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Gov. Daugaard launches re-election drive

This photo shows Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, before he delivered his budget address at the South Dakota Capitol in December 2013. Daugaard announced his plans to run for re-election on Tuesday. (File photo)

By Dirk Lammers

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SIOUX FALLS (AP) — Gov. Dennis Daugaard says he has made tough choices during his first term leading South Dakota, cutting state spending by 10 percent to turn a $127 million post-recession structural deficit into a state budget with a surplus.

The move in 2011 didn't come without controversy, as Democrats said education and health care should have been exempt from such cuts. But Daugaard said something had to be done.

"You can't spend money you don't have," he said. "In my first budget, I did what any family or business would do. I cut expenses."

Daugaard on Tuesday asked voters for four more years at the helm, officially launching his re-election campaign with an announcement in Sioux Falls. He scheduled similar events later in the day in Rapid City and Pierre.

The governor, who previously spent eight years as Gov. Mike Rounds' lieutenant, is being challenged on the Republican ticket by former state Rep. Lora Hubbel, who qualified for the ballot on Tuesday. He's also being challenged by two Democrats — State Rep. Susan Wismer, a Britton accountant, and Joe Lowe, the former head of the state wildlife agency.

Wismer has criticized Daugaard for cutting spending on education and health care, saying she wants to help educate children of all income levels, provide jobs with good wages and help low-paid health care workers. Lowe has said he wants more openness in South Dakota government and better pay for school teachers.

Daugaard said his administration has worked with the South Dakota legislature this year to freeze tuition at state universities, increase the money given to technical schools and boost funding to K-12 education and Medicaid providers.

"Many states wish they were in the position in which South Dakota finds itself," he said.

Lt. Gov. Matt Michels, who will again be the running mate on the Republican ticket, said Daugaard has worked tirelessly for the people of South Dakota.

"I should know. He beats me to the Capitol every day," Michels said.

The governor said the state has also passed a comprehensive bipartisan criminal justice reform that improves safety, holds offenders accountable and saves money, and is embarking on a multiyear focus on workforce development. Daugaard also praised his wife, Linda, for chairing a task force on infant mortality, traveling to more than 200 grade schools to encourage reading and inviting South Dakotans to become foster parents.

Daugaard joked that the job has him wearing suits a little more than he'd like.

"But underneath these suits I'm still just a farm kid from Dell Rapids," he said. "And every day I still think how amazing it is that I've been given this honor, and I thank you for this privilege."