Home > SD 2014 Ballot, South Dakota > Notes from the District 23 candidate forum in Ipswich

Notes from the District 23 candidate forum in Ipswich

April 22, 2014
South Dakota Legislative District 23

South Dakota Legislative District 23

Yesterday evening I attended the District 23 candidate forum in Ipswich. As I noted before, this is one of six forums being held throughout a very geographically large District 23. All five candidates were in attendance. This post will be mostly a ‘note-dump’ with a few thoughts of my own added in. I’ll highlight a piece of each candidates response (and not necessarily the part of their message they tried to center around), so I’m not giving their whole answer here. For anyone that wants their whole answers I would recommend going to one of the three remaining forums.

  • Opening Remarks – I won’t spend a lot of time here. I was more interested in their answers to questions than their bio.
    • Michele Harrison – Harrison highlighted her business and Agricultural experience. It was a good long list. But most interesting probably was her current work as the Executive Director of the Mobridge Economic Development Corporation.
    • Dale Hargens – Hargens was an interesting entry into the Republican primary because he is a legislator that already served for a number of years as  Democrat; and he was a Democrat Minority Whip and Democrat Minority Leader during that time. Hargens said he felt the Democrat party moved away from him in its surge to the left. He said the Democrat Party had “Turned the lights out”. I’ve spoken with non-politicians in the Democrat party who have switched for similar reason, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and accept his answer as he gives it. Beyond that he said it was very important to get more agricultural producers in Pierre.
    • Larry Nielson – Nielson highlighted a history that shows he has been politically active almost his whole life. This includes lobbying in Pierre and DC. Also notable was he said Agricultural interests in Pierre need to be protected.
    • Justin Cronin – As a current legislator Cronin was able to highlight his work on the Ag and Local Government committees. One interesting thing he mentioned is that 10% of the agricultural industry in South Dakota takes place in District 23.
    • Gene Toennies – Toennies has a long history of working in Ag, starting businesses and currently working for the Faulk County Conservation District.
    • My Thoughts on Opening Remarks – On thing that was quite obvious is that all five candidates are running to represent the agricultural industry in District 23. That is probably a good move considering the rural nature of the district.
  • Economic Development – The first question was asking what ideas each candidate had for promoting economic growth, both in Dist 23 and in South Dakota.
    • Toennies – Gene talked about tying to entice businesses to come. But more importantly he said it was important to try keeping young people here.
    • Cronin – Justin said Dist 23 and South Dakota has to work with industries that expanding in the region due to the oil fields in ND. He also said the Building South Dakota program passed by legislators in 2013 was a step forward.
    • Nielson – Larry said the main thing that needs to be addressed is the infrastructure and reduce the red tape for businesses. He did however acknowledge that most of the red tape comes from the Federal government. He also mentioned that when planning economic development programs it is important remember some of those projects will fail, and that must be taken into account when planning ED programs.
    • Hargens – Dale said ethanol is an example of something South Dakota has done right. He said we need to refine our ethanol to a quality where it can become an export in the global market.
    • Harrison – Michele does economic development so this was a question almost tailor-made for her. She said economic development in Dist 23 should focus on tourism. Tourism in the outdoors areas such as hunting, fishing, and lake recreation are perfect for Dist 23. But she noted that before any economic development can really be done in Dist 23 that the housing shortage must be addressed.
    • My Thoughts – Most of the candidates actually at least partially ditto’d Toennies in saying that young people must be enticed to stay in SD. That is probably the goal that should be sought. I did like that Nielson mentioned the crumbling infrastructure and Harrison mentioned the housing shortage. It would be unwise to try expanding development in an area that doesn’t have the infrastructure or housing in place to handle it. Finally I would like to mention I did not agree with Cronin. Building South Dakota was a concept that failed to pass the voters in 2012; and then in 2013 Governor Daugaard and the Republican legislative leadership went ahead with it anyways. I think a much better use of that money would have been to follow the SD Constitution and commit resources to education.
  • Education funding – There was a question about weaning school districts off of their flexibility in utilizing capital outlay.
    • Cronin – Cronin said the local districts and taxpayers are in the best position to choose.
    • Nielson – Nielson said this was a decision best left to the local level.
    • Hargens – Hargens actually gave more of an answer here. One thing of note was his statement that big schools often think they will get a lot more money if they absorb smaller schools. He says that simply doesn’t happen that way. He also said “Why should Pierre give a damn” if locals choose to tax themselves more to pay for schools.
    • Harrison – Said local school boards and superintendents were in the best position to decide.
    • Toennies – Again, local school districts are in best position to decide.
    • My Thoughts – Local control was the unanimous answer here. Each of the candidates did give examples, but I wasn’t sure they were actual examples relevant to the question. I felt a few of candidates weren’t really sure what they were talking about. I think this is a tough question for those that have never actually dealt with the topic from a legislative or school board perspective. Those with legislative experience did give much better answers…
  • RNC Common Core Resolution – The candidates were asked if they supported the RNC resolution concerning Common Core (pg 5 of this PDF).
    • Nielson – Nielson said he has several issues with common core. Specifically he has concern with the curriculum being used with Common Core, the quality of the tests, and privacy concerns that go along with Common Core’s Data Mining. He did however say that he does not have a problem with the test, and believes there should be standards and a test.
    • Hargens – He said there may be some merit to the idea of Common Core. But he concerns with Common Core specifically because he is afraid kids are no longer being taught how to learn. Instead he feels Common Core will push teacher to “teach to the test”.
    • Harrison – She said Common Core is not doing good in public eye, so she cannot support it.
    • Toennies – He said he thought Common Core sounded good when he first heard of it. But now that he has started to look into it he has concerns.
    • Cronin – Cronin actually had the chance to vote on this resolution in the SD legislature this year (HCR 1023, which failed). He admists he voted no. He says he did so because he thought there was no alternative. Now he believes there were alternatives available that should have been looked at. He says he now agrees with this resolution.
    • My Thoughts – I am guessing Cronin was hammered pretty hard by constituents after voting no for the resolution. One thing worth noting is that all of the candidates seem to be recently ‘awakened’ as to the dangers of Common Core. In fact a couple of the candidates really didn’t even know anything about it until they entered this race. I think this shows the groups opposing Common Core have to continue communicating with politicians on the dangers of Common Core.
  • Property Taxes – Charlie Hoffman asked an interesting question about the productivity method of property taxes for ag and if the candidates would go back to the pre-Janklow methods.
    • Hargens – Hargens highlighted problems with Directors of Equalization. He would rather see actual use for land instead of productivity potential. He also said land is headed for a downward correction soon.
    • Harrison – Harrison highlighted some grassland that is getting taxed at a higher rate because of the soil type under than grass. She also said she would like to see a five-year plan or a yearly cap on increases.
    • Toennies – Toennies highlighted many examples of unequal taxes across his county under the old system.
    • Cronin – Cronin mentioned he was a no vote while involved with a productivity task-force. He says the biggest problem he sees is the communication disconnect between Pierre and Assessors.
    • Nielson – Nielson highlighted more issues with the unequal treatment  under the old assessment method. He said any system that is utilized bust focus on equality.
    • My Thoughts – Hoffman threw a good question out, but a tough one to break into a couple minute answer. And unfortunately I don’t know enough about the previous and current methods to really delve into the topic (I feel that was true for a couple of the candidates as well). But based upon what I do no, I agree with Hargens that we should be looking towards a use method.
  • Lack of Education Standards – Another Common Core question. This time the candidates were asked what would happen if there suddenly were no standards in public education.
    • Harrison – Harrison basically said teachers would teach the same.
    • Toennies – Toennies mirrored Harrison’s answer.
    • Cronin – Cronin said the teachers in this state have been continuously changing the standards over the years. He also stated he believes in standards overall.
    • Nielson – He said standards of some sort have exist, because there has to be a target/goal. But he isn’t worried about the standards portions of Common Core; he is more worried about other CC areas such as data mining.
    • Hargens – He said teacher communicate with each other and would continue to teach. He agrees that data mining is a troubling aspect of CC. Also worth noting is that he believes low teacher wages is a big issue in South Dakota.
  • Republican Values – The candidates were asked their stances on abortion, gay marriage, taxes and people’s rights (in 2 minutes or less).
    • Toennies – Toennies said it is important to respect the churches on gay marriage. But he said outside of the church it should be up to people to decide for themselves. He said he is right to life, but that there needs to be flexibility for hard choices that need to be made. He said everyone has to pay taxes.
    • Cronin – Cronin also is pro-life. As to same-sex marriage he had a bigger answer. He mentioned legislation this year (SB7) that provided protect for same-sex couples with its language of “Is or has been in a significant romantic relationship”. I’m not sure this bill proceeded in the way he thinks it did. He seemed to think that language was amended out. It was not, it was simply moved around. On taxes he said they should also be a last resort.
    • Nielson – Nielson spoke mostly about the dichotomy between freedoms and restrictions. He did state he is pro-life, but there need to be exceptions to protect mothers. He does not believe in gay marriage, that it is nothing but a topic brought forth to expand benefits for more people. He says there needs to be less taxes so that money can be used by entrepreneurs to actually grow the economy.
    • Hargens – Hargens said he is pro-life, but he has voted both ways. He made sure to say that exceptions must exist for cases such as rape, incest, etc…  He also said the legislature has to be more careful when bringing forth well-intended but silly abortion legislation. That does nothing but fill pockets of Planned Parenthood lawyers that fight against such laws. He also said government shouldn’t even be involved in marriage.
    • Harrison – Harrison said she is pro-life. She also said abortion and gay marriage are “morality issues”; and as a conservative she doesn’t believe the government has the right to choose these issues for people. On taxes she said “some have to be there”.
    • My Thoughts – This was actually the toughest question. Many voters make their decision based simply upon abortion-related issues. But, I think most of the candidates did well answering it. They all are pro-life, but understand it is not a black & white world. There are cases where abortions may be necessary for medical or wellness of the mother type reasons. Most of them also gave stories related to abortion. Even those who said there need to be exceptions worked hard to show that it should be an absolute last-resort. I believe the Republican party as a whole need to listen to the answer of Hargens on gay marriage: government shouldn’t be involved in marriage. If we get government out of marriage it will become a non-issue. Let marriage return to the churches. As was stated by all the candidates taxes are the way we fund government, but taxes should be kept low to allow the economy to flourish.
  • Homeschool Freedom – The candidates were asked by Linda Schauer if homeschool parents should be allowed to choose curriculum (regarding Common Core).
    • Cronin – He said Dist 23 has a lot of homeschoolers and he supports that.
    • Nielson – He says he supports homeschooler freedoms, but there has to be tests.
    • Hargens – He said he supports homeschooler parents, but the local school boards need to work with them.
    • Harrison – Pointed out homeschoolers seem to be better at testing. Also highlighted that homeshcool parents need flexibility.
    • Toennies – He said his only concern with homeschooling is a potential for lack of social interaction; but that he feels parents should have the right teach as they want to.
    • My Thoughts – This was a pretty standard answer for all involved. They all seem to recognize the growing popularity of homeschooling and seem to think parents should have the ability to set their own curriculum.
  • Core Republican Beliefs – The candidates were asked to talk about their core Republican beliefs.
    • Nielson – Nielson says we need to return back to a smaller government.
    • Hargens – Hargen says there needs to be a smaller and more efficient government.
    • Harrison – Harrison said government needed to be smaller and more local control where appropriate.
    • Toennies – Toennies also ditto’d small government. But also said there needs to be a focus on integrity in government.
    • Cronin – Cronin focused on less government with more efficiency. He also said he would like to return to a unified Republican Party.
    • My Thoughts – It wasn’t a surprise to see all the candidates push for a smaller and more efficient government. I really think Toennies had a winner by also focusing on the integrity of those involved with the government.
  • Keystone XL – The final question was about Keystone XL pipeline and whether it should be approved.
    • Hargens – He said the KXL should be approved because it promotes energy independence. He also said people need to research certain environmental groups opposing KXL, because they are potentially false fronts for other groups. He also mentioned Warren Buffet with his railroad ties fighting against the KXL.
    • Harrison – She would support KXL being approved.
    • Toennies – Would support KXL being approved.
    • Cronin – Cronin mentioned the the many letters Obama talked about receiving asking him to stop the KXL. Cronin then asked whether Obama had also received the many letters asking for Obamacare to be stopped. He also then stated he would support KXL being approved.
    • Nielson – He would support KXL being approved. But did mention problems with it being done to be exported.
    • My Thoughts – I fall with all of them in thinking it should be approved. I am disappointed none of them mentioning the one BIG problem I have with KXL though: the abuse of eminent domain in the project.
  • Wrap-up – Final thoughts from each of the candidates.
    • Harrison – She believes her views are in-line with the conservatives in Dist 23.
    • Toennies – He highlighted the fact he has no platform or agenda. Instead he is focusing on values such as integrity, responsibility, accountability, and trustworthiness.
    • Cronin – He highlighted his work in the legislature to overcome the structural deficit (left from the final year of the Rounds administration, he didn’t mention Rounds by name however).
    • Nielson – He says he focuses a lot on unintended consequences and believes legislators should work hard to make sure bad laws are not passed.
    • Hargens – Hargens likes to think of himself more as a law repealer than as a law-maker. He actually noted that each time a law is passed it takes a freedom away from somewhere.
    • My Thoughts – Overall the candidates did a good job of trying to use conservative talking points they think will resonate in Dist 23. I was actually hoping more people would be in attendance, it was sparse. This primary is the only legislative race in Dist 23 this year. Hopefully the next few events will have more constituents.
  1. Liberty Dick
    April 22, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    Good stuff. Thanks for providing the coverage!

  2. Individualist
    April 23, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    Well done Ken. Good “reporting!”

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  1. April 22, 2014 at 12:59 pm
  2. June 2, 2014 at 11:32 pm
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