Home > SD 2014 Ballot, South Dakota > SD Libertarian Commissioner of School and Public Lands candidate John English at the Alt Candidate Forum

SD Libertarian Commissioner of School and Public Lands candidate John English at the Alt Candidate Forum

August 28, 2014
John English, SD Libertarian candidate for Commissioner of School and Public Lands, speaking at the Alt Candidate Forum. Photo by Ken Santema.

John English, SD Libertarian candidate for Commissioner of School and Public Lands, speaking at the Alt Candidate Forum. Photo by Ken Santema.

On Saturday, August 23, there was an Alternative Candidates Forum held in Sioux Falls. One of the fun things about covering political events, especially for alternative candidates, is the chance to see and hear from someone new to politics. The South Dakota Libertarian Party delivered a pleasant surprise this year with their Commissioner of School and Public Lands (S&PL) candidate John English. English was not just someone who threw his name on the ballot; he actually appears to be qualified for and seeks out the CS&PL position. In this race his opponent is the current Republican Deputy Commissioner of S&PL  Ryan Brunner.

Before the event I took a few minutes to speak with English, just to get to know him a bit. Speaking with him reminded me of conversations I have had with Brunner in the past. English and Brunner both have economics knowledge and both speak the language of mineral and surface rights, revenue streams, and investment opportunities. It would be interesting to get English and Brunner together and see how a conversation would go. I believe the two candidates would hold a very interesting conversation. I think its great to see two candidates qualified for a position facing off against each other. That is how the system should work.

English began his speech by acknowledging the fact he seemed to come out of nowhere when nominating himself for Commissioner of S&PL at the Libertarian convention. He said his “conviction grows day by day to be a force for change”. As a part of his upbringing (one Republican parent and one Independent parent), English believes in a liberal social policy and a fiscal conservative policy. In school English studied Environmental Science, Humanities, Sociology, and Law. In our conversation earlier he also noted he studies economics, and from speaking with him I can attest to his knowledge in that area. English has an interesting mixture of education (both in institutions and on his own) that gives him the knowledge necessary for the Commissioner of S&PL position.

As to his qualifications, English noted he understands codified law, complex leases, and the permit systems. English went on to note he is qualified to take on daily accounting and understands he will have to work with others in managing the $170 million trust fund.

Going into his passion, English stated he is focused on children’s future. He will make sure every task done as Commissioner of S&PL will focus on “education enhancement and salary increase”. English understands that S&PL doesn’t actually spend the money in education, and instead just brings in revenue. But as Commissioner of S&PL he would work with others in power and education associations to “make sure that in South Dakota education is recognized as a fundamental right. I want to see this fundamental right recognized and actualized too.” I think this is a winning issue for English in SD. There are some (including me) who feel the state should never have been involved in public education. But the simple fact of the matter is the South Dakota Constitution tasks the State Legislature and elected officials to provide public education in South Dakota. Anyone opposed to seeing education as a fundamental right might want to think about why the State Constitution actually guarantees public education and why so much of our state budget goes to education. I think even those of us opposed to how public education is currently run can acknowledge how important education is and should work to make it better.

To reach his goals for education, English would improve the relationship with the South Dakota Investment Council (SDIC). He would give his input into how the money should be invested (the Commissioner of S&PL is one of eight members on the council). He would work to “maintain a diversified investment portfolio” in the trust. To differentiate himself from his opponent, English said he would look at cost benefits of land sales after the lease expires. Brunner mentioned surface rents in my chat with him earlier in the month; specifically Brunner will work to improve rented land so more revenue can be received from that land. Hopefully these two can get together some time to discuss the benefits/risks of either direction. Such a discussion in a public forum would give voters a chance to decide which way would be the better route.

Then English went on to list what he believes in for the S&PL office: transparency in office dealings, accurate appraisals, strong comparable market analysis, arm’s length transactions and bidding, and timely public reporting. Actually I could do whole posts on each of these areas English mentioned. In particular I think the arm’s length transactions and bidding should be looked at for all constitutional offices in Pierre. I believe using the arm’s length principle in Pierre would go a long way to reduce the claims of corruption and cronyism that is often heard when talking about SD State Government.

From there English moved on to the environment. English would “keep in mind sustainability in the public eco-systems.” He says that would allow for future grazing on the prairies, hunting and fishing for tourism in SD, and that after the conclusion of a mineral lease there would be surface restoration. This is an area I also spoken with Brunner about. Both candidates seem to believe the land should be in as good of shape, if not better, after a mineral operations complete. One area I see Republicans and Libertarians often get beat up on is the belief by some that neither group of people care about the environment. I haven’t found that to be true. I believe all people truly care about the environment, but many have a difficult time expressing that in words and partisan politics makes it a difficult topic to actually discuss. Luckily there are two candidates in the S&PL race that are not afraid to speak conservative environmentalism.

Finally, English went into the non-revenue portions of the S&PL. English would focus on dam appropriations, to deal with a growing problem in this state. He would focus on not only maintaining, but rehabilitating the dams which fall under the S&PL control. As a resident of Aberdeen I appreciate both English and Brunner taking this stance, Richmond Lake Dam is pointed directly at the town and has little maintenance done on it over the decades.

If all things were equal I believe the Commissioner of School and Public Lands race would be one of the tightest in the state. Both candidates have the knowledge necessary to perform the duties of Commissioner. Both candidates care about sustaining ongoing revenue for public schools; although they do have different approaches on land rents. And both candidates balance fiscal conservatism with environmental concerns.

It will be a tough battle for English though. Brunner has been running is race unopposed all year; and also has the label Republican, which always helps in South Dakota. Yet English has been getting out there and plans to put up one heckuva fight for the Commissioner of S&PL position this fall. It’s races like this that makes me wish all of the constitutional offices received ample media attention. There could be the potential for a good race and many voters won’t even realize it.

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