On Saturday, September 27, the League of Women Voters Aberdeen Area and the Aberdeen Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a candidate forum at the Hub Area Multi District Vocational Center. Part two of this forum included all of the legislative candidates running for office in SD District 2. Running for the Senate seat is the incumbent Chuck Welke (D) and challenger Brock Greenfield (R). Trying for the two House seats are Burt Tulson (incumbent R), Lana Greenfield (R), Natasha Noethlich (D) and John Graham (D). The rules for this forum were simple, each candidate was given a three-minute opening statement and each candidate would have a minute to answer each question.
Part I of the forum with the District 3 candidates can be read here.
As usual for posts of this type, I will pass on the parts of what candidates said that I find interesting. I will also add my own thoughts.
Opening Remarks – Each candidate was given three minutes to give a few opening remarks. Most of their opening remarks were filled with biographical stuff, I generally avoid that and will only point out anything I find interesting.
Chuck Welke – Welke mentioned that while he was substitute teaching in 2012 there were many things being done by the SD legislature that were unpopular with teachers. In particular he mentioned HB 1234, which was later struck down by voters on ballot as Referred Law 16 (I blogged against it here). Welke said HB 1234 made teachers feel “devalued”. I can understand where Welke is coming from. 1234 tried to do too much, and didn’t appear well thought out. Welke noted transparency and accountability is a big issue for him. He said SD has a high corruption rate and needs more balance. Also, the transparency bill he sponsored in 2014 didn’t even make it out of committee. I think he is referring to HB 1172, which would have required certain legislative meetings to open to the public (including the Republican caucus meetings). Personally I wish 1172 would have passed, it seems too often that everything is decided in caucus meetings and very little debate happens on the legislative floor.
Brock Greenfield – Greenfield spent his opening remarks on biographical talking points. He did note that elections are about differences. I think that talking point is eluding to the fact that he contends Welke is too liberal for such a conservative area.
John Graham – Graham noted labor has very little representation in Pierre. He contends that is part of the reason wages are low in South Dakota. Graham points out that welfare is provided to corporations, but then due to low wages from those corporations the taxpayers are also subsidizing the employees. He says that is a situation that is unfair to employees and taxpayers. Further, he contends that more money could have been given to teachers for pay.
Lana Greenfield – Greenfield says she is running because she “is excited about economic development”. She is seeing things pick up in small towns such as Doland. New businesses are coming in and current businesses are expanding. Greenfield sees young people moving back.
Natasha Noethlich – Noethlich feels agriculture is under-represented in Pierre. She noted only 10% of the legislature has any ag background. I’ve heard this talking point from a couple of other candidates from the ag industry. Yes, ag is the biggest industry in South Dakota. But having followed the bills that actually get brought up in Pierre, I feel ag is very represented. But that might just be a perception error on my part.
Burt Tulson – Tulson noted he has been involved in baseball for 49 years. That really has nothing to do with the election, but it is an interesting fact. His key issues listed were agriculture, economic development, roads, gun rights, protecting unborn children, and education of our youth. He says teachers in SD do a great job educating our children, and that they must continue to be provided the tools they need.
Minimum Wage – Do you favor raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50? This is regards to the ballot initiative on minimum wage this year.
Brock Greenfield – Brock mentioned minimum wage increase bills are seen in Pierre often. He noted a study commissioned by the Governor found that arbitrary minimum wage increases actually decreased the purchasing power of the people the increase was meant to help. Greenfield would rather raise all wages in state by promoting economic development and bringing more people to the marketplace competing for labor. It is good to see a legislator that understands purchasing power.
John Graham – Graham supports increasing the minimum wage because it is tied to a lot of social issues. He noted families where both parents have to work and who will take care of kids.
Lana Greenfield – Lana noted about 2% of people in the state are on minimum wage. She says minimum wage often goes to kids summer jobs working fast food or as life guards. Greenfield noted that an increase in minimum wage would potentially eliminate some of those positions, or raise the cost of items for consumers.
Natasha Noethlich – Natasha supports a minimum wage increase because it would help families. She noted most people in this area are above the proposed minimum wage anyway, so let’s get everyone up there.
Burt Tulson – Burt highlighted the fact that “competition takes care of wages very fine in our state”.
Chuck Welke – Welke favors the increase. He says young mothers and young families with kids need help. Chuck said that people would spend more money and therefore more sales tax revenue would be raised. I find this an odd stance from a Democrat, because Democrats often tout sales tax as being a repressive tax on the poor. He also mentioned this years workforce summit meetings, and low wages are shown as a big problem in South Dakota. My biggest problem with Welke’s answer has to do with the Keynesian belief that simply spending more money lifts the economy. It is that very concept that has gotten the federal government in such great amount of debt.
Education – Do you feel that the level of state support for education is adequate? What should be done to fill teacher vacancies?
John Graham – Graham says teacher pay needs to be raised to keep current and recruit new teachers in the state. He doesn’t feel taxes would need to be raised to do so. Graham contends other portions of the budget can be better used in education. In particular he called out money that wasted on the Aberdeen Beef Plant.
Lana Greenfield – Lana noted there is a shortage of teachers all across the country, and not just in South Dakota. She would promote solutions such as loan forgiveness for graduates that stay in the state to teach. Lana doesn’t believe just money is the reason for the teacher shortage, and other incentives must be looked at.
Natasha Noethlich – Natasha does not think the state is supporting education properly. She highlighted problems small school districts have and said it is a crisis situation.
Burt Tulson – Tulson noted the state gives money to the school boards, and that the school boards actually set salaries. He does think teachers deserve to get paid more. Burt had an amendment for the budget to force schools boards into allocating certain funds to teacher pay, but withdrew it at the end of session. Personally I’m glad he withdrew it. Teacher pay is important, but that amendment would have taken local control away from school boards. Further, he noted that many teachers have student loans where they are paying up to 6.8% interest to the federal government. He believes SD teachers that promise to stay here should have an incentive available to pay off that loan. I’ve noticed this proposal becoming more popular with Republican legislators.
Chuck Welke – Welke noted the education summer study he was a part of last year. During that he noted the state is in a crisis situation regarding education. This year he says SD is even more in a crisis mode because of so many schools starting the year without positions filled. Chuck says the kids are the most important resource in our state and questions why more money is not used to take care of those resources.
Brock Greenfield – Brock reiterated that teacher shortage is not just a SD issue. He noted back in 2008 that he brought up a tuition reimbursement bill for teachers in certain critical need areas (2008:SB 181, did not pass). He noted the idea continued to resonate, and the idea was eventually passed into law. Greenfield also noted South Dakota is 35th in student allocation, but last in teacher pay. He says that disconnect must be looked at. He feels any solution has to refrain from trouncing on local control.
Abortion – What role do you think the legislature should play in regulating abortion.
Lana Greenfield – Lana said she is very pro-life and believes abortion is murder. She does note the life the mother is very important, and that might be one exception. She would never support legislation allowing abortions to be done as a loophole.
Natasha Noethlich – Noethlich says she is confident in the women of SD to speak with others and make decisions about their bodies. She says this is an issue about personal freedoms and privacy. Natasha tied this into being a Constitutional issue because of guaranteed personal freedoms. She says she is not pro-abortion, but doesn’t want the government getting involved in such decisions.
Burt Tulson – Burt noted he is pro-life and that it is important to him to protect unborn children. He would however look at legislation protecting the lives of mothers.
Chuck Welke – Chuck said he considers himself pro-life. He says there is a difference between pro-life and pro-birth; and he contends many of the people calling themselves pro-life in the legislature are actually pro-birth. Welke says the pro-birth group turns its backs on pregnant mothers prenatal care and turns its backs on families needing healthcare. Chuck said SD already has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the US. He said he is not in support of abortion in any way. But he says there needs to be exceptions. He also believes things should be done to make sure women are not put in that position.
Brock Greenfield – Brock noted he has been involved in pro-life issues for many years. Greenfield noted he has a 100% rating with the SD RTL, but Welke has a 20% rating. He contends there weren’t too many controversial abortion bills, but legislators such as Welke wouldn’t support them. Brock said the question shouldn’t be about whether to kill a baby, but what other options such as adoption that should be looked at.
John Graham – Graham said he is pro-life. John says he has no problems with women using birth control. But, he does not think abortion should be used as birth control.
My Thoughts – This is always a touchy subject at political forums. I would like to note I like the concept of what Welke was saying, but I see it a little different. I also believe many pro-life candidates are actually pro-birth. But where I differ is in how that is interpreted. To me pro-life people should not just oppose abortion, but also oppose other types of murder such as the death penalty and military intervention. The pro-life stance should follow the belief that nobody has the right to take the life of another, outside of self-defense. Noethlich brought up personal freedom, which would normally get a libertarian such as myself behind her. But the big question is when people believe life “begins”. Personally I believe an unborn baby is a life, and that aborting it without a self-defense reason is murder. In that case it is the liberty of the unborn baby that I would protect.
Infrastructure funding – Would you support user fees, higher gas taxes, or license fees to finance SD highways?
Natasha Noethlich – She noted her township had to opt-out to take care of their roads. That allowed about another $10k per year to maintain roads. She is open to anything. But she thinks too much financial burden has been put on local government.
Burt Tulson – Tulson noted a bill he sponsored to allow townships to meet and vote to tax themselves more to improve roads. The bill (HB 1140) passed the House, but was killed in the Senate Taxation committee. He highlighted that bill to show what he is trying to do in order to deal with infrastructure issues. Personally I wish the bill had passed. It really is a local control issue. Right now the state says townships cannot tax themselves more, even if they wish to. He spoke briefly about the gas tax, and noted that people really wouldn’t notice a small increase in the gas tax.
Chuck Welke – Welke noted he supported Tulson’s bill. He said the bill was killed by Tea Party types on the Senate Taxation committee that will not vote for anything that raise taxes. Chuck also somehow tied this into the Norquist Pledge against raising taxes. Finally, he said any solution must not be totally on farmers or any particular group.
Brock Greenfield – Brock noted he never signed the tax pledge; not because he doesn’t believe in keeping taxes low, but he doesn’t want to tie his hands. He noted a few years back he supported the license plate fee increase because it was need at the time to address roads. Greenfield also said he supported Tulson’s bill because in District 2 the bill would have allowed townships to fix their problems.
John Graham – Graham said he is in favor of anything that will save the roads. He also noted the base of the roads were not meant for modern equipment.
Lana Greenfield – Greenfield noted the roads have been like this for a hundred years. She doesn’t have any answers. Speaking in regards to the gas tax, Lana noted gas mileage today is much better than in older vehicles.
Medicaid Expansion – Do you support Medicaid expansion? Why or why not?
Burt Tulson – Burt calls Medicaid expansion a carrot offered by the Federal government, with the state unsure of whether the federal government will have the money it promises. He says accepting Medicaid expansion could lead us down a slippery slope.
Chuck Welke – Chuck is in favor of Medicaid expansion. He contents the states have already expanded Medicaid are seeing fewer people without healthcare insurance going into hospitals. Welke then went back to his pro-life talking point from earlier. He says it is pro-life to take care of people. Finally he noted there is fraud in every program, and that should not be used a reason to prevent Medicaid expansion. I believe that talking point was actually in reply to Dan Kaiser from the District 3 forum earlier.
Brock Greenfield – Brock noted that one in seven SD residents are already on Medicaid. He said there is a huge cost impact coming with expansion and that any ‘free money’ from DC actually ends up costing us a lot. Greenfield notes that any money put towards Medicaid expansion will take money away from areas such as education or infrastructure. Or maybe it will lead to tax increases.
John Graham – Graham says SD should expand Medicaid. If the state says no, he contends the state should find other ways to fund it. John then mentions that the state already takes money from the federal government for other things, so why stop here. I agree with Graham that the state does take a LOT of money from the federal government. But I reach different conclusions than him. I believe it is time for SD to stop taking so much money and truly look at local solutions.
Lana Greenfield – Greenfield says the 48k number brought up to expand Medicaid is not true because many of those are already being served by other means such as IHS. All I would disagree with her there is that many who use IHS say they are not really being served (but that is a different issue). She went on to note that the federal government does not actually have any money. In the future SD taxpayers will be on the hook for this expansion as the federal government will not be able to meet its commitment.
Natasha Noethlich – The moderator accidentally skipped Natasha, she was given a chance during closing to have an extra minute to answer this(I was glad to discover the moderator missed her, I feared that I ‘zoned out’ and missed a candidate speaking) . She very much supports Medicaid expansion. Natasha doesn’t understand why the state took stimulus money for the roads, but then failed to do so for Medicaid expansion. Noethlich also called out the Governor for asking for a waiver, and asks why he couldn’t just expand.
Closing Remarks – Mostly fluff. If they said anything worthy I’ll post it. If not these are my final thoughts on the candidates.
Chuck Welke – Chuck brought up again a large portion of SD budget already comes from the federal government, and he believes it is purely political as to why SD won’t expand Medicaid. He then went back to wages. He says “if you pay them, they will come”. He also says many of the abortion bills that come up in Pierre don’t’ make sense or don’t really change anything. I kind of agree with Welke on his last point. I do think some of the abortion bills may have been created to build scorecards. Overall I think Chuck did great actually providing more in-depth answer in this forum. I disagree with some of his stances, but I must admit he does a great job of actually trying to answer questions.
Brock Greenfield – Brock noted he is pro-life, pro-family, conservative, pro-Second Amendment, pro-Constitution. Overall I liked Greenfield in this forum because he actually brought up purchasing power during the minimum wage question. I think purchasing power is a concept too few politicians (of either party) actually look into.
John Graham – It was quite obvious that Graham is new to this. I think he did OK for a first-timer. And I do agree that labor is under-represented in the SD legislature.
Lana Greenfield – She feels America has a math problem, because some people think that money spent by government will come from somewhere else. I agree with her on that. Overall I think Lana did a fair job. She did bring up some talking points that others didn’t.
Natasha Noethlich – Natasha brought up that money has to be spent to make money. She said it is time to invest money in the future of SD. Overall I think Democrats should be happy with her as a candidate. She hit her talking points. I wish she had more detail to some of her answers. I will be interested to see how her and Lana end up percentage-wise after the election.
Burt Tulson – Burt ended reiterating that he tries to live a life of “joy and kindness”. Anyone that knows Burt knows he believes that. Overall I think Burt did a good job. His local control road districting bill received a lot of support from other forum members, showing voters he knows how to pick good bi-partisan issues.