District 20: Future planning, texting ban, prison population on Sen. Vehle’s agendaMike Vehle, 62, is a retired banker who has served four years in the state House of Representatives and four years in the Senate.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
“The campaign is going well,” said Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, after a busy day recently of knocking on doors in Plankinton.
“I’ve just been doing the normal things candidates do in a campaign: attending parades, meetings, church gatherings — just getting out with folks and talking about the issues.”
Vehle, 62, a retired banker who has served four years in the state House of Representatives and four years in the Senate, is being challenged by former District 22 representative Quinten Burg, of Wessington Springs, a Democrat.
Jerauld County was moved into District 20 in the recent redistricting, so District 20 now consists of Davison, Aurora and Jerauld counties.
Vehle fended off a challenge from fellow Republican Steve Sibson in the June Republican primary to retain his party’s candidacy.
Of Burg, Vehle said simply, “We’ve known each other for a long time and we’ve agreed and we’ve disagreed on things. My hope is that the campaign stays on the issues and doesn’t go negative.”
And there are plenty of issues on this ballot, including several referred laws and constitutional amendments.
“It’s a difficult ballot to understand,” Vehle said. “I encourage voters to take a little time to understand them. The voting booth is not the time to look at these ballot questions for the first time.”
Vehle declined to make a comment on Initiated Measure 15, which would add an extra “penny” to the state’s sales tax to be used exclusively for education and Medicaid. Vehle said he does not want to influence the decision of voters. Later, he noted in a debate that the tax’s projected $180 million in revenue equates to 18 billion pennies.
“A few years ago the economy tanked and we had to make some hard decisions,” he said. Education and Medicaid made up 85 percent of the state budget.
“If there were to be any cutbacks those two items had to share it, and we tried to make those cuts as easy as possible.”
Vehle believes the state will cut back on current contributions to education if the extra sales tax ballot measure passes.
Vehle believes Referred Law 16 — which would institute merit pay for teachers and abolish tenure requirements, among other things — should pass.
“What’s wrong with rewarding excellence?” Vehle asked. “It may not be the perfect model, but we have to start somewhere.”
Vehle said the Legislature changed the original HB1234 submitted by Gov. Dennis Daugaard and gave the bill have more local control.
Vehle also favors Referred Law 14, which would use 22 percent of the contractors’ excise tax to create a large project development fund to be used for projects exceeding $5 million. Opponents argue the program will be expensive and would have little accountability. Vehle believes the program will benefit the state.
Vehle said he and a colleague will take another run at establishing anti-texting-while-driving legislation in the upcoming session, and he believes the bill will eventually succeed. Vehle is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.
Vehle said more work needs to be done to evaluate alternative programs to keep people out of prison.
“Prisons will be an issue,” he said. “In four to six years, we’ll need another women’s prison and after that another men’s prison at the rate we’re going, unless we do something else.”
Technology such as monitoring bracelets may offer some answers, he said, but rehabilitation programs may also work, if they are combined with better direction and coaching.
“If we want to get someone back into society, we must give them not only a trade, but some life skills,” Vehle said. Vehle laments the fact that the Legislature frequently gets bogged down in minutiae during annual legislative sessions.
“We have a problem with the Legislature: It operates by crisis management, rather than doing long-range planning on issues like education, roads and drainage.” Goals are important, Vehle said. Lawmakers may disagree how to get to a goal, Vehle said, and that’s OK. “But let’s get something out there to say this is where we want to be and then work out how to get there.”