Home > SD 2014 Ballot, South Dakota > A rundown of the SD gubernatorial forum at Dakotafest

A rundown of the SD gubernatorial forum at Dakotafest

August 21, 2014
Governor Daugaard and Independent gubernatorial candidate Mike Myers having a conversation before the forum at Dakotafest. Photo by Ken Santema

Governor Daugaard and Independent gubernatorial candidate Mike Myers having a conversation before the forum at Dakotafest. Photo by Ken Santema

Day 2 of Dakotafest included two political forums. The first forum was for the SD Gubernatorial candidates. It was then shortly followed by the SD US Senate candidates forum. Both forums were much more interesting than the US House forum the day before. This post will focus upon the SD Gubernatorial forum. All three candidates were in attendance: incumbent Republican Dennis Daugaard, Democrat Susan Wismer, and Independent Mike Myers.

I won’t call a winner for this debate. I will say though I think Myers lost.  Myers is a good guy and I agree with him on most issues. But in this forum he just didn’t have enough details in his answers. Wismer really stepped up though. I’ve been somewhat critical of her for being meek. Over the last two months she has been getting stronger every time I’ve seen her speak. Now at this forum she really stepped out and actually had some of that fire I liked from Lowe during the Primary season. If she can keep this up maybe she has a chance. Daugaard stayed calm and collected. Both Republicans and Democrats probably think their candidate won. But I don’t see this forum having anything in it to sway undecided independents.

I would also mention that both sides had plenty of people staged in the audience. It was harder gauge things by audience reaction due to that fact.

Opening Statements

Myers opened by stating he is “not for sale”. This is a consistent message he tries to sell. At his age he doesn’t expect to serve more than one term if elected. He is simply too old to be a career politician at this point. Most notable in his opening statement was his idea for a healthcare co-op in South Dakota. He says that would let the people run healthcare in South Dakota, and not Avera and Sanford.

Daugaard touted that in his time as Governor he had eliminated the budget deficit without raising taxes. Somehow he forgot to mention the deficit was inherited by him from then outgoing Governor Rounds….  He went on to note that in the following years there were budget surpluses. In addition, he has dealt with a variety of natural disasters in his time as governor, and still managed to balance the budget.

Wismer spent more time telling a personal story about using and maintaining a swather growing up. I actually think this was a good approach to try connecting with the agricultural portion of the audience. She also said she is running for those that are not currently represented in Pierre and to get a competition of ideas in Pierre.

All three opening statements were pretty mild. But Wismer definitely had much more presence than I had seen in her before.

Top Priority

Wismer came out saying her top priority would be to expand Medicaid. She thinks Daugaard passed on $272 million dollars of federal money for no good reason. She said Daugaard’s claim about expanding Medicaid keeping more people on welfare is false. If the claim by Daugaard were true, then Wismer said he would actually be working with the federal government on alternative solutions. That is not happening.

Myers also has a top priority of healthcare. He says as a top executive at Mayo he helped create the system that is causing harm to people now. Moving the healthcare system away from how it is currently structured is his top priority. Myers pointed out that many people are paying more for healthcare coverage than they are for their home mortgage. When talking about Medicare, he said he would drop the whole system and support long-term care.

Daugaard did not focus on healthcare for his top priority. Instead he wants to maintain and improve the financial state of the State. To do that he says the state should only spend money we have. He also touted the fact that SD is one of the few states that has a fully funded pension system and has one of the lowest debt burden in the nation. Daugaard wants to keep South Dakota that way.

Ideologically I agree more with Daugaard and Myers on this question. I would love Myers idea of getting away from the current big-corporation run healthcare system. It should also be seen as essential to keep the debt burden of the state low. As to Wismer, I disagree with her. Most of my disagreement with her has to do with Medicaid expansion leaving the State of South Dakota on the hook for a lot of debt burden in the future. But even thought I disagree with her, I will say she presented her case pretty well and brought it to Daugaard fairly hard.

School Funding

When it came to talking school funding I would say Myers dropped the ball. He talked in general about investing in children and education. Briefly he also mentioned low teacher pay. About the only thing I agreed with him on was him being the only gubernatorial candidate against Common Core. But he really didn’t tie that directly into the question. It would have been easy to connect Common Core with school funding because of the extra cost of teacher training and technology purchases that come with the standards. That was a missed opportunity for him.

Daugaard mentioned that half of the general fund already goes to education. He also noted that the big cut he had to do across the board when first taking office was done in a way to impact education the least of all areas. In addition he mentioned the funds he proposed to the schools was twice was the formula requirement. Going on, Daugaard mentioned education has changed a lot in South Dakota over the years. Enrollment in k-12 public schools has gone down  by about 50,000, while the number of teachers and other staff has increased. He mentioned the other staff at schools has almost outnumbered the teachers. Finally he mentioned that yes, teacher pay in South Dakota is low. South Dakota teachers get paid 51st in the nation; but the same organization publishing that number also shows South Dakota is ranked 39th for revenue per student. That was mentioned so the audience would realize that school boards set the pay of teachers, and other staff. Democrats will continue to lose this debate against Republicans such as Daugaard if they fail to look at both funding and how the school boards are spending the money.

Wismer noted that many schools this year are starting with teaching positions unfilled. She went on to say that South Dakota loves the free market. So then she asked why as a state we don’t understand the free market applies to school; specifically to teacher pay. Notably she said it takes more than low taxes and great hunting to attract the people into the state. Wismer said the Governor sets the tone for education in this state, and that the tone needs to be changed.

I would say Daugaard and Wismer both did well on this issue from their different perspectives. Ideologically I agree more with what Daugaard had to say. But I am glad Wismer was able to get a competing idea out there. She might get more support from non-Democrats if she was willing to look at both the state funding and how school boards are spending that money. As it is I don’t see that happening. So I will give the win on this issue to Daugaard.

Infrastructure

Daugaard said the roads are vital for agriculture. I don’t think anyone would disagree. He then went on to say the state highways are in such great shape thanks to the stimulus money received from the federal government. Here is where Daugaard loses me. He seems proud to have received so much money from the federal government. That is not what I would consider a good stance from a Republican fiscal conservative. Daugaard did note that counties are having a much tougher time maintaining their infrastructure. Finally he said the current revenue levels are insufficient to maintain the roads. Even though he promised four years ago to not raise taxes, he now says everything is on the table in regards to maintaining the infrastructure. I have a feeling the legislative infrastructure summer study being done this year will be used as a sell-point for Daugaard to raise taxes next year.

Wismer wants South Dakota to keep its good deal with the federal government, so she hopes the Federal Highway Trust Fund is fixed and will continue to provide more money to South Dakota than we give to the federal government. She also thanked the state leaders of the past for buying and maintaining the railroads. Wismer contends they can now be utilized to relieve stress off the roads. Part of her District is in Brown County, so it was no surprise to hear her say that the state is dropping the ball by not letting counties have the tools they need to increase infrastructure revenue. Failing infrastructure is a huge issues in Brown County (outside of Aberdeen anyway). Finally Wismer said the Daugaard administration was getting in the way of local solutions.

Myers mentioned water issues. He talked briefly about bridges and the land impacted by water. Part of that conversation was to mention that Daugaard had supported watershed districts when in the legislature, but seemed to have dropped that support once becoming Governor. I really wish Myers would have gone into more detail on water issues. The conversation is incomplete without talking about water issues, and he didn’t bring enough information forward to show why watershed districts would be a good idea.

Overall I would give the win on this question to Wismer. I really disagree with Wismer (and Daugaard) wanting to rely so hard upon the federal government. But beyond that I do agree with Wismer that the solution going forward would be to allow counties to have more flexibility in funding their own infrastructure needs. And Myers, well he just didn’t provide enough detail to be considered good on that question.

Medicaid Expansion

Wismer said the state is refusing to provide care for 47 thousand people. She said the worse part of not expanding Medicaid is the fact that preventative care could cut off a lot of medical problems before they become an emergency situation. She also said neither party has all the solutions, therefore Daugaard refusing to expand Medicaid is an ideological problem created by Republicans. Wismer contends that extreme elements of the Republican party has forced the Daugaard administration to take a bad stance on Medicaid.

Myers had already come out against Medicaid. He mentioned that increased access has actually caused more deaths. This is a top issue he has talked about many times. Currently hospitals are incentivized to perform more surgeries, many of which are unnecessary. These unnecessary procedures have led to an increase of wrongful deaths. Myers also touted his support of reforming the medical industry by forcing facilities to show the prices of services ahead of time. He asks why should they be able to hide prices, other industries aren’t allowed to do so. Finally he said any healthcare system going forward has to be consumer based. That is one huge problem with both ACA and Medicaid, neither solution is consumer based.

Daugaard said Medicaid is a good program that receives funds from both the state and federal governments. He mentioned most of those on Medicaid in South Dakota are children, disabled or elderly. The program is there to help those that can’t help themselves. So Daugaard contends that expanding Medicaid to those that can help themselves actually goes against the point of the program. Further, he stated Social Security and Medicare is unsustainable long-term, so why would anyone advocate expanding another program to a point where it will also become unsustainable. He agreed the first couple years of Medicaid expansion would cost the state very little money; but long-term it would take a lot of the state governments revenue. He also mentioned that many of the 48 thousand impacted could already go to the ACA exchange and sign up for coverage now, he said it is not too much to ask people to pay 2% of their income for health coverage.

I don’t give a win to anyone with this question. Wismer was pretty adamant in her answer, and I think she probably excited her base. But ideologically I can’t agree with her. Myers has some good points, and I really like his idea of showing sticker prices for all medical services. But he really didn’t go into enough detail for me about Medicaid. And Daugaard, yes I agree with most of what he says. But its hard to believe that he actually believes what he says after earlier being proud of receiving so much federal money for transportation. He can’t pick and choose which areas he likes to be reliant upon to the federal government. Either he is a fiscal conservative that wants local control and solutions, or he wants to be a ward of the federal government. He can’t try to play both sides of the fence like he is currently doing.

EB-5

Myers said the state should not be proud of continuously being ranked as one of the most corrupt states in the US. He said Benda’s death is bringing corruption in South Dakota to the surface. When Governor Myers said he will do what Daugaard didn’t, and appoint a special independent prosecutor to find the missing EB-5 money.

Daugaard began by saying EB-5 is a federal program that he “has not emphasized”. Notice, that is a nice way to say he had nothing to do with EB-5 without actually using Rounds name. He called it an economic development program and that he had first heard of problems was after Brenden Johnson started to investigate issues. He mentioned three audits and how he has already made changes from those audits. Of course he failed to mention none of those audits were forensic in nature, which is what many have been asking for. He also said he was not hiding anything because he wasn’t there. Does that mean Daugaard is saying he knew nothing about things going on while he was the Lt Gov for Rounds?

Wismer said EB-5 has a long and tortured history in northeast South Dakota. She said SD should not be involved in the program. Most notable she said a program shouldn’t be considered a success when a failed beef packing plant has to file bankruptcy. Wismer also mentioned the audits that Daugaard referred to purposely avoided the questions that opponents of the program specifically wanted asked. She closed by saying one party rule is not healthy. That received a nice round of applause.

I’ll give the win on this question a tie between Myers and Wismer. I think Myers is correct an independent prosecutor should have been appointed. And I also agree with Wismer that the audits were not what opponents of the program actually wanted.  Personally I don’t think a more in-depth forensic audit would reveal anything. But at least that approach would have ‘cleared the air’ and allowed the conversation to revolve around whether EB-5 is a good economic development program, or just pure crony capitalism.

Economic Development

Daugaard explained his top three priorities regarding economic development. First he wants to encourage existing businesses to grow in a stable environment with low taxes. Second he wants to attract outside businesses. Third he wants to to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit. To achieves those priorities he focuses on low-cost financing of loans by the state, tax incentives, trade missions and good infrastructure. Finally he said the government shouldn’t put undue burden on business owners and farmers. Daugaard lost me at state backed low-cost financing of loans. I really don’t think the state should be involved with picking winners and losers in the market. That is exactly what is happening when a government agency chooses to financially back certain businesses. Other than that he has some good ideas though.

Wismer was proud of her being part of the legislature that passed the Building South Dakota bill in 2013. I felt that was a bad bill at the time, and still do. Even though the voters had rejected the idea in the 2012 election, Daugaard and the legislature decided to move ahead with it anyhow. Wismer said she no longer supports Building South Dakota because this legislative session Daugaard and Republican legislature ripped out the compromises Democrats had negotiated in the original bill and left too much power in the Governor’s hands. Wismer and Daugaard both are equally to blame for that situation. Daugaard and his fellow Republicans are to blame for the power grab. Wismer and her fellow Democrats are to blame for allowing a bill to be passed that the voters rejected. It came as no surprise to those of us opposed to the original bill that it would be changed in such a fashion.

Myers focused upon the fact that Daugaard and Rounds need to talk about the EB-5 situation because they both have had GOED under them. He says that can be with a subpoena if need be. He also mentioned that currently hemp is an import product that can grow well in SD. By producing hemp in South Dakota it would be a boost to the state and reservations.

Daugaard and Wismer both get a loss on this question, mostly because of the Building South Dakota program mentioned by Wismer. Both facilitated its passage and both gave way too much power to GOED and the Governor. Myers I will give some points by actually pointing out an area that can increase economic development. Allowing a new agricultural product that can grow on poor land would be a huge boon to the state.

Teacher Shortage

Wismer once again said the tenure of the conversation about education coming from Pierre needs to change. She said one of the reasons South Dakota has a workforce shortage is because of cuts to education. In addition, she said vo-techs in the state are not receiving enough money. Once again she noted that the free market works, and teachers should be paid accordingly. Finally she noted that South Dakota has been content to pay teachers low for around forty years. She was quite passionate speaking on this topic. But failing to mention that school boards actually set teachers pay once again means she is only willing to look at half of the equation.

Myers said in order to make money, one has to spend money. He said more money has to be spent on relevant education. He really didn’t provide enough detail to really count as an answer.

Daugaard admits South Dakota has workforce challenges. He said it is not only teachers that are in a shortage. He mentioned there are many field such as engineering, accounting, and IT that also have shortages in South Dakota. Daugaard said it is a basic supply and demand issue, partly caused by low unemployment in South Dakota. He also mentioned that unions in South Dakota insist teachers be paid by how long they have worked as a teacher and by number of degrees. Instead he thinks teachers should be paid by type of teacher and how well they do. He also reminded everyone that teacher pay is actually set by the school districts, and not by the state.

I’ll give all three a loss on this question. Myers didn’t really answer it. Wismer won’t acknowledge there is more than state funding that goes into setting teacher salary. And Daugaard seems to incorrectly use theories surrounding supply and demand to make his point. All three should step back and re-evaluate their positions.

Closing Statements

Myers once again mentioned he would like to have Daugaard and Rounds subpoenaed to talk about EB-5. He also said he would replace the Governor’s Hunt with the People’s Hunt. Finally he said he wants everyone to think for themselves. I couldn’t agree more with Myers final statement about thinking for one’s self.

Daugaard says he is honest and that everyone should make a judgement for themselves about who the best candidate is. Just like Myers above, I agree completely with this statement from Daugaard. He did however say he would never stop listening. That one he kind of loses me on. One of the interesting parts of blogging is speaking with many people around the state. I’ve heard from many people who feel Daugaard outright avoids constituents if he has a chance of looking bad.

Wismer said our ancestors left us a good state, and that we are not taking care of it. She says the Governor ignoring damage being done to the state doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. She said the state needs to change from taking care of Pierre to taking care of the people.

Closing statements are what they are. I think Wismer gave the best closing statement. But overall all three opened and closed with fluff.

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