South Dakota legislative District 5 has a Republican primary on the State Senate side. District 5 is in Coddington County and is basically Watertown. Sen Ried Holien (R, Dist 5) had his nominating petition in, but then withdrew from the race. That leaves two other Republicans trying for his vacated State Senate seat: Rep Roger Solum and Neal Tapio. Whoever wins this primary will face David Johnson (D) in the general election this fall.
Here is a brief look at both candidates. The candidates below are listed in the order they will appear on the primary ballot. I’ve also included the links I could find to help voters learn more about each candidate.
At this point I would recommend Republicans in District 5 not support Solum (more on that below). On the other hand I don’t know much about Tapio at this time to see what the alternative is.
The term limited Solum doesn’t make a lot of information about himself available to potential voters wishing to learn about him. His is a staff member at Lake Area Technical Institute (LATI). Here is his bio from the LATI site:
After nearly 27 years serving with the SD National Guard, with a majority of this time in logistics and operations management, Roger retired from active guard service in May 1999. For the past 10 years, he worked in operations management for a local telecommunications construction company. He is a graduate of Watertown High School and holds a B.S. in Business Administration – Project Management degree from Colorado Technical University. Roger joined the LATI staff in August of 2009 and is the department chair and instructor of the Energy Operations program.
Solum was the prime sponsor of one bill that passed during the 2016 legislative session, HB 1177 (SoDakLiberty Posts). HB 1177 goes into law this July 1 and gives the same tax incentives for large-scale solar facilities that is given to wind farms. Oddly these large-scale solar facilities do not exist in SD, and it is quite possible they will not in the future.
In the 2015 legislative session Solum was the prime sponsor for a few bills having to do with wine and spirits. One of the better of those was HB 1004 (SoDakLiberty Posts), which passed into law and allows the direct sale of distilled spirits from artisan distillers to retailers and wholesalers. That change in law will allow the spirits industry to grow in South Dakota.
Now for the bad. Solum did gain some attention in the 2016 legislative session due to what many, including myself, would consider a violation of conflict of interest. This year the 1/2 cent sales tax increase bill, HB 1182 (SoDakLiberty Posts), was passed as a solution to teacher pay. Rep Lee Schoenbeck (R, Dist 5) offered an amendment to that bill. Here is the contents of that amendment, I have bolded the key portion:
On page 6 of the printed bill, delete lines 21 to 23, inclusive, and insert:
” Section 17. That the code be amended by adding a NEW SECTION to read:From the proceeds of this Act, each year sixty-three percent shall be dedicated to increasing teacher salaries by school districts, thirty-four percent shall be dedicated to reducing the property tax levies for general education for all classes of property, and three percent shall be dedicated to increasing instructor salaries to competitive levels at postsecondary technical institutes.
Section 18.That the code be amended by adding a NEW SECTION to read:The presidents of the postsecondary technical institutes, acting pursuant to rules established by the State Board of Education, shall use the money provided pursuant to this Act to increase instructor salaries at each postsecondary technical institute.”.
This was an odd addition to the bill because instructor salaries for postecondary technical institutes were not a part of the Blue Ribbon Task Force discussion which led to this massive tax increase. It does actually make sense for the pay raise to come from here because the tech schools fall under K-12. But it seemed odd such an amendment would be brought up without any discussion ahead of time. The bigger problem however came when Rep Schoenbeck pointed out on the House floor that Rep Solum actually helped write the amendment. Rep Solum is a tech school instructor and would have direct benefit from the 3% of the of the new sales tax going towards tech school instructor salaries. Solum then proceeded to vote yea to the amendment and vote yea to the bill overall. The bill failed. But then Solum voted yea to reconsider the bill and voted yea one last time to pass the bill. That is four times Solum voted yea as a legislator to give himself a raise as an instructor at a technical institute. At the very least Solum should have abstained from voting due to the clear conflict of interest. I have been told by a lawyer that Solum may not have broken any law, but I still contend his behavior fell short of the morality that would be expected from an elected official.
We will see during the election if his actions taken with HB 1182 have any repercussions with voters. He has both a primary and general election to go through. Both of those are opportunities for opponents to bring up what many would consider a conflict of interest violation.
Tapio is another one that doesn’t seem to be making information about him easy to find for prospective voters. A couple of months ago Dakota War College did welcome him as a paid advertiser and had this to say about Tapio:
Neal is a successful entrepreneur, a long time conservative Republican, and self described “Tea-Party believing, Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin listening, Donald Trump loving potential candidate for office” who is looking to change the conversation for South Dakota conservatives, and re-focusing what’s important for members of the Republican party in South Dakota.
That doesn’t give me much to work on. I’ll see if I can find out more about his stealth campaign.