One of the last things Robin Page said to me as I interviewed her Friday for the Madville Times was something she said her grandmother told her. Echoing Lakota wisdom, Robin's grandmother said we "have to learn to walk in balance."
Running as a Democrat for District 33 Senate, Page wants to bring some of that balance to the Legislature.
Page's family history explains some of the balance she could bring to politics. Page describes herself as a "mixed-blood Chicamuaga-Cherokee." She grew up in Utah, where her conservative Mormon parents founded that state's chapter of the John Birch Society. Page recalls asking questions at JBS meetings and Mormon Sunday School challenging her elders' tenets on equal rights for blacks and women. The most important thing she learned in Sunday School was the simple exhortation, "Love one another," which Page says guides her life.
Page got her degree in political science, with a minor in American Indian studies, at the University of Utah. She says she still considers herself conservative. She wants to use taxpayer dollars wisely and hold government accountable.
She's all about economic development, but she would like to see a greater focus on developing small, local businesses. The way out of poverty, says Page, is to help people start their own businesses. Instead of pouring big money into large industrial plants that hire a hundred laborers but only a handful of managers, Page would like to see the Governor's Office of Economic Development make lots of smaller grants and microloans to individual entrpreneurs. She sees more autonomy, more possibilities, and more local turnover of dollars from a hundred tiny businesses than from one big business. Each small businessperson has the potential to expand and hire another worker in a way that each factory worker cannot. Page says GOED can still seek the big fish, but it should divert more resources to the small fry (and more West River!).
Page is pleased that Democrats are pushing the ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage, but Page says $8.50 isn't enough. She says District 33 voters working in motels and restaurants are often already making that amount and still can't afford quality housing in Rapid City. Page says she wants the state to talk to business owners and look for ways that we could use economic development dollars to help businesses weather the transition to higher wages, but she says business owners recognize that higher wages will draw and keep better workers, which would pay off in lower costs in turnover and training.
But Page won't have us putting more money into economic development unitl we've put back what the Daugaard administration took from education. Page says her neighborhood school, Knollwood Elementary, used to offer an after-school tutoring program that reached over 300 kids. She says Governor Daugaard then strangled school budgets with his 2011 cuts. At the same time, says Page, the state applied for a waiver from No Child Left Behind, which meant the state could continue to receive federal aid without meeting NCLB's tutoring requirements. Poof! went Knollwood's tutoring program. Last fall, Page says she received a letter from the school saying their spring 2013 test scores placed Knollwood in the bottom 20% of the nation. And we wonder why students get into trouble and drop out of school later?
Page says South Dakota must restore school funding to the curve it was on before the Daugaard austerity of 2011. She says that with all the "good for business" statistics the state touts, we must have the wealth to back that business climate with a comparably top-of-the-line learning climate.
Education reform isn't just about money. Page sees the education of lots of low-income and American Indian youth suffering because of shortcomings in our juvenile corrections system. Juvenile offenders with mental health and addiction issues are often placed in out-of-state residential facilities. Such programs in places like Utah and Georgia cost $250 to $500 per juvenile per day. Stays in such facilities regularly last 12 to 18 months. When young people come back from such programs, they deal with enormous disruption in their schooling. Their friends have moved on. They feel out of place among younger, "normal" students. They often come from homes that lack the resources to pursue GEDs. But without a diploma, they can't get into vo-tech programs and land good jobs.
Page would like to break that cycle. Instead of sending kids and money out of state, Page would like to invest in treatment programs that would keep juveniles, especially Indian juveniles, closer to home and family and maintain some continuity in their education. Such in-state programs would make it easier for families to participate in family therapy and other more holistic approaches to help juvenile offenders get back on the right track.
Page also wants to help low-income South Dakotans by expanding Medicaid. Page speaks very personally about the benefits of Medicaid; she has experienced them firsthand. Three and a half years ago, a man assaulted her. She suffered serious injuries to her shoulders and spine. She burned up all of her small savings to get treatment and ultimately had to apply for disability to qualify for Medicaid. Since then, she has been able to get medications and some of the surgery she needs to reduce her pain and restore some of her physical function. However, her doctor says that if she had had Medicaid-quality coverage from the beginning and could have gotten surgery sooner, he could have gotten her back to 100%.
Page knows Medicaid could help the sick and injured get well sooner and get back to the workforce. "We are turning our backs on our people," says Page, but we are also turning out backs on money, jobs, and independence for 48,000 fellow South Dakotans just like her and her North Rapid neighbors.
Page navigates racial diversity daily in her house: she has two biological sons, one by an African-Cherokee father, the other by a Dutch father. She also has seven foster children, four Lakota, three Navajo. She says her family is part of the most racially diverse district in the Black Hills. Hearing current District 33 Senator Phil Jensen say this year that government should stay out of civil rights and let the free market protect minorities was deeply hurtful to her family and her community.
Page wants to replace that "leadership" with someone who can speak for all of her District 33 neighbors, rich and poor, Indian and otherwise. When she wins the primary (she said when), she plans to hold public listening sessions so she can be the "voice of the people." She wants to engage young people more in the political process, but she is also attentive to the needs of the aging population in her district, where older folks may struggle to get decent jobs to supplement their retirement income.
Page says she can win as a Democrat, but she's not trying to sell her District on Democrats. She's selling them on her beliefs and abilities. She rejects extremism in either direction, Right or Left. She wants to meet with as many Democrats, Independents, and Republicans as possible, listen to them, and help everyone find common ground. She said she received a positive response from Republicans in North Rapid during her 2012 run for House; she believes she can build on that response this year.
Robin Page wants to help all of her neighbors "walk in balance," the way her grandmother taught. She gets to test the strength of that message in the District 33 Senate primary against Haven Stuck on June 3.
Bonus Reading: That's my distillation of Page's politics. Now check out Robin Page in her own words. Below is a stump speech Page posted to Facebook Friday. She says she is receiving some good responses to it.
For 12 long years, the citizens of North Rapid have not had a voice at the South Dakota State Legislature.
During that time, our Legislators have bowed to the whims of Governor Daugaard and failed to provide their Constitutional role of oversight, checks and balances.
They robbed our children's educational funding to support the East River development of large business ventures doomed to fail. The current EB-5 scandal, of selling permanent residency to investors from China and Korea, has barely had the Legislature's attention.
And every night, as the citizens of Pennington County lay their heads to rest, between 350 and 400 of our youth are incarcerated in the Juvenile Service Center or in out of home and out of state residential treatment facilities. Many of these youth are from North Rapid. They are on the "Pipeline to Prison". This practice placed us as the number one county in America with the highest rate of youth in the Department of Corrections custody per capita population.
Although our Legislators have replaced some of our children's education money, the education budget is still not funded at the pre-2011 level. Last fall the Principal of Knollwood Elementary reported that the students had placed in the bottom 20% of the Nation on their Spring 2013 standardized testing. Gone is the federal money for the 300 students who use to receive free tutoring to help them get caught up. That federal money was taken to pad the general state budget.
I want to bring the "Voice of the People" of North Rapid to the State Senate. For over 30 years I have worked as an advocate of the People. I have the education and employment experience that has prepared me well to serve you in our State Senate.
I am proud to live in the multi-ethnic and multi-racial community of North Rapid! And I promise, I will NEVER sponsor or vote for legislation that promotes hatred, racism or discrimination!
Please vote ROBIN PAGE FOR SD SENATE, District 33 [Robin Page, Facebook post, 2014.05.23].
What response do you think Page will get for those words among District 33 Democrats and South Dakota voters in general?