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Lawrence County GOP Candidates Forum: District 31 Senate Candidates!

Now let's look at Round 3 of last night's Lawrence County GOP Candidates Forum, which gave District 31 voters a chance to size up their current State Senator Tom Nelson against challenger Bob Ewing. [I shall restrict my comments to square brackets.]

Opening Statements

Bob Ewing introduces himself as having lived most of his life in Lawrence County, which he calls one of greatest counties in state. He runs a towing business and is currently serving his third term on the Lawrence County Commission, which he refers to as a tremendous experience. He then admits that "I'm probably not going to do real well answering some of these questions" [arrgghh! skip lowering expectations! Just take your swing and let the voters decide!].

Tom Nelson speaks of his service on the Senate Taxation committee, where he killed lots of bills. He says he also worked on retirement laws. We saw our state trust and retirement funds slip in the recession, but the officials overseeing those funds have done a good job righting the ship. Nelson says he now chairs the Commerce committee, where he sees 25% of bills coming through Senate. Nodding to a point raised by Rep. Fred Romkema earlier in the forum, Nelson says that he voted to eliminate each one of the sales tax exemptions that came up, but that those revenue-enhancing changes didn't pass.

Nelson mentions his service on the Legislature's Executive Board setting up summer studies. Nelson said that he expects to be chairman of the oil boom summer study committee.

Question 1: Should we expand gambling outside of Deadwood?

Deadwood Gaming Association president Tom Nelson doesn't think so. He says twenty years of gambling in Deadwood has been good for the community and for the state via tourism and contributions to the general fund. Nelson says tribal gaming does nothing for the state. Video lottery benefits education, but any more gambling will water down other gambling enterprises and make problems.

Nelson says that the state is addicted to the millions of dollars gambling brings in, so it is a bad idea to expand.

Bob Ewing opens by asking moderator Jerry Apa, "Where are you coming up with these questions?" Ewing then says he can't support expansion of gambling. He even casts doubt on the benefits for Deadwood, saying "it's destroyed [Deadwood] as a town. I mean, they're down to where they don't even have a grocery store now. When you go to Deadwood, you've got gambling." [Maybe this line will be received differently in Deadwood, but in Spearfish, this line gets a surprisingly strong round of applause.

Question 2: Is it good fiscal policy to balance the state budget with federal stimulus dollars?

Nelson assures us won't have that problem again. He then contends that if we hadn't taken it, the money would have gone elsewhere. Nelson contends that the stimulus did promote economic development in South Dakota, allowing us to tackle shovel-ready jobs. The stimulus also filled big South Dakota budget holes in health care [Kristi Noem, are you listening?].

But now, says Nelson, the stimulus dollars are gone. We cut $127M from our state budget and we survived. Nelson notes that the Department of Labor did turn away some too-strung stimulus dollars on unemployment benefits. [Governor Rounds made noise in that direction in February 2009, but Senator Nelson and his colleagues quickly changed the Rounds's mind and unanimously passed the legislation necessary to get those stimulus dollars. We still got in line for those stimulus dollars.]

Ewing says he can't answer the question as extensively as Nelson and says simply that he would not support using federal stimulus to balance the budget.

Question 3: Should all state contracts be competitive instead of no-bid?

Nelson [who appears to be taking advantage of the fact that Apa isn't enforcing a rotating speaking order] won't say "all"; the threshold right now is $50K for cities and counties, and he's o.k. with that. A ballot measure a couple years ago would have required every government contract to be bid out, but that measure, says Nelson, would have been too restrictive. It would have required teachers to seek bids every time they bought a ream of paper. Nelson assures us that current law and bid rules are good enough and that we don't need to strap schools and cities with more rigamarole.

Ewing says he "definitely wouldn't support a no-bid." He struggles for words—"I can't get my finger on what I'm trying to say here"—before spitting out something about private industry.

Question 4: Are there too many people in prison? How do we reduce the prison population?

After a wave of ominous chuckles and suggestions for frontier justice subsides, Ewing says yes, some prisons are overcrowded. He notes that he did fight hard for the bill to limit death row appeals [a sore issue here in Lawrence County, which faces big court costs as death-row inmate Briley Piper cycles through numerous appeals against his conviction for the murder of Chester Poage].

Ewing then turns sociologist and suggests reducing the prison population must start at home. We have to get kids off the street and give them a better education.

Nelson admits we spend too much on prisons. [Making clear that he knows he can coast to victory over the less-prepared Ewing on policy chops,] Nelson concedes that he has no idea how to reduce the prison population and generously posits that Ewing is right that we need to raise kids better.

Question 5: Do you embrace the GOP platform?

Nelson says he likes to follow the platform as a guide, but he can't follow it blindly. Nelson says he advocates the 2nd Amendment, but there have been some gun bills he couldn't support. For example, he said efforts to stop the Board of Regents from restricting guns on campus haven't make sense to him. He is also bothered by pro-gun bills that restrict city safety ordinances. Nelson says he votes his conscience and has never worried about whether a bill is on the platform or whether it will help him in an election.

Ewing says he chose the Republican party because he believes in its values. He's pro-life and pro-gun, but he says he's never seen an actual list of Republican principles [somewhere Stace Nelson is gritting his teeth].

Question 6: What's the most important issue facing South Dakota?

Ewing sighs, thinks, waits for inspiration, then bursts out with "a huge multitude of things." He says that keeping a balanced budget is important, but that the state balanced its budget by throwing a lot back on the counties, who had to come up with more to keep programs in place [yes! Bob! that's the punch you need to throw all month!].

Ewing says the state has not been showing a lot of love to the counties on the bark beetle problem. He says we need more state support for the efforts Lawrence County is already making against the bugs.

Nelson gives priority to maintaining that balanced budget. He says we also need to promote economic development and maintain our great business climate. He notes that education consumed the Legislature last session. He says we must solve the education dilemma. The state took money away from schools during the last two cycles, as well as from higher ed and Medicaid. This year, Nelson says the governor prioritized rewards for teachers and getting more math and science teachers. Nelson says the Legislature incorporated all sorts of suggestions into the big education reform bill. He assures us that the 60-70 people on committees created by HB 1234 will be watching and guiding it. Nelson says we've shorted education over the last couple years and need to give it "a big look-see" again.

Question 7: Do you support medical marijuana? [Larry Kurtz, did you sneak in and I missed you?]

Nelson says he was unsure in 2010 and actually voted for that year's ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana. He says his position has changed since: people do benefit medically, but medical marijuana opens the door to other drugs.

Ewing says he absolutely opposes legalizing medical marijuana. His work with law enforcement in towing vehicles allows him to see what they go through in fighting drug traffickers. Legalization, says Ewing, would make it nearly impossible to control drug traffic. Ewing says he too has talked to folks who benefit from medical marijuana, but the harms outweigh the good.

Closing Statements

Ewing says "what you see is what you get." He says he has no extensive education, just "common sense." He has worked hard on the Lawrence County Commission. In ten years on the commission, he says he's missed one commission meeting: "I was in the hospital and the bastards wouldn't let me out" [the best line all night, in my book and the audience's].

Nelson congratulates Bob for running [subtext: I'm creaming this guy].

That's the full show! Supper's waiting, but I'll return to evaluate the candidates' performances soon!


  1. grudznick 2012.05.01

    I must say, the two young gentlemen, Mr. Apa and Mr. Sibby, are looking more alike every time I see them. The difference would probably be more pronounced if they sat down across from each other at a game of chance and skill.

  2. larry kurtz 2012.05.01

    Heidelberger: he came, he saw, he sawed....

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.05.01

    I haven't gotten out the chainsaw yet.

  4. grudznick 2012.05.02

    I would like to see the advice the election master PP would give these gentlemen. It's possible he's advising one or both of them as it is, and watches your videos with a lump in his neck. As it is, Mr. H seems to have some sound guidance even though he is advising his antiparty candidates.

Comments are closed.