Democratic governor candidates show differences at Brookings forum
BROOKINGS -- The two candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for governor took opposite sides Tuesday on the death penalty, uranium mining, education funding and rural mass transit.
State Rep. Susan Wismer, of Britton, and Joe Lowe, of Piedmont, answered questions before an audience of about 30 Brookings County Democrats at the city library.
It was one of the few joint appearances by Wismer and Lowe in their low-key campaigns leading to the June 3 primary election that will decide the party's nominee.
The two will meet on South Dakota Public Television in a one-hour debate May 29.
Neither Wismer nor Lowe was willing Tuesday night to commit to choosing the other person to be the party's candidate for lieutenant governor.
"I'm not going to speculate on that," Wismer said. "That's not a good thing to do."
"It's too early," Lowe said. "I don't think either of one of us is ready to say yea or nay."
They didn't take any jabs at each other during the 80-minute forum. But they didn't mask their differences.
On the death penalty, Wismer said she is opposed to it but hasn't been in the position of a victim. "I am in favor of repeal of the death penalty," she said.
Lowe would keep it.
"I've seen a lot of death," he said, referring to his time as a California mayor and more than 30 years as a professional firefighter, including the past 12 in South Dakota. "I would definitely support the death penalty."
On the proposed Powertech uranium mining operation in southwestern South Dakota, Lowe said he opposes it for a variety of safety and environmental reasons.
Wismer said she doesn't know enough specifically about Powertech to take an absolute stand against the project, which awaits federal and state permits.
"As a family we are very much pro-nuclear power. I just think how much cleaner it is than coal power," she said.
Lowe said he supports a 1 percent sales tax on tourist items for four months of the year as a way to increase education funding. He said he would put the issue to a public vote.
Wismer said South Dakota went through the debate two years ago over a 1 percent sales tax that would have been split between K-12 schools and Medicaid services. It was defeated.
Wismer said the major organizations such as the farm groups, chamber of commerce and retailers need to be convinced to support more funding before it will have a chance politically.
Asked about mass transit for rural areas including western South Dakota, Lowe endorsed the idea. Wismer said there is mass transit for older people and people with disabilities in many communities.
"It really is a question of viability," Wismer said. "Passenger train service was dropped because it wasn't viable."
The winner of the Democratic primary will face the winner of the Republican primary between Gov. Dennis Daugaard and former state Rep. Lora Hubbel of Sioux Falls.
Independent Mike Myers of Centerville also will be on the November general ballot.