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TUPPER: GOP Senate hopefuls display burn-down-the-forest approach to governing

If the five South Dakota Republicans running for their party’s U.S. Senate nomination get their way, 219,507 jobs will be lost.

That’s the total number of people working as employees or contract employees for the departments of the federal government that the candidates want to eliminate.

The topic arose at the South Dakota Newspaper Association’s Republican U.S. Senate primary debate on April 12 in Pierre. As I recall, the five candidates — who will be on the Republican primary ballot June 3 — were asked which federal departments they’d like to cut.

They pounced on the question like caged lions on raw meat, all but falling over each other in their dash to be the biggest cutter of government.

Larry Rhoden would eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency. So would Stace Nelson, along with the Department of Energy. Jason Ravnsborg also wants to close Energy, and both he and Mike Rounds want to shutter the Department of Education. Annette Bosworth would shut down the Internal Revenue Service.

That’s a total of four federal departments, the combined budgets of which are $119.5 billion.

That may sound great to the most rabidly conservative members of the Republican Party. But to moderates like me, it sounds frightening. It’s an approach to governing that is akin to ridding the Black Hills of mountain pine beetles by burning down the entire Black Hills National Forest.

No offense to the five Republican Senate hopefuls, but I’d like to keep my clean air and water (EPA), federal student aid for college (Department of Education), hydroelectric power delivery (Department of Energy) and the system of collecting money for federal activities such as road building, national defense and everything in between (IRS).

Here’s what I wish I’d heard from at least one of the five candidates:

“It would be irresponsibly unrealistic of me to suggest that I could or even should wipe out, in one fell swoop, a federal department that has thousands of employees and a budget in the billions of dollars. No individual senator has that kind of power, and no senator will accomplish anything worthwhile with that kind of slash and burn mentality. There are places to cut in every department, but there are also good programs — some that greatly benefit South Dakota — that should get more funding. I plan to build coalitions with other senators to cut where cuts should be made, and to invest where investments should be made. That’s the only realistic approach to improving the effectiveness and efficiency of government.”

Ideally, the answer also would have included a few specific examples of programs that should be cut and programs that should be strengthened.

But nobody said anything like that, because they’re all playing to the “base” of the Republican Party. And they apparently think the base consists of unthinking, zombie-like hordes who wander the streets seeking nothing but cuts, cuts and more cuts.

If you consider yourself part of the Republican base and enjoy that kind of blatant pandering, so be it.

Personally, I consider it an insult to the intelligence of voters everywhere.