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Tom Nelson Stomps Bob Ewing in Policy Discussion; Any Hope for Challenger?

Last updated on 2012.05.05

Tom Nelson torqued me off more than once this year. During this year's Legislative session, the District 31 Senator artfully rationalized a GOP effort to take Referred Law 14 off the ballot rather than calling it the straight-up assault on democracy that it was. He peddled the myth that the Legislature overhauled House Bill 1234, the Governor's education bill, into a "completely different animal," even though a close reading of the bill shows it still contains almost every word and policy that the Governor's people wrote into the original proposal. Senator Nelson also killed a sensible pipeline indemnity bill that I thought was a pretty good idea.

But if I were voting in the GOP primary for District 31 Senate (and that's the vote that matters, since no local Dems have stood up to challenge Nelson), I'd be voting for Nelson, because he's got ten times the knowledge and political skill of his sole challenge, Lawrence County Commissioner Bob Ewing.

Again, as is the case with my assessment of the local county commission contest, I speak with no malice toward Commissioner Ewing. I met him for the first time Monday evening at the GOP candidates forum here in Spearfish. I have no reason to dislike him personally. His ten years on the county commission show his commitment to public service.

But if we look at a campaign as a job interview, Nelson showed he's much more qualified to continue doing the job than Ewing is to replace him. Nelson knows policy, and he knows how to communicate that knowledge. He can point to experience on the Senate Taxation and Commerce committees. Throughout Monday's forum, Nelson peppered his answers with examples of specific bills and policies—guns-on-campus bills, the $50K threshold for no-bid contracts in local government, the $127 million in budget cuts and the use of federal stimulus dollars in our state budget.

Against Nelson's well-informed and well-polished performance, Ewing demonstrated a simple inability to keep up. As a commissioner, he's bumped up against state policy. He manages to note that the state balanced its budget in part by dumping responsibilities and costs onto county governments. He also contends the state hasn't done enough to back Lawrence County in fighting the pine beetle. Those are great, experience-based campaign points for Ewing to make. But Ewing struggles to make them:

Ewing declared his candidacy three months ago. He's had time to read up on legislative issues and prep these responses. But from his opening statement onward, Ewing confesses he's not really ready to answer questions about state-level policy.

I understand we're all busy people. But we're not all running for State Senate. If I apply for a job teaching French, I need walk into the interview and say, "Here's why I'm ready to teach French." If you apply for a job legislating, you need to walk into the interview (the candidate forums) and say, "Here's why I'm ready to legislate." Ewing manages that in a couple of responses, but he never manages to do it better than the other guy applying for the job.

I don't particularly care for the policies of the other guy applying for the job. But Senator Tom Nelson showed he's the better candidate on the District 31 Senate ballot.

But does that mean Nelson can coast to victory in June? I've heard rumblings that there is dissatisfaction with Nelson's performance in Pierre, particularly on Deadwood gambling issue. Maybe there is some local issue on which Ewing can quietly win votes... but I'm going to need to see some serious surge of anti-incumbent crankiness to think Ewing has a chance of upsetting our sitting Senator.


  1. Steve Sibson 2012.05.03

    "the $127 million in budget cut"

    Oh yes, the faux Daugaard crisis whose reaction is to increase taxes to further fund the corportists fat pockets. Cory you are a useful tool for the corporate socialists.

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.05.03

    [Larry, I have to admit, al-Qaeda could make a lot of mischief for less cost with such attacks.]

  3. Rachel 2012.05.03

    I like Nelson for his libertarian leanings in the "keep gov't out of my personal decisions" approach. Wouldn't call him pro-choice, but at least I know how he'll vote on this topic.

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.05.03

    Some candidates mentioned being pro-life, but none of the questions from the Republican audience went there. Interesting....

  5. larry kurtz 2012.05.03

    The only thing Libertarian about Tom Nelson: any pocket can be picked without ethical interference.

  6. Steve Sibson 2012.05.04

    Nelson is a pro-gambling corporatist who belief the purpose of government is to line their pockets. Funny that Marxist liberals love him. Oh yeah, they also want government to line their pockets.

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.05.05

    I do not love Senator Nelson, Sibby. I think I made that clear at the top. I recognize that he facilitates plutocracy. But I still demand that his challenger demonstrate readiness to legislate. Bob Ewing did not offer a sufficiently strong performance Monday to win votes against a well-known and well-spoken incumbent.

  8. Bill Fleming 2012.05.05


    Tom Nelson may not like it that education is the key issue right now, but at least he understands that it is.

    Ewing was clueless, and seemed annoyed to have to be answering the question.

    I think the people who appauded for him were doing so because he finally sat down and relieved the collective tension in the room brought on by his anxiety and stage fright.

    (Hint to newbie public speakers, don't try to cover your insecurity by acting bored.)

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.05.05

    Exactly. Even if Nelson and I come out on opposite ends of issues, he can articulate for me and for an audience his position and his reasoning therebehind.

    The best way to cover insecurity is to get rid of it by studying the issues.

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