Let's be blunt: Democrats should nominate Joe Lowe for Governor. He says what he means and means what he says, while his opponent Rep. Susan Wismer mixes up words in an effort to excuse being an inferior candidate.
David Montgomery writes up Joe Lowe and his opponent for the nomination, Rep. Susan Wismer. Rep. Wismer repeats the claim of moderate/centrist appeal with which she opened her campaign:
"I will be the most attractive candidate to the moderates that Democrats need to attract in order to have a prayer of winning the governor's race," Wismer said [David Montgomery, "Governor's Race: Differences of Style Distinguish Democrats," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.05.26].
Just a few paragraphs prior to that quote, Montgomery reports that Lowe and Wismer both "endorse raising the state's minimum wage, expanding Medicaid to cover tens of thousands of low-income South Dakotans and making higher teacher pay a priority." Wismer sounds no more moderate than Lowe there.
Review Toby Uecker's outstanding summary of the candidates' positions, and you find even more policy agreement. Lowe and Wismer agree that South Dakota's current business-über-alles approach to economic development is flawed. They agree that our tax system is regressive and inadequate. They neither one jump to breathe fire on family planning.
Lowe has staked out more distinct positions against the Powertech uranium mine and the Keystone XL pipeline. Wismer's position on Powertech is one of agnostic duplicity: she says she hasn't researched in-situ leach mining enough, but she knew enough to vote for deregulating it as a favor to Powertech in 2011. I'm not seeing a moderation advantage there. On Keystone XL, Wismer gives us "concern". On these two environmental issues, Wismer seems to confuse "moderation" and "not telling voters what you really want to do."
Yet Wismer can sound plenty radical when she wants. Recall her blessedly prophetic (i.e., truth-saying, not soothsaying) lambasting of Governor Daugaard and Republican legislators in 2013, a speech in which Wismer declares her support for a state income tax. I like the income tax, too... but I'm a radical, like my neighbor Gerry Lange. When I interviewed Joe Lowe, he talked about increasing K-12 funding through shuffling budget priorities, efficiencies, and maybe, as a last resort, a voter-approved sales tax à la Adelstein. Who sounds more moderate there?
Uecker finds the sharpest policy gap on the death penalty, which Lowe supports but Wismer opposes. Maybe moderates flip a coin on this issue (I can hear someone arguing that mercy is moderation and killing prisoners is extreme), but if we're talking electability outside partisan lines, support for the death penalty probably gets more mileage in the middle than does opposition.
Rep. Wismer says there's an ideological difference, but the positions she and Lowe have placed on the record don't support moderation as a voting issue. Republicans can spin either Wismer or Lowe as raving liberals (and you know they will, regardless of whom we nominate). Democrats thus need someone who can vigorously and fearlessly rebut such charges, explain to South Dakotans left right and center where they stand, and explain why those positions are good for South Dakota.
That ability is where Joe Lowe is not moderate. He makes clear what he wants to do and that he will be eagerly and passionately involved in doing it. Wismer has shown less such eagerness and passion even in the campaign to win the nomination. She waited until April 15 to really start campaigning, a delay that stands at odds with her own odd statement to Montgomery that "it's more complicated to vote for me, because it takes a while to get to know me." Hmmm... if it takes a while for voters to get to know a candidate, shouldn't that candidate get out as early as possible to help voters through that get-to-know-me process?
It's not complicated to vote for a Democratic nominee to challenge Dennis Daugaard. If you want a moderate, you vote for a moderate. If you want a liberal, you vote for a liberal. If your two choices don't distinguish themselves on an ideological spectrum (and I invite anyone to show me how Lowe and Wismer do!), then you pick the candidate who can bring the fight necessary to overcome the $1.6 million Daugaard already has on hand to cover his continuation of the Mike Rounds's record of crony-capitalist non-achievement.
Both Joe Lowe and Susan Wismer would make better governors than Dennis Daugaard. Almost any Democrat in Pierre would improve South Dakota government by changing the dynamic in Pierre from monolithic one-party rule to broader dialogue and accountability. But Wismer's moderation, not in her politics but in her temperament and style, makes her less likely to kncok down that monolith.
Republicans won't fight in moderation. Neither should we Democrats. Vote for Joe Lowe.