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Vehle, Carson, Rozum win District 20 legislative seats

The three Republican candidates breezed to victory in District 20 legislative races Tuesday.

Sen. Mike Vehle claimed a second term in the Senate while Rep. Lance Carson was re-elected to the House for a third term and former Mitchell councilwoman Tona Rozum was elected to the Legislature for the first time.

District 20 covers Davison and Aurora counties.

Vehle, who also served two terms in the state House, received 4,828 votes to defeat Democrat Susan Thie, who received 1,868 votes, and independent Steve "Sibby" Sibson, who had 1,726 votes. The percentages were 57-22-21.

The senator said he feels his moderate beliefs and approach were appreciated and supported by voters.

"I am always trying to find a solution to the problem," he said. "You need to find common ground."

Vehle, 60, said two issues, funding education and balancing the state budget, will be the primary concerns in Pierre.

"Education and budget will be the two biggest fights," he said. "You would expect that, since education is the biggest share of the budget.

"I think we all are going to have to work really hard to balance the budget," he said. "I think one of the issues is being able to work together so we get Democrats and Republicans working together on issues."

Vehle said he hopes to be reappointed as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee and wants to ensure the state's highways and roads are kept in good shape.

He said while the national trend was encouraging for Republicans, there was a bigger message in the votes.

"Remember two years ago they elected Obama because he promised change. Now they're voting in a lot of Republicans because they want change," Vehle said. "We need to make sure we make changes that are the best for the country.

"We can't do this every two years. Once you win, then you've got to govern. It's real easy to throw stones."

Vehle said having two opponents made the race more challenging.

"That's always a concern, anytime you had a three-way race," he said. "No win is easy. I always am concerned about a race."

Thie, 47, had gone to bed when she saw the election numbers going against her in her first race for office.

"They had Mr. Vehle in mind and I support that," she said. "No regrets, that's for sure.

"It was a great learning experience and next time I will be better prepared. It will definitely be a family decision, but I may give it another go."

Sibson, 54, said while he wanted to congratulate Vehle, he planned to return to Pierre as a citizen lobbyist and will strongly consider another run for office.

"I think 20 percent -- there's a significant minority that feels my message was the right message," he said.

"Definitely something to build upon," he said. "I felt really good about the message and the people were connecting to that message. Each day I was picking up votes -- I just simply ran out of votes."

Carson, with 5,357 votes, and Rozum, with 4,602 votes, defeated independent Becky Haslam, who received 2,384 votes. The percentages were 43-37-19.

Carson, 64, said he feels while it was a good election year for Republicans, and his years of living and working in the community paid off on Election Day.

"I worked hard. I tried to keep it in a positive frame," he said of his campaign. "I think my years as an independent businessman and involved in the community also helped me get where I am at."

Carson said money will be the major point of discussion in Pierre.

"We're in kind of a crunch in this budget thing," he said. "A lot of my time is going to be put on the appropriations side of it.

"We need to work on economic development and get us out of this downturn in the economy."

There are other things to consider, Carson said.

"We can't lose sight of education, we can't lose sight of providers of programs to people with special needs," he said. "State employees haven't had a raise now. We can't lose sight of that also."

Rozum, who declined to give her age, said she didn't know what to expect when the polls closed. But she said her long career in public service and in the business community seemed to resonate with voters.

"I think I have a lot of notches in my belt," she said. "My (nine) years on the City Council. Twenty-five years in business. Twenty years as a financial adviser and many years as a volunteer."

Rozum said the state's assets -- its sparse population and wide-open spaces -- are also its weaknesses. There are a lot of roads and it takes a lot of money to care for them, she said.

The need to find money for education while balancing a state budget that may be as much as $107 million in the red is the major challenge, she said.

"It's going to take a lot of work and people are going to have to be open-minded," Rozum said. "And they have to be willing to look at a lot of options."

She said she also hopes citizens provide ideas and suggestions and that elected officials are willing to listen to them.

Rozum replaces state Rep. Noel Hamiel, R-Mitchell, who didn't seek a second term.

Haslam, a Democrat who was forced to run as an independent when her nominating petition had a paperwork error, said she isn't ready to depart from the political stage.

"We're pleased with the showing because I've never run for public office before," she said. "I'm quite pleased with my 20 percent. We were just discussing the next time."

Haslam, 38, spent Election Night with her family.

"I'm definitely not out of the show yet. We're just discussing and strategizing for the next time," she said. "To be honest, I'm pleased. We know where we need to improve for the next election."