District 20 House: Mitchell feels free to make bold, blunt statementsDave Mitchell said he wants to talk straight to voters during his campaign for the Legislature.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
Dave Mitchell said he wants to talk straight to voters during his campaign for the Legislature.
Mitchell and fellow Democrat James Schorzmann are running against Republican incumbents Rep. Lance Carson and Rep. Tona Rozum for two state House of Representative seats representing District 20. All four are from Mitchell.
District 20 includes Davison, Aurora and Jerauld counties. That’s a change, as Jerauld County was added to the district when new lines were drawn.
The two candidates who receive the most votes will win two-year terms in the state House.
Mitchell is a business and economics professor at Dakota Wesleyan University. He ran for the same seat in the 1990s and again in 2006 and 2008. He has been the chairman of the Davison County Democrats since 1998 and only runs now when no other candidate can be found, he said.
Mitchell said he could have raised and spent a few thousand dollars in this campaign but chose not to do so.
“I could have but I won’t,” he said. “That’s not where I wanted to go at this point.”
He said he feels freed to make bold statements and blunt assessments of what’s wrong with state government and how it can be repaired.
“I don’t have anything to lose,” Mitchell said. “If it costs me a few votes, so be it.
“And I do think I have some skills,” he said. “The most obvious one is that I have a background in education so I think I can make a contribution to the education debate, which others may struggle to do.”
As an economics profess and former systems analyst, he can offer an experienced voice to debate and discussion on the state budget, he said. Mitchell noted he teaches public policy analysis at DWU.
“I know how to go about that process,” he said.
Mitchell said he opposes Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s education policies, which have included a cut in state aid to education and a proposal to create a teacher merit pay program.
“The fundamental thing is, I think education ought to be locally controlled,” he said.
The problem with education in South Dakota is the state making reductions without asking voters if they are willing to pay more for it, Mitchell believes.
“We’re trying to fix a problem through the back door that we refuse to fix through the front door,” he said.
South Dakota is near the bottom for education funding in the nation, and the problem was exacerbated when Daugaard reduced the budget, he said.
Mitchell said he has “real ambivalence” on Initiated Measure 15, since it seems to be a regressive tax on poor and working-class people, but he sees a need for more revenue in the state. The measure proposes an additional percent of state sales tax.
“We have a real revenue shortfall,” Mitchell said. “I think we’ve been playing with fire for quite some time now. I think our budget process is broken.”
Another issue is that the process is done with almost no public input, with the Joint Appropriations Committee and the governor’s office making the important decisions.
“And that’s not any way to run a business, in my view,” Mitchell said. ‘We ought to have a five-year plan, on the costs of what it’s going to take to run the state, and a five-year revenue projection.”
If the two don’t match, the citizens should be asked what services they wish to lose, or what additional taxes they want to pay. Other agencies and entities, such as colleges and universities, do that, he said.
Mitchell said the point of reserves is to “smooth things out” by building them up in strong years and using them in lean years.
“This governor and this government don’t understand the function of reserves,” he said.
This spring, Secretary of State Jason Gant removed Mitchell from the ballot over a technical error on his petitions, but Circuit Court Judge Don Barnett ordered Gant to place Mitchell back on the ballot.
“I’m running so people have a choice,” Mitchell said. “If there’s no name on the ballot, they don’t have a choice.
“I’m running because we need more balance in the Legislature. We’re too topheavy with one party.”
The Republicans have large majorities in both houses of the Legislature. The same problem existed in his native Massachusetts in reverse, he said, with Democrats dominating state government. Balance is needed for the best government, in his view.
Mitchell, 76, has degrees from Cornell and Boston universities, including a doctorate from BU he earned in 1978. He has been at DWU since 1972. Previously, he was an instructor at Boston University from 1967 to 1969 and worked as a systems analyst for Proctor & Gamble from 1960 to 1965. He and his wife Ann had two children. Ann Mitchell died in July, two months short of their 50th anniversary.