South Dakota governor's race seems to favor incumbent Republicanby Cara Hetland, Minnesota Public Radio
It's not easy for Democrats to be elected governor in South Dakota. It's only happened four times in state history. By all accounts, that Republican domination is not likely to change in the next four years. Recent polls show incumbent Governor Mike Rounds leading his Democratic opponent by 20 percentage points.
Sioux Falls, S.D. — South Dakota politics has made a name for itself this season based on one issue: the state's proposed near-total abortion ban. Voters will decide next week whether it becomes law. The two men who want to be governor can hardly ignore it. The Republican incumbent Mike Rounds supports the ban. The Democratic challenger Jack Billion is against the ban.
But when it comes time to talk about issues, abortion isn't high on their list.
Governor Mike Rounds says he deserves a second term because he's a leader with many accomplishments. In speeches he's quick to beat his opposition to the punch.
"Can we do better? Absolutely," Rounds proclaims.
That's exactly what his Democratic challenger has been saying all along. Jack Billion says Gov. Rounds has shown poor leadership and doesn't do enough to support schools, health care or the economy. Billion says there's a way to grow the economy through energy production.
"We're far behind other states especially in wind energy," Billion says. "Iowa has 800 wind turbines, Minnesota 600, we have 55. I think now North Dakota has well over 200. We don't have the infrastructure. We don't have the grid system because it's been neglected."
Jack Billion, a retired orthopedic surgeon from Sioux Falls served in the legislature for four years. Gov. Mike Rounds served nine years in the state Senate and five of those years he was the majority leader. Rounds is from Pierre and has a real estate and insurance business.
Gov. Rounds defends his record on energy production. He says it's moving in the right direction by positioning the state as a leader in ethanol production.
"My prediction is that over the next couple of years when we talk about energy production, instead of only considering what the price of a barrel of crude in Saudi Arabia is, we're not far from the point in which they're also going to have to include the price of a bushel of corn in South Dakota," Rounds says.
Rounds reminds voters about what he's done in other areas of economic development. He takes credit for an underground research lab at the abandoned Homestake Gold mine in Lead. He also reminds voters about the effort in saving Ellsworth Air Force Base. The base was on the list of military facilities tagged for closure by a federal commission.
Democrat Jack Billion says it's important for voters to understand that Gov. Rounds has changed.
"This governor, over the past four years, has been away from the mid-line and out with a small group within his party that are rather arch conservatives," Billion explains. "They want to discuss stem cell research and outlaw it in the state. They want to discuss teaching abstinence in the schools. Then there's the abortion ban and all of those things in our estimation are not the important issues of the day."
Billion says those important issues are being neglected. For example 60 school districts are suing the state for more funding.
Rounds says the state needs to resolve the lawsuit and he won't talk about it. He also says it's his job to protect the tax payer and also allow school districts to have local control. Rounds says if he's re-elected he'll propose an additional funding source for school districts.
"I want to see education funded in the future based upon goals," he says. "That may sound funny, but you see I think you put together a series of goals then identify what it takes to get to those goals. You can now walk in and say, 'These are the goals, these are the steps and to put in a business plan on how we can improve education areas that we need to make improvements on,' and then identify the number of dollars necessary to do so and hold them accountable."
Also running for governor are Constitution Party candidate Steven Willis of Sioux Falls. He's a licensed minister and wants individuals to take more responsibility and rely on the government less.
Tom Gerber of Sturgis is the Libertarian Party candidate. He's 81 years old and a retired high school and college teacher. He proposes the state pays teacher salaries as a way to avoid competition among schools.
- Morning Edition, 11/02/2006, 7:25 a.m.