Home > SD 2014 Ballot, South Dakota > The Dakotafest US Senate Forum put Weiland, Pressler, and Howie against Rounds

The Dakotafest US Senate Forum put Weiland, Pressler, and Howie against Rounds

August 22, 2014
US Senate candidates at the Dakotafest forum. Photo by Ken Santema

US Senate candidates at the Dakotafest forum. Photo by Ken Santema

The agricultural trade show Dakotafest in Mitchell South Dakota included three political forums. The first forum between US House candidates Kristi Noem and Corinna Robinson was pretty low-key. But the second forum for the Governors office between Daugaard, Myers, and Wismer was actually pretty good. Now it is time to see how the third forum between US Senate hopefuls Howie, Pressler, Weiland, and Rounds went.

If the forum could be summed up in a few words it would be “lets team up on Rounds”. I don’t think there was an actual winner if this forum would be counted as a debate. But I do think Rounds lost the forum by having to go on the defensive (I’m assuming his plan was to refrain from attacking back at anyone). This isn’t the first time Rounds has chosen to attack back when coming under fire. Back in April at the SDNA debate Rounds attacked back at Stace Nelson. I’m actually looking forward to future debates to see if Rounds will try to keep a cool demeanor like Daugaard has in the Governors race, or will continue to fight back. I don’t really know which way is better to go for him, but seeing what he will do will add an extra layer of anticipation to the debates.

Here is a brief rundown of the forum [edit, OK I planned for it to be short]. It won’t be as much detail as I sometimes would for these events. The whole forum can be watched on the Argus Leader website.

Opening Statements

Gordon Howie came out saying America is in serious trouble. He says the country got where it currently is by sending politicians to DC who are worried about their next election. Even though Howie is running as an Independent he still sees himself as a true conservative lifelong Republican that wants to lead the party back to being principled. With a shot towards Rounds and the EB-5 mess he said that citizenship isn’t something should be bought.

Mike Rounds made the case that his ten years in the legislature and eight years as governor shows he knows how to work with others and get things done. He reminded the attendees that he had to pass a balanced budget each year as Governor. Rounds said big government needs to get out of South Dakota, especially out of farm ponds. Shots at the EPA are always a winner with a SD farm crowd. He also mentioned that the Keystone XL pipeline needs to pass and the carbon tax needs to be gotten rid of.

Larry Pressler said he is running as an Independent because of the broken relationship between Republicans and Democrats in DC. He then said he is the same fiscal conservative Senator that South Dakota had sent to DC as a Republican. But being an Independent allows him to work in a bipartisan fashion. Pressler then mentioned that revenues have to be enhanced and the budget needs to be balanced. Finally he said as a one-term Senator he would be pretty powerful.

Rick Weiland said he is angry with Washington. He talked about DC being broken government that big money has hijacked. He said over the last year has been traveling to every town in the state, held over 200 town hall meetings, and listened to people. Weiland contends that people are looking for someone to stand up for everyday folks. To get a shot in at Rounds he said that EB-5 is a local example of big money gone bad.

Actually I thought all four did a pretty good job with their opening statements. I think the best message of the four might have been Howie with his return to principled approach.

First Priority

Weiland’s first priority is to figure out how to get big money from setting public policy. He said the government needs to be taken back from big money. Weiland also went into a topic I think the conservative candidates should be agreeing on: why is so much money paid to Big Ag through the farm bill; very little of that money actually goes to SD farmers. When talking about healthcare, Weiland said ACA leaves the insurance companies in charge of healthcare. I wonder if Rounds would agree more with that talking point if he wasn’t in the insurance industry….

Howie said he would want anyone that didn’t vote to repeal Obamacare should be replaced. His top priority in DC would be cut spending. Howie contends that principle has been removed from government. Further he states that free market principles are needed in DC.

Rounds said his top priority is to get control of the EPA. He says the EPA is doing more damage than almost any other bureaucracy. In order to get rid of the EPA he says Reid has to go. He went on to say the budget needs to be balanced like it is in South Dakota. When talking healthcare Rounds said he would repeal and replace ACA piece by piece with consumer-based solutions. Then came Rounds first boo, he made the claim that $700 billion has been taken from Medicare to fund Obamacare. This has been debunked and de-debunked many times by various organizations. The simple truth though is the number comes from the CBO, and they still publish that number. Whether the $700 billion line is a lie really depends upon personal opinion and cannot truly be proven until the future when historical data actually comes in. Supporters of ACA use the CBO’s numbers to tout ACA often, they can’t ignore this one because they don’t like it. At most they can claim that Rounds is taking the $700 billion out of context. And those against ACA can’t really use the $700 billion number with good conscience because they are not putting it in context with other numbers the CBO puts out. The $700 billion line is nothing more than a way to excite a candidates voter base.

Pressler said he wants to restore honesty in budgetary policy. He noted special interest money makes this hard. Pressler also pointed out that over the last ten years Republicans have voted for deficit spending more than Democrats have; although both parties are guilty of deficit spending. He then noted Obama is his friend and the resolution to impeach him is bad. I find it odd that Pressler is trying to connect himself with Obama, but the Democrat candidate Weiland is trying to distance himself from the President. Pressler wants to work with Obama to get the EPA to work with the state. He also says the EPA is not part of any land grab.

Overall I would agree with any of the cutting spending talking points from the candidates. I think the smartest move was done by Rounds though. The $700 billion line gets his opposition worked up into a tizzy, but I’ve also seen it get his base worked up in favor of him. He might be using that $700 billion line more as a way to get his base worked up as part of a GOTV effort, instead of trying to gain votes from it.

Congressional Approval Ratings

Howie says that voters lack straight talking people in DC. He pledges to never vote for tax increases in DC; and pointing out he is the only candidate to make that statement. He then called out Rounds for not ruling out tax increases. He said the government needs to be reigned in and that the country doesn’t have “taxed not enough” issues.

Rounds says that people want results. He said South Dakotans want the government to live within its means and to tax only to do appropriate things. Rounds sniped back at Howie a bit by saying that the tax pledge doesn’t actually stop spending. Rounds says new expenditures need to be justified. And finally he mentioned getting rid of the Department of Education and the five thousand bureaucrats that work for the DOE.

Pressler focused on how powerful Independent Senators can be, mostly because they can work on both sides. He said the two parties fighting is a huge issue. Pressler then reiterated his one-term pledge and said that frees him up to actually work, while other Senators will spend half their time raising money for the next election. Pressler then went on to say he would reduce the overseas military presence; he would move troops from overseas and station them on the US/Mexico border. He cannot see immigration reform happening without securing the border first. I wonder if that is an attempt to grab some Republicans away from Rounds?

Weiland started with getting big money out of politics. He said big money politicians are not representing the voters of their states. He also mentioned the “dark money” of Super-PACs. He then went on to defend the Department of Education from “Mike” (he used Rounds first name a lot during this forum). Weiland said getting rid of the DOE is not realistic and asked what we as a state would be giving away by making such a move. He then went on to mention the teacher shortage due in part to consistent cuts made to education by Governor Rounds over the years.  He also mentioned that Rounds had added around 1500 bureaucrats to Pierre while Governor.

Actually I liked Howie best in that round. I wish there would be a full debate on the DOE. It would be interesting to watch Rounds and Weiland go back and forth about who the bigger big government supporter is. It also would be interesting to have seen all four panelists talk immigration and see how they compared to Presslers proposal.

ACA – Repeal and Replace? or Fix?

Rounds had already answered this, but he reiterated he would repeal and replace ACA section by section. He noted the costs of ACA keeps rising and that it will simply not work long-term. He said coverage need to be focused on consumers. He also said he supports the REINS ACT, which would require Congress to approve major regulatory rules made by the executive branch. He said that would prevent government from growing without approval from Congress.

Pressler says ACA is here to stay, but would likely have voted against it had he been a Senator when it passed. Pressler then mentioned he had invited Obama to South Dakota in order to discuss healthcare. He contends a lot of portions of South Dakota want something like Obamacare (he failed to mention specific parts). Pressler went on to say there are some good things in ACA and supports retaining ACA with some changes.

Weiland called out Rounds for the commercial with his dad and $700 billion line. He called a worn out argument that was debunked (see my comments above, yes that was debunked, and the debunk has been debunked, and on and on). Weiland says ACA is not affordable enough and that people like Medicare. He would prefer to open up Medicare to everyone. Weiland contends such a move would create a more solvent Medicare system. Weiland also contends that ACA had fixed some things in the healthcare industry.

Howie said a full repeal is needed. He mentioned that as a legislator Howie had introduced a bill in 2010 to counter ACA and that the Rounds administration had killed it. Howie calls ACA a budget buster. He then went on to mention the 2010 budget that Governor Rounds used to increase the budget and ended up leaving the state with a huge deficit the next year. Howie also made the connection to the state trying to kill the raw milk industry in South Dakota. Finally, Howie made the connection between Common Core and Governor Rounds. Rounds was a member of the NGA board that brought Common Core to South Dakota. Howie would prefer an education system that leaves the power to make education decisions in the hands of teachers.

Actually I like Howie’s answer the best again on this topic. I agree a full repeal is needed. Plus I think he did the best job of taking it to Rounds. Everyone has to aim hard at Rounds to pull votes away. But for second place I go with Rounds. Supporting the REINS ACT is a good stance for Rounds to take. I should also give points to Weiland for taking it to Rounds. Pressler really didn’t give me a lot to like about him on that one though…

ACA Part II – Rounds Defends himself with a rebuttal round

Rounds took direct aim back at Howie by saying that Federal law cannot be changed at the state level. Rounds shot back at Weiland by stating the CBO still says $716 billion is being taken from Medicare. Then he went into talking about the rationing panels that are part of ACA (in the past called death panels by Palin).

Howie said other states had passed the law Governor Rounds failed to support against ACA. He also reminded Rounds of the 10th Amendment and states rights.

Weiland to a shot at Rounds being proud of a balanced budget in SD by stating that a balanced budget is constitutionally required in this State. He also says Rounds is not completely honest about how the budget is balanced, since so much of the state budget is filled by using federal dollars. He also noted that since Rounds supported the Ryan Budget, Rounds therefore must support the voucherizing of Medicare included in that budget.

Pressler said the deficit is a huge issue for the agricultural industry and that would cause the dollar to collapse. (OK, I agree with him, but I think Pressler forgot what the rebuttal was supposed to be about).

In the rebuttal I will give Rounds the loss. I think he would have been better off not responding to Howie. I just can’t see why he would fire back at someone who polls in the single digits. I will give some points to Howie for invoking the 10th Amendment and Weiland for mentioning that most of the farm bill helps Big Ag, and not the average farmer.


This is a question Pressler chose to go after Rounds on. He said the EB-5 situation in South Dakota must be investigated much more thoroughly. Pressler said it would leave South Dakota with a “wounded Senator” if Rounds is elected. He went on to say that Rounds should disclose everything now in a “Memorandum of Fact” so nothing can surprise voters after the election. Pressler also went on to say South Dakota doesn’t have enough money for true investigative journalists; and that if Rounds is sent to DC there are plenty of investigative journalists there that would find anything Rounds is hiding about EB-5.

Weiland said EB-5 needs to be repealed and replaced with something that doesn’t lead to corruption. He joined Pressler in beating up Rounds this question by saying the people of South Dakota deserve an explanation. He also mentioned that Iowa US Senator Grassley, who Rounds has been fundraising with, has been against EB-5. Weiland contends the state has lost millions of dollars on a scandal created by the Rounds administration. Weiland says that type of scandal just isn’t like SD.

Howie noted EB-5 is a federal program and that the problems with EB-5 had more to do with how it was administered in South Dakota. Howie doesn’t think a Memorandum of Fact from Rounds is enough. He wants Rounds to tensity under oath. Further Howie state there is corrupted form of Republicans in charge of the government in South Dakota.

Rounds also noted that EB-5 is a federal program. He mentioned there are around five hundred EB-5 regional offices around the country and they each compete with each other. He also said the EB-5 program was moved out of the state office. Rounds tried to clarify that EB-5 only allows for a visa, and does not actually sell citizenship. He touted the program for bringing economic development to South Dakota and that is a good thing. Finally he said he would have fired Benda if he knew what was going on. To finish it off, Rounds said the Beef Plant in Aberdeen brought in more tax revenue than the state had paid out to the program.

Honestly I didn’t like anyone on this question. It was fun to watch the other three gang up on Rounds. The answer I agree with the most was Weiland saying the EB-5 program needs to be replaced. But EB-5 is a bi-partisan concept that I feel a big government type like Weiland would normally support if there hadn’t been a scandal. Plus Howie didn’t really talk bad about EB-5, just how it was handled. Pressler’s Memorandum of Fact was an interesting approach that gives him some points.


Really none of them had anything interesting to say in closing (either that or I was tired of listening to them by this point and my idea of what is relevant changed). As I said before I don’t think this forum had a clear winner. But I do think Rounds lost by having to go on the offense to defend himself against Howie. Howie also was surprising in this forum. I found myself agreeing with him more than I thought I would. We’ll see if that stays true after a forum that has some social issues…

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