Last updated on 2014.08.26
Democrat Ellee Spawn is running for District 12 House. The first-time candidate took time Friday after Democratic Forum in Sioux Falls to tell me about teacher pay, health care, the minimum wage, and other issues that have propelled her into the public arena.
Spawn puts teacher pay at the top of her agenda. She says last place in salaries is unacceptable if we're serious about retaining the best and brightest teachers. Her own daughter can testify to this economic fact. Spawn's daughter studied elementary education at SDSU. She wants very much to stay and teach in South Dakota, but she has a five-year-old son and a student loan to pay off. South Dakota's teacher pay won't cut it, so she and her fiancé from Watertown are moving to Minneapolis.
Spawn sees a certain cognitive dissonance in South Dakota's inability to recognize the harm we do to ourselves with our low teacher pay. People don't like to face hard truths, says Spawn, but we have to deal with them.
Of course, we also have to find the money to deal with hard truths. Spawn doesn't jump to new taxes. Instead, she says a statewide effort to boost teacher pay should start with our budget surplus. next, says Spawn, we should stop giving out Benda bonuses. (Hmmm... put Ellee and Charlie Hoffman together, and we just might move the needle on teacher pay!)
Spawn currently manages the Sioux Falls office of M4 Roofing. She has worked in management and sales, served as a virtual assistant, and run her own restaurant. Spawn says her self-employment experience instilled in her a sense of self-accountability and a commitment to getting the job done.
Running a restaurant also shaped Spawn's view on the minimum wage. Spawn says she paid her servers $8 an hour, plus tips. Her kitchen staff got $11 to $12 an hour, and that was nine years ago. Spawn says paying more than other restaurants never hurt her business; it helped her draw and keep experienced and happy workers. It's a bad business practice to pay workers too little. Pay a living wage, says Spawn, and your employees feel less stress, pay more attention to customers, and steal less. Spawn recognizes that South Dakota's minimum-wage initiative, to raise our base wage to $8.50 an hour, is still somewhat shy of a living wage, but she supports it as step in the right direction.
Spawn shows further support for low-income workers with her support for Medicaid expansion. Governor Dennis Daugaard is leaving 48,000 South Dakotans (49,000, said this January 2013 study) without coverage because he'd rather dig in his heels on a specious objection to federal money, which, Spawn points out, already subsidizes 39.6% (yes, she had that number in her head) of the Governor's state budget. The Governor's refusal is "a slap in the face to hard-working South Dakotans."
Spawn says she jumped into the District 12 House race last winter because she was mad. She was sick of her District 12 Reps. Hal Wick and Manny Steele helping the state GOP embarrass South Dakota with their impractical and fringe-nibbling proposals to require everyone to carry a gun, get fluoride out of our water, hold a Constitutional convention, and promote anti-gay discrimination. A friend asked her, "Why don't you run?" Spawn replied, "Why don't I?"
And a candidacy was born. Rep. Steele was term-limited out, and Rep. Wick chose not to run for reëlection, so District 12 is already headed in the right direction. But Spawn wants to make sure her district gets some sensible, unembarrassing leadership. She and fellow Democrat Susan Randall are running against GOP challengers Arch Beal and Alex Jensen.
Spawn is assembling a noteworthy team for her legislative campaign. She just hired John Gossom as her campaign manager and Nebula Group USA as her strategy team. Nebula Group USA is also working for District 33 House candidate Robin Page. Nebula Group USA is run by Bajun Mavalwalla, who like Gossom was involved in the early stages of Corinna Robinson's Congressional campaign.