, state still forced schools to close. Closing schools doesn't save state money when state money follows child to next school. Both gub. candidates support getting rid of forced consolidation as well.

Lange: School funding lawsuit challenging state to live up to Constitutional mandate for adequate and equal education to all students. They are 17% of the population but 100% of the future. We must help our kids!
* * *
Round 3: Lake County Auditor!

Shelli Gust:
  • Lifelong SD resident, raised just outside Alcester, has lived in Madison last four years.
  • SDSU grad 2003! [Go Jacks!].
  • Look to perform duties efficiently and effectively, provide fresh perspective.
  • I will ensure fiscal responsibility and accountability, openness and accessibility to county records; will post more public records online.
  • Emphasize "serve" in "public service"
Roberta Janke:
  • Lifelong Lake County resident.
  • Experience and qualifications: 23 years of hands-on work experience in Lake County auditor's office. Hired in 1987 by current auditor Kay Schmidt.
  • I handle payroll, benefits, deposit reports, voter registration, operation of election scanner, health/vision/life insurance.
  • Served on recount board in 2008.
Question 1 (Chamber): How do you foster lines of communication with other departments and a smooth working relationship?

Janke: I've been working with these departments for the past 23 years. Register of Deeds, Treasurer, Equalization... every office's business comes through auditor's office.

Gust: Me too! State's Attorney's [where Gust works] office involves similar cooperation. Need to make sure every office knows what's coming down from the commission.

Question 2 (I think this was an audience question): What's the biggest problem you anticipate if elected?

Gust: I wouldn't characterize them as problems, but greatest challenge I see is making more information avaialble to the public. Great open meetings laws took effect July 1; we can work for more transparency, but it will take time to scan documents, make people aware those documents are available.

Janke: Having worked in the auditor's office for 23 years, I say things are working well! Get more information online.

Question 3 (me again): Are electronic voting machines secure, reliable, and feasible for Lake County?

Janke: You need a paper trail on an election. [Really, that's all she said! She pretty clearly does not want electronic voting machines.]

Gust: We work with Sec. State's office. The current automark system has lots of checks, the machines they have now are tested to make sure they are accurate. If we're talking about completely electronic voting, that would take lots of cooperation with Pierre, would require a great deal of testing before implementing at local level.
* * *
Round 4: Lake County Sheriff!

Sheriff Roger Hartman:
  • Worked as deputy for 12 years for Sheriff Herb Lurz, sheriff 12 years after that.
  • Over 1000 hours of in-service training.
  • I've kept sending down, won over $100K in grants for security equipment.
  • We've added a fourth deputy to increase patrols.[sounds like Roger was listening last time!]
Jason Lurz:
  • From Madison, married 16 years [good grief, Jason! you've got a lead on me!], moved back here 2004.
  • USAF veteran, served in SDHP before Lake County sheriff's office and current Madison city policeman: only candidate with law enforcement experience at city, county, and state level.
Dan Wyatt:
  • Served in USAF, worked drug patrols in Panama for Army;
  • worked for Lake and Moody County drug task force (thanks to federal money), then went to Madison Police Department.
  • I can be a leader thanks to military and local leadership classes; 1000 hours of civilian training, 2000 horus of military training.
  • Primary goal: keep us all safe. This is my home, I worry about what's going on here.
Question 1 (Chamber): How will you react in a crisis?

Lurz: We respond to a variety of situations. City police respond to medical calls on regular basis, very hard when there are family members present. I've been recognized by Red Cross with a life-saving award. First priority must be to take care of the patient; sometimes when you're the only person there, you have to find things the family members can do to help, keep busy.

Wyatt: Few years back, we had an individual in Wentworth douse himself and yard and house wall with gasoline; he held a lighter, threatened to light up; I had to talk this guy down. I'm also able to talk people down in domestic dispute situations. We've all three notified loved ones of deaths.

Hartman: You see many things in law enforcement. One vehicle accident, 15 or so years ago south of town, Sunday morning, family coming back from church, three kids in car dead, parent strapped in car still alive. You do what you have to do, go home, give your kids a hug, then go shed some tears in private [dang: that's a pretty sensitive and compelling narrative, the best-told story of the three].

Question 2 (audience, I think): need for changes at sheriff's office?

Wyatt: First changes behind the doors. First contact other counties, see if we can arrange to hold their prisoners, make some money to make improvements. We'll go slow and easy, make sure things get done in orderly fashion. Second, I will be a working sheriff out in the community. I'll be out and about, asking for your input.

Hartman: Lots of changes in last 12 years; I want to continue this work. 12 years ago there was only one computer in the whole office, on secretary's desk; now every staffer has one, plus computers in cars. DNA testing is a new development. You do have to keep room in jail for our local inmates.

Lurz: In my study of the budget, I see a lot of ways to save money. First priority should be to save, not spend. Over $500K for sheriff and jail now. We have lots of overtime, some reimbursed by federal government, need to reduce! We can hire part-timers to alleviate that problem. We also need service from sheriff, must be involved with community.

Question 3 (from Neal McIntyre): better response to remote areas of county? Maybe cooperate with other counties? [remember, Neal lives closer to Salem than Madison]

Hartman: We're in the middle of the county, and we do the best we can. There's a deputy out every night, sometimes two. Other counties: we have an unwritten agreement to provide mutual assistance. 20 years ago we were all dispatched to help with the Hobo Day riot.

Lurz: Be a leader, schedule appropriately. Some nights those deputies go home by 9 p.m. Some days we have two deputies working a day shift; no need for that when we have a sheriff who can do more during the day. Cross-deputization is overdue: we should extend liability coverage and allow city police to respond in country. Part-timers can also fill some gaps. Wait for response should be no more than drive time.

Wyatt: Where Neal lives is a problem way out on edge of county. We take care of business in our own counties, but we help each other when necessary. More deputies? We can hire part-timers and cross-deputize. Also, call the sheriff; the sheriff should respond.
* * *
Fifth and Final Round: Lake County Commission!
The Lake County Commission candidates (seated at front, L to R):
Craig Johannsen, Doug Erickson, Kelli Wollmann, and Commissioner Scott Pedersen

Kelli Wollmann:
  • Lifetime resident of county, husband Darwin with Madison Police Department for last 23 years.
  • Mostly stay-at-home mom, but worked in management
  • active in providing music at various events and fundraisers
  • involved in Lake County Historical Society and Prairie Village boards.
Commissioner Scott Pedersen:
  • End of this year makes 16 years of public service [career politician? any Tea Party protests? ;-) ].
  • Unlike the state legislators, we've balanced our budget every year.
  • We have wheel tax (all spent on 220 miles of banked highway, 74 miles of gravel roads) and property tax (about 23 cents of every dollar stays here); we must continue to work hard to grow the county and the taxbase.
  • Two big projects; public access area at Lake Madison (working out well, willing to expand) and Water Quality Committee (wonderful thing, in infancy, has lots of potential).
  • Do me a favor: when you're in the courthouse, thank Kay Schmidt for many years of good service [amazingly, the audience does not burst into spontaneous applause... but hey, we're Lutherans. ;-) ]
Craig Johannsen:
  • Commissioner for 10 years until 2008: worked on drainage ordinances, laid groundwork for public access on Lake Madison.
  • Serve on all sorts of area governing boards.
  • I pledge to be accessible to anyone who has concerns or problems.
  • I have the "time, experience, and commitment" to be a good commissioner.
Doug Erickson:
  • Born and raised around Junius, farmed until 1993.
  • Lifelong resident.
  • [pause...] "As you can tell, I'm a little bit nervous."
  • Currently have a small construction business, work all around the county, well aware of many of the problems here.
  • Willing to work with everybody to solve problems.
Question #1 (Chamber): Renovations to courthouse, infrastructure needs, new employee: how do we meet those new budget demands?

Pedersen: Renovation: we're in process of working with Sioux Falls firm and Pierre bonding company: we'd issue 17-year bond with about 1.5-2% interest rate, but different from traditional loan; we'd put principal payment in separate account, could pay off in 13-14 years. New employee: Lake Madison Assoc. and East Dakota Water District kicking in to help.

Johannsen: Bonding better way to go with renovation; there are reserves, but we don't want to take them too low. New employee: grant money from EDWDD and Lake Madison for new employee.

Erickson: At peril of repeating those fellas... there are some avenues where we can save money. I'm not for any more taxes; as a small businessperson, I'm taxed out!

Wollmann: With Internet, it's very important to work together with other counties and agencies to come up with solutions. We can't be the only ones with new building needs; there are many grants available that, working with other communities, we may be able to get a lot done for less burden on the taxpayers.

Question 2: Charlie Scholl takes aim at Commissioner Pedersen: Pedersen has pushed for new zoning rules including unelected, unqualified folks to sit in at meetings and vote [what? really?] Why?

Johannsen: What exact position are you asking about? If you mean chairman of the zoning board, that person is as informed as any commissioner, if they vote, they are expressing their sense of feelings from the board. Scholl says appeal of planning board is to commission; how can we appeal if the same board official is hearing the appeal? Johannsen is unsure.

Erickson: That 150-page ordinance is a pretty big deal to be laying on the county right now. There's a lot of things that most taxpayers don't even know about in that new ordinance. having someone fill in for you voting, I'm not for that. I would strongly suggest being at the Nov. 9 commission meeting to get a better understanding of the whole zoning revision.

Wollmann: I'm not all that familiar with the problem, but it doesn't sound right. If you're elected by the people, you work for the people.

Pedersen: I'm the liaison between the commission and the zoning committee. We talked about the need for the zoning board president or vice-president to come to a commission meeting and present board's view if I'm not available, but we did not talk about letting that person vote. Come to Nov. 9 meeting, find out about it.

Question 3 [See second half of video] (Audience is fired up on county commission issues!): Wheel tax: first presented as temporary: started at $2 a tire, now $4 a tire; how much longer will that tax go? Some counties have gotten rid of it.

Erickson: The wheel tax has been on for as long as I remember. I don't like it, but we've got to get the money somewhere. I'm willing to work to find a solution. We're already taxed to death; small business guy can't go much more. I welcome taxpayers' input on finding solution.

Wollmann: Commissioners can't please everyone. There are reasons we have taxes to benefit the county. Get involved with your community, voice your opinion to get things changed.

Pedersen: Probably started in early 1990s, originally $2 a wheel, went to $4 a wheel around 1996 or 1997, stayed that level since. In 2009 we took in $268K. Max we can charge per vehicle is for four wheels, $16 per vehicle. Last year we had bids to overlay highway at $100K a mile. Forgive the wheel tax, and we can all drive on gravel. I don't want more taxes, but we have to pay for what we want somehow.

Johannsen: Wheel tax in place before I was on commission; we did increase it to tax four wheels. I have to agree with Scott: we have two sources of income, and that's it. Not my favorite thing, but we have to keep the roads up.

Question 4: (Neal McIntyre) Opportunity for public to vote on new zoning ordinance? Impact on average citizen?

Wollmann: Public vote would be good on this. Sometimes over-regulation is not always good, makes it more difficult for everybody.

Pedersen: No public vote opportunity on schedule. There is an opportunity for public input on November 9. Water Quality Committee has been reviewing this ordinance line by line [yup; I've been at those meetings!]. It is a big ordinance; putting 150 pages in front of public for vote would be confusing, but certainly we are open to changing things to make it work.

Johannsen: We work with First District Todd Kays; basically the changes coming are mostly updates for legal matters. A lot of it is just bookkeeping and updating so lawyers can't pick it apart as easily. Everyone is welcome to review it.

Erickson: I'm not for sure it's just an update. If it's going to affect everyone in the county, if it affects livestock, having old cars, etc. then it should be brought to vote of the people. If it's just a rewording, then I'm for it. It should not be just in five people's hands to decide.

Question 5: (Paul Nordaune) What was spent on the foolishness in Winfred cleaning up the Evans and J&J Farms? $40-45K or $100K? Why all the unnecessary cleanup, and why the sale of the land for just $2500?

Pedersen: I wasn't on the commission when the money was spent for the cleanup. We sold the property according to legal process. We advertised, put it up for sale. I think we spent $75K-80K, but I didn't authorize that expenditure. [Note: Charlie Scholl afterward questioned the timeframe, said Commissioner Pedersen was more involved in this process.]

Johannsen: I don't know how much was spent. We can dig and find the number. We sell the proerty for whatever we can get to get it back on the tax rolls.

Erickson: I don't know what was spent to clean it up, but if a person is running a business and following the rules on pollution and nuisances, I don't see why we had to spend tax dollars to clean up somebody else's land.

Wollmann: I also don't know expense. Quality of life to one person might be different for next person. Laws and ordinances are put in place to prevent nuisance problems within a community. We're all in it together, that's just the way it is.


  1. That was a terrific audience turnout, probably the best I've seen in decades for a candidate forum.

    I don't think Sheriff Candidate, Jason Lurz, ever mentioned that he is a Purple Heart recipient. That is pretty impressive.

    Turnout at the polls will be strong in Lake County and the sheriff's race is probably driving it. There's a lot of interest and activity in that race.

  2. Cory, why is the water quality committee reviewing the zoning changes? Anyone that drove through Winfred years prior knows it was a huge mess. It's clear there's a group of people that don't want any controls. Is Erickson a product of that camp? Is that why he's running? Or he is just the most sympathetic? It's so important to have reasonable people on these boards.

  3. Rod, whichever race drives turnout, I'll be thrilled to see as many of my neighbos as I can at the polls on Tuesday.

    John, we on the WQC have been looking at the zoning rules in part because they include changes on definitions and rules pertaining to CAFOs, wastewater, run-off, drainage, and other issues that affect water quality. We also happen to be a good set of eyeballs to give the ordinances an additional once-over to look for errors and omissions.

    Winfred: Erickson is sympathetic to the Winfred folks' plight. He has said to me he has concerns that Charlie Scholl is being treated unfairly compared to other business owners in the county.

  4. Pedersen Untruthful About use of Tax Payers Dollars

    I want to thank the Madison Chamber of Commerce for sponsoring a well organized and informational “Meet the Candidates” at the Madison High School on 10-28-10. Unlike Newspaper and Media coverage of topics or candidates that so often censor or misstate the facts, therein misleading the public to gain support for the publisher’s or editor’s personal views or personal wants; open meetings allow you to ask questions and evaluate the candidates by their responses. I thought the speakers presented themselves and their veins fairly well. Especially co-commissioner Scott Pedersen, whom had no problem stating falsely that he “was not on the board” and that he “had no involvement” with spending thousands of tax payers’ dollars in Winfred, taking out acres of mature shelterbelt, knocking down historic buildings and landmarks, and burning my families homestead to the ground to, as Bert VerHay boasted, “Make Winfred look like the schools never existed”.
    I question whether that is a legitimate purpose for appropriating tax dollars and understand Scott Pedersen’s reluctance to admit his participation in misusing tax dollars this way, but co-commissioner Scott Pedersen: I, Charles Scholl, do exist. I attend many commission meetings with you, you were appointed (not elected) several years ago to take Sherlie Leightens seat, therefore were on the board during all “Winfred clean-up” and further I personally, 2 of my attorneys and a bank dealt directly with you on all the “clean-up” issues on the Evens/J and J farms property in Winfred. I personally arranged for and removed 99% of the salvage from J and J Farms property. Working right to the dead line, where you notified me I would go to jail if I entered the property to finish removing the salvage, further you turned down my bids placed by myself and two of my attorneys to remove all salvage, grain elevator etc., at no cost to the county if I were given the necessary time to process salvage and complete the project. If it is so easy for you to be untruthful about your use of tax payer dollars at this meeting, what other supposed facts are you being untruthful about or misleading the tax payers about? What skeletons are hiding in your past? Why do so many people from your past seem so unhappy with your dealings with them?
    Thank you.
    Charles Scholl


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