My first face-to-face encounter with Independent gubernatorial candidate Mike Myers, like that with a certain illegitimate U.S. Senate candidate, did not go well.
When I walked into the Sioux Falls Democratic Forum Friday, Myers was there, talking with Democratic gubernatorial candidate. Now if you're a blogger and you see two candidates tête à tête, you go there. I walk up, and Myers glances my way and recognizes me. I extend my hand, and he takes it and quite literally jerks me toward him. With what I can fairly describe as a snarl, Myers gruffly upbraided me for calling him crazy and saying he was winded when he finished his pushups. (For the record, a quick search of the blog for "Myers" and "crazy" brings up just one post, in which I do not directly call Myers "crazy" and note that a large majority of our State House supports industrial hemp just like Myers.)
I understand that candidate Myers could be as frustrated with me as with the rest of the press for focusing on the theatrics and distractions surrounding his campaign rather than the substance of the issues he wants to discuss. But such physical aggression on the campaign trail toward any reporter or voter seems... uncivil? unwise? newsworthy in a bad way?
I wouldn't criticize a person for walking away from such a greeting and choosing not to risk interacting with such a person again. But as a blogger and as a South Dakota Democrat, I'm a glutton for punishment. I invited Myers to sit down with me for coffee after Forum. We got together a couple hours later, and even though I was half an hour late, Myers now greeted me with perfect, smiling civility. We sat down for an hour and talked about his biography and his intentions as a gubernatorial candidate.
Myers summarized his bio for me: Navy at 17, work on the sheep/hog kill floor at Morrell's, SDSU journalism grad, UPI newsman and photographer for that Sioux Falls paper, USD law school prof (Myers says he had current USD president Jim Abbott as a student), and hospital exec.
Myers said he's really good at not taking advice. Against the advice of various politicos he sees at coffee in Sioux Falls, he opens his policy talk with his support for industrial hemp and medical marijuana. Industrial hemp, quite simply, is economic development, a billion-dollar industry just waiting for South Dakota to capitalize on it. Medical marijuana, says Myers, is consumer choice: why not allow a cancer patient facing body-destroying chemotherapy another option?
Myers's support for medical marijuana connects with his concern that money has taken over medicine. Myers sees profit-oriented hospitals overtreating patients, especially in the last few months of life. Myers says iatrogenesis, the negative effects of medical interventions, is the third leading cause of death in the United States (a claim one should make carefully). Myers wants to empower patients with alternatives like medical marijuana and with information like published, accessible prices for all medical procedures.
Myers also supports establishing a statewide health insurance cooperative, which he says will lower medical care prices. The term CO-OP here is actually an acronym for Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan, a program created by the Affordable Care Act and supported with federal loans. 400,000 Americans have enrolled in health CO-OPs so far, and states with CO-OPs appear to have lower health insurance premiums. South Dakota has not created a health CO-OP.
Myers does diverge from the Affordable Care Act on Medicaid expansion. He says South Dakota should take that money, but he would seek a waiver that would allow the re-appropriation of some of that money to long-term care.
Myers sees big money controlling South Dakota government as well. He reviles Bill Janklow's selling the state out to big banks. Saying the money-changers are in the temple of state government, Myers says he wants to revisit the usury laws that we repealed in the 1980s to entice Citibank to our state.
Finally, Myers is angling for the youth vote on student debt and higher education. As a professor, he saw the problem of students going into debt for degrees that wouldn't pay off. Myers suggests that South Dakota needs fewer law-degree seekers and more welders and other vo-tech grads. He also wants a greater connection between university classrooms and the real world. He says he sent us students out on research trips to local businesses all the time; he wants to appoint Regents who will push for more such market-oriented education practices.
Industrial hemp, health care reform, usury, and higher education are all important policy issues South Dakotans should discuss. When Myers can get past his opening demonstrations of physical prowess and aggression, he can bring up some discussion-worthy policy points.