District 10 race heats up

By: 
Jamie Hult, Staff writer

District 10 Senate candidates Rachel Willson (left) and Margaret Sutton take part in a forum Oct. 23 at City Hall. Jill Meier/BV Journal

District 10 House candidates Doug Barthel and Steve Haugaard shared their views at a forum in Brandon last week.

The Brandon Valley Area Chamber of Commerce and the Brandon Valley Journal hosted a District 10 public forum on Oct. 23 with four of the six candidates for South Dakota’s House of Representatives and Senate taking part. 
Margaret Sutton (R-Sioux Falls) and Rachel Willson (D-Sioux Falls) are both seeking the lone District 10 Senate seat.
Doug Barthel (R-Sioux Falls) and Steve Haugaard (R-Sioux Falls) are challenged in the House race by Barbara Saxton (D-Sioux Falls) and Dean Kurtz (D-Brandon). 
Saxton and Kurtz did not participate in the forum. 
 
Steve Haugaard 
Background: Four years in the House, currently as speaker pro tempore; practiced law 35 years in Sioux Falls 
Priorities: Addressing mental health and chemical dependency issues; upholding the constitution  
On seeking re-election: “I’ve seen significant erosion of our local culture over the past 40 or 50 years. It’s changed dramatically, and that’s part of my interest. That’s the heritage I was born into, the things that made this state and this nation great, and I don’t want to see it degraded any more than it already has.”
He hopes to serve as House speaker if reelected. 
“I don’t care if you’re male, female, young, old – what I care about for anybody that serves in the legislature is that they understand the constitution and its underpinnings,” he said. “It’s not for people to go out there and emotionally dish things out of the candy jar or the cookie jar. It’s to go out there and understand – it’s a very limited role, and it should be restricted to those things that fit within that constitution.”
 
Doug Barthel 
Background: One year in the House; 30 years with the Sioux Falls Police Department (12 as police chief); currently a public affairs specialist at Sanford Health
Priorities: Controlling crime, particularly among repeat offenders
On seeking election: “I’m in there to do what’s best for the people of our district and just make good choices and use good common sense … Unfortunately, there aren’t enough people willing to take on these roles. Driving back and forth to Pierre every weekend in the middle of winter is not top on my list, but it’s certainly something I am willing and able to do.”
Barthel was appointed to the House by Gov. Dennis Daugaard in 2017 to fill a vacancy. He currently serves on a judiciary committee and is particularly interested in addressing crime. 
“It seems like we’re locking up fewer people, but do we really have all the alternatives we need? Simply not locking them up does not solve the problem; we have to have various alternatives, whether it’s treatment or counseling or supervision,” Barthel said. 
 
Marget Sutton 
Background: Four months in the Senate; former engineer with more than 20 years of experience in corporate America and technology 
Priorities: Ensuring a strong business climate; protecting the second amendment and family values
On seeking election: “I feel my background in the analytical environment and the business community is a lot that I can offer … Common sense and experience are so important – and not just business experience, but life experience. That is so important to make good, analytical decisions.”
Sutton, who was appointed to the Senate in August, moved to Sioux Falls from Texas in 2008 to be near family. When she couldn’t find a job in her field, she and her husband debated moving to a larger city, but chose to stay. 
“That was a very difficult decision, because if we stayed that would essentially end my career, but we felt family was very important,” Sutton said. “I have no regrets about that decision, but as a result, it gave me a passion to make sure we have a good business climate and job opportunities for our children and grandchildren.” 
 
Rachel Willson 
Background: Teacher in Sioux Falls; USD student pursuing a Master’s degree in political science 
Priorities: Representing all; encouraging more involvement in local government
On seeking election: “I want to stay here and work for the state that I love, to make this a state that can truly represent all of us. Plus, there are so many people throughout the state who don’t have the means to move, and they still deserve to be represented; they still deserve to be heard.”
When Willson moved to South Dakota from Texas in 2012, she immediately fell in love with the people and the state. Unlike many of her classmates, she decided to stay in state after obtaining her Bachelor’s.
When she made the choice to run for Senate, she was initially concerned about her age. She’s 26. 
“But we do have a citizens’ legislature in South Dakota. That means we have to have people representing from all areas, and that includes some of the younger people,” she said.
While working on her Master’s, Willson has learned what makes good public policy – and what makes bad public policy. 
“We have all kinds of amazing experts in Pierre right now in farming, business, banking, all kinds of other areas,” she said. “And so I may not know everything there is to know about farming, but I do know how to look at policy and read into it and look at it from every different angle and say, ‘Is this good policy?’ ‘Will this help South Dakota?’ And I think we also need more people who are willing to make legislation that will change things 15-20 years in the future for the better, rather than just the ones that make us look good now.”
 
Q: What is your stance on allowing local municipalities to raise taxes through local elections to help fund capital projects? 
Sutton said she supports lower taxes but would like to hear alternatives and arguments before deciding. 
Willson said each city is unique and local voters know what is best for their municipalities.
“Overall, I would be for a less overbearing state government and giving more power back to the municipalities there,” she said. 
Haugaard said he’d consider such a measure if a high voter threshold were required to pass it. 
“If you’ve got 75 percent of people in the municipalities that vote in favor of it, then maybe that’s a reasonable way to approach it,” he said. “If there’s that much groundswell of support for it, then it’s probably a reasonable thing to trust the local municipality to go ahead and impose that tax. But if it’s just a coin toss – a 50/50 kind of situation – then I’d be opposed to it.” 
Barthel said he’d be open to it. 
“I’m not in favor of going wild with raising taxes, but I know the government isn’t free, and these sorts of projects aren’t free, and sometimes there are no other options,” he said. 
 
Q: How can S.D. create a better workforce?
Willson: “I think it really starts with creating a culture where people here feel listened to, feel heard, feel respected, feel represented, and then people are going to want to want to stay, just on a basic, internal level,” she said.
She’s worked as a substitute teacher at New Technology High School in Sioux Falls – a fantastic, project-based school, she said.  
“Any chance we have to promote those sorts of programs and styles of education throughout the state – I think we should go for that,” she said. “I think District 10 is growing in a very unique way. It’s growing in a very diverse way. I think, because of that, we need to be very innovative and flexible as far as the types of solutions that we come up with.”
Haugaard said the constitution guarantees a primary education, and the scope has already far exceeded the state’s responsibility.  
“Government is not supposed to be in every realm of life, and this is one of those, where it’s not the role of the government to ensure a workforce. It’s the role of the community to grow and thrive and the government stays out of its road,” he said. “So, we need to remember the limitations of the government when we go into this. Thankfully, our country was not founded on the idea that we’re going to create workers for the government. Our country was founded on the idea that we’re going to have well-informed, moral citizens to go ahead and make a community and a country that’s thriving.” 
Barthel: “I think there was a day when it seemed like college was the only option … I think we need to do a better job of educating our youth that there are other options.” 
He said the solution also lies in working with employers to improve job recruitment and job placement, as well as ongoing emphasis on STEM education.
Sutton: “I believe that the solution is to create a strong business climate. In the business climate that we have here in South Dakota, as well as District 10, what happens is you very often do not have the skill set needed for these companies to expand. Often that means bringing in that skill set from another state, which means competitive salaries.” 
She echoed the need for better partnerships between the public and private sectors.
 
IM 25 – Creating a state tobacco tax to help fund post-secondary technical schools
Haugaard: “Presently we have the lottery system in place, which was supposedly designed to enhance the funding for public education. Well, not so much.”
The legislature has already considered IM 25 and shot the measure down, he said. 
He quoted Benjamin Franklin, who said a government should never act viciously toward its people. 
“And the idea of the root word ‘vicious’ is ‘vice.’ Why do we pick on people who have a vice in their life that maybe they don’t even want?” he said. “We look to someone who is inclined toward cigarettes or tobacco, and we ask them to fund vocational training. Well, we’ve got plenty of resources in our budget to spend; it’s just how you spend them.”
Barthel: “Do I think it’s the best way to solve our problem? No. But we do have the third highest rate of tuition for technical schools in our area, and frankly, other efforts to try to reduce that have been unsuccessful. I, too, don’t like increasing taxes, especially on people who may be a little vulnerable, but I see this as a couple of wins ... If we can help these people not begin to smoke and in addition reduce some of these tuition costs, it’s something that I would support.” 
Sutton: “Measure 25 will definitely increase tax on our hard-working South Dakotans, and I’m not for that, so I do not support Measure 25. It also does not have protection against wasteful spending, it hurts our retailers. It’s going to reduce some potential job loss. It’s going to increase smuggling across state lines.”
Willson: “If I were in Pierre as a Senator, and this came across my desk, I would likely vote against it, because raising the taxes does not sound like something I think we should be looking at right now, especially not tobacco ...  But when you focus on the other side, that’s where me, as a personal citizen, will be voting yes on IM 25 ... If we can stop people from smoking at a very young age – personally, I’m all for that.” 
 
Constitutional Amendment W – Creating a government accountability board and changing lobbying and finance laws 
Barthel: “I’m not against everything in this proposed amendment. There are some things that are good, and I’m not opposed to any sort of oversight.
“Where I am concerned is this proposed amendment has over 3,000 words in it. Most people have no idea of all the language that’s in here. You’re going to see a small summary when you go to vote, and that’s what you’re going to base your decision on. 
“I’m not going to tell you which way to vote on it, but if you are going to vote, I would highly encourage you to educate yourself on it.”
Amending the constitution shouldn’t be taken lightly, he added.
“There are at least three places in there that say ‘notwithstanding anything else in the constitution,’ which basically makes this thing the supreme law over the areas it’s addressing, and that causes me great concern,” he said. “I’m personally not going to vote for this, and we’ll have to live with whatever the will of the people is.”
Sutton: “I think this is a poorly conceived measure, so I would not support this measure. It would radically change the form of government we currently have in South Dakota. It would establish an organization operating outside our established three-branch government that we have operating now. It clearly states in our legislation now that our legislature has the authority to appropriate monies, and this would change that. It would directly misappropriate money, and often when this happens, it increases taxes.”
Willson: “I 100 percent support the idea of what this amendment is trying to accomplish, but not necessarily in the way it’s trying to accomplish it. I do support the idea of creating an independent ethics advisory board.
“But I’m worried about it because when I was reading the entirety of this eight-page bill, it talks about giving certain powers to this board. And it’s a very broad scope of powers it gives this board. There’s really no constraint around this power that’s been delegated, and that really worries me.”
Haugaard: “I certainly oppose the bill. It’s based on the idea that somehow South Dakota is one of the most corrupt states in the nation. It rates us higher than Illinois, which I believe over the last several years, has had three of their governors in prison.”
The basis of Amendment W, he said, is 62 cases of government corruption in South Dakota over the past five to 10 years – all but one of which involved tribal activities. 
“That’s how we get the rating for corruption, and this continues to be blown out of proportion as far as who does what. The idea that legislators in Pierre kept lots of money under the table is just ridiculous.”
Another problem, he said, is Amendment W creates a fourth branch of government. 
“On top of that, the striking statement in there that this overrides anything in the constitution – that’s just wrong.”
 
Questions from the floor
What is your stance on legalizing recreational marijuana in South Dakota?
Haugaard: “It’s truly designed for disaster, and it’s a gateway drug – there’ no doubt about it.”  
The THC content in marijuana has increased dramatically over the past 40 years, he said, and as a mental health board member, he’s said significant marijuana use in teens can lead to schizophrenia. 
People his age and a bit younger have taken the approach that it’s OK, he said – “and that’s just foolishness.”
People in their 20s and 30s may say they’re not bothered by marijuana, Haugaard added, “but look at you. You’re divorced, you’re facing criminal charges, you don’t have a job. It’s one of those things people get lulled into that it’s OK, when in fact it’s not. It creates a way to bring people into the drug culture, and that’s the last place people need to be.”
Barthel: “I am adamantly opposed to this.”
Colorado is seeing negative repercussions since legalizing marijuana, he said.
“The number of traffic fatalities has gone up considerably, and a lot of them are because of marijuana usage,” he said. “And don’t forget that marijuana is still illegal federally.”
“There are so many ill effects that, because of that, I think we, as taxpayers, are going to be stuck with the tab and have to deal with that when we think it’s just an easy way to just generate some revenue. I think it’s going to be a disaster,” he said.
Sutton: “I know that not everyone who takes marijuana automatically goes into different drugs, but definitely this is a gateway in, and I would not support this.”
Willson: “In South Dakota, before we even consider recreational, we need to consider medicinal, and in that area, I definitely think we should look a little more into that, especially in a time when we have so much overuse of opiates. And then, after that, I think we need to look a little more into decriminalizing possession of marijuana, because we have people in jail and prison for having not very much, and they’re in prison for just as long as some serious offenses. And that costs the state money.”
She disagreed with her fellow candidates: “I’ve read ample research that marijuana is not a gateway drug,… That being said, I don’t know that South Dakota is even remotely ready to begin looking at recreational use of marijuana.”   
 
How important is it to get millennials and Gen Z involved in the political process?
Sutton: As former president of Siouxland Republican Women, one of her priorities was getting youth involved in the election process.
“That is a deep concern with me – that we have a little bit of apathy – but, that being said, I was very encouraged as I was knocking on doors that I had several young people say, ‘I do have questions for you’,” she said. “Educating our youngsters … making sure that they still know history in education … I do remember history being taught at a different level when I was in school.”
Willson said it’s not just national elections we should encourage involvement in – local politics is where it counts.
“One of the things I’ve personally enjoyed in campaigning so far is having unique opportunities to connect with people who aren’t normally engaged in political events.”
She’s held trivia campaign fundraisers with different themes, like Harry Potter. 
“It got new people into the political process, and I think any time we can do that, help young people find something they’re interested in – I think we should look into that.”
Haugaard: “One of the most important things is to make sure you have moral citizens … I would really hope that our young people understand the historical context for our government and the reason it’s survived this long. There’s never been a republic that’s done well when it shifts to the idea of socialism, and that’s unfortunately where we’re going.”
Barthel: “I’m going to put some of this back on us as parents. I think that’s just part of the upbringing of children – exposing them to life and being part of their government, and the way their cities and counties and states are run and being active is key to that.”
He also supports the state legislature’s internship program.
 
What are your thoughts on renewable energy?
Willson: “It’s the future. I think investing in renewable energy, whether it be solar, wind, hydro, anything like that, we need to look into more … Once we get past the initial hurdle of costs, I think it’s something that’s going to save a lot of money for a lot of people. Overall, I think making a push for renewable energy is massively important, not just for cost savings, but also for the future of our planet.”
Haugaard: “I think renewable energy is a great idea … If we’re really serious about safe energy, we could probably take another look at nuclear energy.”
Sweden has adopted new nuclear technology that’s proving efficient and effective, he said. 
“Windmills are fine,” Haugaard said, but renewable energies “just don’t survive without federal subsidies.”
Barthel: “I would welcome the day when we don’t have a foreign tanker ship pulling into one of our ports, delivering oil from overseas. If we can get to the point where we’re self-sustaining with the resources we have in our country and in our state, I would certainly support that.”
Sutton: “Coming from a science and technology background, I am definitely for renewable energy, and I think we can foresee lots of changes in that area – in the nuclear and the underwater and the ethanol and the oil and the coal – there’s a lot of options.”
With the federal regulations on renewable energy and concerns about which direction to take, she added, change won’t happen overnight.
 
Closing remarks
Barthel said there’s a lot of depth in the topics legislators vote on, he said, “and unfortunately there is no ‘maybe’ button.” 
“I come from a background of good, strong leadership, I’ve got good common sense, and I use that when I go into this. I’m not out there to see what kind of scorecard I can get. Frankly, if you don’t like the way that I vote and the way I carry myself when I’m out there, then don’t reelect me. I don’t vote to try to get reelected; I vote to do what I think is best for the people of this district and this state.”
Sutton said she supports keeping a strong business climate, upholding the second amendment and honoring veterans, and she’s been delighted to meet so many hardworking South Dakotans with family values during her campaign. 
“I also believe in the South Dakota Constitution and one nation under God,” she said.
Willson said she’s enjoyed meeting not only the voters while out campaigning, but also their dogs.
“I’m fairly convinced every single person in Brandon has a dog, and I’ve loved it,” she said with a laugh. “I’ve really enjoyed getting new people involved in politics, registering new voters, no matter what age – it’s been so much fun. It’s been so refreshing. And I’m really excited that no matter what the outcome of this election is, you’re going to have a woman senator representing District 10.”
Haugaard said going door-to-door has been a highlight of his campaign.
“I try to engage people as much as possible, discuss the ballot measures, talk through those, explain what the pros and cons are … I’m always looking forward to (talking to) people that want to have a discussion about politics,” he said.

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