District 20 House hopefuls split on statewide ballot issuesThe ballot measures voters will decide in the Nov. 6 election were the focus of a forum Tuesday night featuring the four candidates for District 20’s two seats in the state House of Representatives.
By: Chris Mueller, The Daily Republic
(Scroll to bottom for video of debate)
The ballot measures voters will decide in the Nov. 6 election were the focus of a forum Tuesday night featuring the four candidates for District 20’s two seats in the state House of Representatives.
District 20 state representatives Lance Carson and Tona Rozum, both Republicans, and Democratic challengers Dave Mitchell and James Schorzmann offered their views on a variety of topics at the forum, sponsored by the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce Governmental Affairs Committee. About 25 people were present at the start of the event, with attendance growing to nearly 50 by the end of the night.
District 20 consists of Davison, Aurora and Jerauld counties. All four candidates are from Mitchell.
The two candidates who receive the most votes in the general election will win two-year terms in the state House.
The first issue discussed was Initiated Measure 15, which if approved by voters would increase the state’s general sales tax rate from 4 percent to 5 percent and provide an estimated $180 million in revenue dedicated to K-12 education and Medicaid providers.
“Education was cut so badly last time that we have no choice but to vote for this,” Schorzmann said, and promised that if elected he will make sure the funds are properly used.
“I’m going to make sure that nobody takes anything out of this fund,” he said.
Schorzmann, 57, is a retired mail carrier. He was known to many in the area as the “Smiling Postman” because of his ready smile and wave on his mail route.
Carson expressed concern about the lack of funding for higher education in the bill and believes it is a mistake to raise taxes when coming out of a recession. Still, he admitted the revenue could be beneficial.
“There are a lot of good things that could come out of this if it’s managed right,” he said.
Carson, 66, is a retired business owner — he owned Lance’s Interstate Amoco for many years — and is seeking a fourth term as a District 20 representative.
Mitchell called the measure “a fix for a problem we probably shouldn’t have had.” The measure is a reflection of the problems the state has handling the budgeting process, he argued.
“I’m still standing on the fence on this issue,” he said of the measure. Mitchell, 76, has been a business and economics professor at Dakota Wesleyan University since 1972 and the chairman of the Davison County Democratic Party since 1998.
Rozum agreed with measure’s goal of getting more money into the state’s school system but expressed reservations about it.
“This is in the people’s hands and that’s where it should be,” she said. “Even though I don’t think the bill is written very well.”
Rozum, 67, is running for a second term as a District 20 representative. She has spent more than 20 years as a local financial adviser and owned a business in Mitchell for 25 years.
Opinions on another ballot measure, Referred Law 16, were split along party lines. If approved, the bill would establish a teacher scholarship program, create a program for math and science teacher bonuses, create a program for teacher merit bonuses, mandate a uniform teacher and principal evaluation system and eliminate teacher tenure.
Both the Democrats panned the measure.
“I think it’s a bad bill,” Mitchell said.
“Evaluation systems should be developed by local schools, not by the state of South Dakota,” he added.
Schorzmann disapproved of the competition for merit bonuses that he said the bill would create among teachers.
“You don’t pit teachers against each other,” he said. “It doesn’t take very long before everything is in disarray.”
Rozum and Carson expressed support for the reforms contained in the bill.
“It gives more money to local schools and it takes the decisions down to the local school boards,” Rozum said.
The flexibility of the bill, she said, will allow the state’s schools to change with the times.
“Education is changing,” Rozum said. “We can stick our head in the sand and say we’re not going to do it, but we need to do it.”
The discussion then turned to economic development and Referred Law 14, which would establish a Large Project Development Fund with 22 percent of contractors’ excise tax revenues to give grants to certain economic development projects in the state costing more than $5 million. Again, the opinions were split down party lines.
Carson said the fund would bring a variety of industries and workers, specifically non-farm workers who have left the state, back to South Dakota.
Rozum also supports the measure, but admitted it could take some time to work out the best way to distribute and use the funds.
“I think it’s a process that will be in the works,” she said.
Neither Mitchell nor Schorzmann support the measure.
“I think real economic development starts small,” Mitchell said. “I think real economic development is from the ground up.”
Schorzmann said the measure focuses too much on bringing in out-of-state development.
“Getting businesses to come here isn’t something we have to throw more money at,” he said.
Texting and driving
All four candidates expressed support for a statewide ban on texting and driving.
“We’ve got to get a handle on it somewhere,” Schorzmann said, who said he knew someone killed in a crash caused by someone else texting and driving.
“The pain of losing a friend, a family member, any loved one is too great,” he said.
Rozum said statistics show handheld devices are a factor in 25 percent of highway crashes in South Dakota. Carson and Mitchell said though a statewide ban may be difficult to enforce, it would still have a discouraging effect.
“I think it sends a good message,” Mitchell said.
In a break from the other candidates and question topics, Mitchell called for changes to South Dakota’s budgeting process to make it more open and accessible to the public. He said the system in place now makes it difficult for the public and even legislators to learn about the state budget or have input on its formation.
He also called for forums when the Legislature is out of session in the district’s towns, instead of just the cracker barrels during the legislative session, so legislators can hear from constituents outside of the “hotbox” of the legislative season.