Sen. John Thune
I've worn numerous hats, held a lot of jobs, and had many titles throughout my life. And while being your U.S. senator is one of the most humbling and fulfilling of those experiences, it pales in comparison to being a dad. It's the most amazing blessing I've ever received, and I thank God each day for the privilege of having had the opportunity to raise two strong and confident daughters.
Particularly to locals, "South Dakota" and "pheasant hunting" are nearly synonymous. And for hunting enthusiasts around the country and the world, spending the third weekend in October in the pheasant capital of the world can be something dreams are made of. As important as pheasant hunting is to South Dakota's traditions, it's just as important — if not more — to the state's economy.
Memorial Day has long marked the unofficial start to summer, and with it, a busy travel season quickly ensues. Whether you and your family are hopping in the car this summer for a trip across the state or boarding a plane for an adventure around the country or overseas, safety is rightfully top-of-mind. Everyone who relies on air travel wants peace of mind that airport officials — both in the United States and abroad — are doing everything they can to protect the traveling public and prevent bad actors from doing bad things.
Late last month, the federal government released preliminary numbers on economic growth in the first quarter of 2016, and let me tell you, the news wasn't good. The U.S. economy grew at a dismal rate of 0.5 percent during the first three months of the year, which essentially means it barely grew at all. While any one report of slow or nonexistent economic growth is bad, under President Obama, weak growth has become the new norm.
Every May, we recognize tourism in the United States and celebrate the many unique opportunities that are available for travelers from coast to coast. While my job sometimes requires me to spend time in Washington, D.C., away from the beauty of South Dakota, it does give me the chance to encourage people who have never been to our state to make their way to the heartland.
It comes as no surprise to those who know me that I have an abiding interest in competitive athletics. With a dad who was a basketball star in the Big Ten, it was sort of expected that we would like sports. My mom, who was less than enthusiastic about this perpetual sports mindset, used to lament that all the Thune boys were born with a ball in their hands. To her credit, she saw to it that we balanced our interests by requiring that we all take piano lessons, which I did for six years.
Ellsworth Air Force Base is well-known to all South Dakotans, especially those who live in West River. It's not only home to two B-1B Lancer combat squadrons and MQ-9 Reaper ground control stations, but it's a staple of the community and is something in which our state takes great pride. The base has a $350 million impact on South Dakota's economy and is the state's second largest employer, and thanks to the recent Powder River Training Complex (PRTC) expansion, Ellsworth is saving taxpayers millions of dollars per year and can now conduct advanced training closer to home.
Second by second, time ticks off the clock as the senior point guard, knowing his team is about to clinch a spot in the pinnacle of all tournaments — NCAA's March Madness — dribbles the ball past half court. As the buzzer rings, his teammates rush the court, and the team's fans leap from their seats to celebrate the victory. A lot of hard work goes into these defining moments— the two-a-day workouts, the early mornings, all of the season's wins, and even the losses. Every minute is worth it, if you ask these athletes.
This won't come as any surprise to most South Dakotans, but flying to and from rural America can be a challenging and oftentimes frustrating experience. Even on the best flying days, travelers often face fewer options at smaller airports. Add the seasonal threats of inclement weather to the mix, and all bets are off, because with many flights from South Dakota connecting through major hubs in other parts of the region, one stray storm can have a ripple effect that leads to missed or canceled flights on future legs of a trip.
Do you remember Gordon Gekko, the character portrayed by Michael Douglas in the iconic 1987 movie "Wall Street"? If you do, you might also remember scenes in which Douglas' character makes phone calls from his state-of-the-art Motorola, which had Americans wondering what it must be like to have one of their own. While a lot has changed since 1987 — including no longer having to be Gordon Gekko rich to own a mobile phone — some things have not.