The Lawrence County Republican Party hosted a candidates forum this evening at the Spearfish Senior Citizens Center. I'm neither Republican nor senior, but party chair Mary Fitzgerald let me in anyway. Thanks, Mary!

Speaking at tonight's forum were all of the candidates for Lawrence County Commission, District 31 State House, and District 31 State Senate. (District 31 is Lawrence County.) All of these candidates are Republicans. They face no Democratic challengers, so barring an Independent surprise, the June primary will select half of these candidates to serve.

The candidates said a lot (some without saying much), so let me break it up into three parts. First up, here are my notes (with minimal commentary) on the Lawrence County Commission candidates. I'll put the notes on the Legislative races in separate posts.

And stay tuned! I have video of the whole show! I'll upload that video as soon as possible, so you can share it with friends who couldn't make the forum.

Now, let's see who's going to run the show around here! Here are the Lawrence County Commission candidates in pretty much their own words. [Observations from me will appear in square brackets.]

Lawrence County Commission candidates, at Lawrence County GOP Forum, Spearfish Senior Citizens Center, Spearfish, South Dakota, April 30, 2012. From left to right: Steve Rosenberger, Robert Romanov, Commissioner Terry Weisenberg, and Commissioner Daryl D. Johnson.

Lawrence County Commission candidates, at Lawrence County GOP Forum, Spearfish Senior Citizens Center, Spearfish, South Dakota, April 30, 2012. From left to right: Steve Rosenberger, Robert Romanov, Commissioner Terry Weisenberg, and Commissioner Daryl D. Johnson.

Opening Statements:

Steve Rosenberger says he is a firm believer in private property rights. He says we elect people to protect those rights instead of terrorizing us like they do in Meade County. [Rosenberger did not elaborate until later.]

Robert Romanov says he moved here from Denver. He wants to promote a better life for the elderly, the young, and all in between. He says young people need college education to afford housing and food and gasoline. Romanov is against chain link fences, since they don't add beauty to the environment. Romanov says we must preserve water quality. He sees mining and tree beetles as big issues facing Lawrence County.

Terry Weisenberg, incumbent commissioner, says his family has been here since 1876. He offers a brief biography and saves policy for later.

Daryl D. Johnson, incumbent commissioner, does the classic Bill Clinton step out from the dais and speaks of his long family ties to Lawrence County.

The audience applauds for the incumbents, but not the challengers.

Question 1 (ably delivered by moderator and former State Senator Jerry Apa, who should be played in his biopic by SDSU's J.D. Ackman): What are your three key priorities?

Romanov says he'd like to see a public access parking lot on the north end of Spearfish Creek near Exit 10. He admires the grassy trail in that neighborhood [hey! I just ran there for the first time this afternoon! It is lovely there!] and says folks need a place to park. Romanov says he will keep an open mind and work with constituents.

Weisenberg says he'll continue the county's work with the Forest Service to cut pine beetle trees. He says he is amazed with the USFS contract, under which Lawrence County can use USFS vehicles and gas to go cut trees. Weisenberg also wants to continue working with South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley to implement Senate Bill 42, which reduces criminal appeals. Weisenberg says he was proud to testify at the State Legislature this year at the AG's request to help pass that bill.

Johnson says pine beetles will continue to be a big issue. He also says the Valentine Mining/Deadwood Standard Project's proposed Ragged Top gold mine at the rim of Spearfish Canyon will also be a big issue. He says the county commission has yet to see any formal proposal; as of now, they only know what we all can read in the papers. Johnson says the county budget is an obvious issue, since it affects everybody in room. The county needs to be frugal and keep taxes from going up.

Rosenberger says we must look at the sustainable development program coming to Spearfish, the Black Hills, and the entire state. He said this United Nations program is "in everything right now.... Obama passed an executive order focusing on the Midwest to help us out, heh heh." When Rosenberger mentions Agenda 21, the audience makes clear with confused and incredulous groans that they have not been keeping up with the John Birch Society or the Madville Times. Remarkably, local political character Sam Kephart speaks up from the back of the room to support Rosenberger, saying Agenda 21 is a disaster [Sam, really?! You have time for this stuff?]

Rosenberger then refers to the "Delphi technique" creeping into our schools and warns it is a "real scam." [The "Delphi technique must be creeping very quietly: I've been working in Spearfish High School for eight months, and I haven't heard anything about it. But then I would say that, wouldn't I?]

Question 2: What are the three biggest issues facing Lawrence County in the next ten years?

Weisenberg suggests the county's biggest problem is getting along with Jerry Apa. He then gets serious and says the #1 problem is money. The county often looks at consolidating departments. Weisenberg says we have to remember we are dealing with people whose families rely on these jobs, but he's not afraid to save money. Weisenberg says times are tough in the current "Obama-led Depression." He says the commission denied self-starters [remote starters?] for sheriff's cars. The savings were a meager $530, but the county has to look at every cost-saving measure it can. The county now needs to find more money to get rid of bug trees.

Johnson said Lawrence County must brace for continued growth from oil development up north. He has talked to folks with companies moving whole divisions from North Dakota to South Dakota. Johnson says Deadwood gaming businesses are seeing activity from the North Dakota oilpatch. Realtors today told Johnson housing is picking up with sales to folks from North Dakota. The oil boomers are "coming whether we want them or not."

Johnson also pointed to bug trees as a major issue. Lawrence County spent years working on the Forest Service, now this year finally succeeded in getting cooperation.

Rosenberger says the obvious problem is money. But don't get up: the national debt will leave us all broke, says Rosenberger, and he doesn't know what we're going to do. Some catastrophe [left ill-defined by Rosenberger] is "coming fast," probably at the end of this year [no mention of Mayans necessary]. Rosenberger says [honest to goodness, he said this!] we may have to print our own money the way the Fed does.

Romanov replies to the question of big upcoming issues by saying that as a commissioner, he will keep an open mind, show respect for everyone, and be honest with public and media. He will separate emotions from responsibilities.

Turning to the bug issue, Romanov surprises the crowd by suggesting we may need to plant different trees. Other trees don't get eaten by bugs, says Romanov. [Other trees "don't go to the sawmills either," says the unimpressed lady next to me.]

Question 3: What do we do about the pine beetle?

Johnson says that in the last year, nearly every commission meeting has addressed this issue. The Central Black Hills and Colorado show what happens if we do nothing. Johnson says that "drawing a line in the sand[stone?] with the Forest Service made action happen. Johnson says we just keep looking over our shoulder to see if someone is going to come in and stop us from carrying out the plans we've made with the USFS [cue sinister laugh, enter black-clad EPA agent]. Johnson says stats across the country are now looking at Lawrence County's USFS contract as a template for dealing with their local beetle infestations. The county, says Johnson, did excellent work on this issue, so now it's time to ask the state legislators why we aren't getting the money we should to tackle the problem

Rosenberger says he has "no idea" what we ought to do about pine beetles. He warns we should keep the federal government out of the solution as much as possible. Taking money from those "parasites" is problematic, says Rosenberger, but sometimes we've got to do it.

Romanov switches the conversation to the mining issue for a minute, then says that "the other thing" about the pine beetle problem is that we can't burn the trees, since there are too many homes in the Hills. He offers the hopeful note that trees do come back.

Weisenberg does Bill Pullman in Independence Day. The pine beetle, he says, is a "tsunami coming at us." There are 70 cutters up there dropping trees. "They are the real heroes... they are trying to save your lives." Weisenberg says he prays for folks around Hill City. He vows we're not giving up here. We're going to get state help and federal help [no mention of calling in the Air Force... yet].

Question 4: Should the county consider using Tax Increment Finance districts to declare park service lands "blighted" and promote development?

Johnson offers a brief primer on how TIF districts work. He says that if a TIF is done for the good of the community, like the industrial park east of Spearfish, then it's all right. But Johnson says we shouldn't do TIFs just for one developer. If a project is worth doing, says Johnson, developers should spend their own money. If the project won't stand on its own, the county shouldn't do it.

Rosenberger says TIFs divert taxes that normally go to the school district. He says that sounds like shooting ourselves in the foot.

Romanov says something about having to agree with commissioners to increase taxes. He compliments the county's work on the new runway at the airport.

Weisenberg says he is asking questions of one proposed TIF developer and not getting answers. Displeasure at this lack of information leads Weisenberg to say that right now, his answer is No, he doesn't believe TIFs have a place in the county. A propos of mostly nothing, he again cites the "Obama-led Depression" hurting the housing market and says we can rectify that problem in November.

Question 5: Should Lawrence County establish a satellite office in Spearfish where folks could buy licenses, pay taxes, etc.?

Rosenberger asks "Who's gonna pay for that?... More government is not the answer." He says it's cheaper to do those things by mail.

Romanov says Deadwood offices won't move to Spearfish.

Weisenberg says the county is not going to expand offices. He invites everyone to just come to Deadwood, do some gambling, and have a good time. And if you don't want to do that, just stick a stamp on your envelope.

Johnson says there are lots of ways to send your money to the courthouse. The county is trying to hold costs in line.

Closing Statements:

Romanov returns to his script and says the county must take care of mandates from the federal and state governments, even when they don't fund those mandates. The county must take care of public health, welfare, social services, treatment of prisoners, public defenders, voter registration—[and ends about that abruptly.]

Weisenberg recounts his bio and basically says he's a good guy.

Johnson does too. He's glad to serve and looks forward to continuing to do so. He says county commission is a big job. He sat in on lots of county meetings for a year before he was elected, and even after that, he wasn't prepared for how big a job it was. In a clear appeal to the merits of incumbent experience, he urges voters to really weigh what needs to be done on the commission.

Rosenberger says Meade County tried sustainable development, but folks voted it down 80 to 20. Rosenberger claims the Meade County code would have banned hunting, home school, and backyard gardens. [Lunch at the Spearfish eatery of your choice for the first person who can demonstrate that this claim is anything other than utter hogwash.]

Read, discuss, and enjoy, Lawrence County neighbors!

Next up: State House candidates!