Abrahamson: Some in GOP at a loss on 'where to go'

Eric Abrahamson, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, thinks some Republicans have "lost their party" and are ready to change the political landscape of South Dakota.

Eric Abrahamson, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, thinks some Republicans have "lost their party" and are ready to change the political landscape of South Dakota.

The 49-year-old Rapid City man said Friday during an interview with The Daily Republic that he plans to focus on bringing frustrated Republicans into the Democratic fold. He thinks some Republicans feel "strong-armed" by their party leadership's unyielding stance on issues such as abortion.

"Moderate Republicans are at a loss at this moment as to where to go," Abrahamson said. "They feel like they've been pushed out of the inner circle of the Republican Party."

Abrahamson thinks Republicans are becoming too ideological, and he said ideologues make unsuccessful leaders. He stopped short, though, of calling Republican Gov. Mike Rounds an ideologue.

"I'm not sure he's in control of his own party anymore," Abrahamson said, "and I think his party is moving toward rigid ideology."


Abrahamson and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Billion, of Sioux Falls, will face Rounds and Lt. Gov. Dennis Daugaard in the Nov. 7 general election.

Abrahamson's addition to the Billion ticket last month came as a surprise to some, given Abrahamson's low statewide profile. Abrahamson said he accepted Billion's invitation to the ticket because of their mutual views on three issues -- the first of which, Abrahamson said, is the "political climate change" that he believes is happening in the state.

The second issue is education. The only elected office Abrahamson has ever held is his current seat on the Rapid City school board, but he said the position has made him "very aware" of how the hands of school officials are tied by leaders at the Capitol in Pierre.

Abrahamson said state funding levels are forcing schools to make budget cuts that are negatively affecting the quality of education. He supports Billion's proposal to use more of the interest from various state trust funds to provide money for schools, and he advocates trying new methods of technology-based education to help small school districts operate more efficiently.

"But what we're doing right now -- this is still sort of early, especially for me it's very early -- is we're looking at all of these programs and looking for specific programmatic suggestions that we want to make as part of our campaign," Abrahamson said.

Some of Abrahamson's views on education were shaped during his work as a writer in residence at schools across the state during four years in the early 1980s. He lived during that time in Rapid City, but he is not a South Dakota native.

Abrahamson does have family roots in South Dakota, where his grandfather lived before being diagnosed with tuberculosis and moving to California. Abrahamson grew up in California, moved to Rapid City in the '80s, and then moved to Maryland in the '90s to earn his doctorate. He said he always wanted to move back to the Black Hills, and did so in 1998.

Abrahamson runs a company called Vantage Point Historical Services, which writes corporate histories and does other forms of "historical consulting" for clients across the nation. It was the nature of his business, he said, that allowed him a chance to move back and make a living in South Dakota.


"I sort of think of myself as a kind of information age pioneer," Abrahamson said. "There's lots of people like me who are working thousands of miles from the job site, basically telecommuting by computer and the Internet."

Abrahamson's professional experience helped shape his views on the third issue he hopes to focus on in the campaign: economic development, which he believes is a product of education.

"I believe education is so important to economic development -- especially now in a global information age economy -- that we have to see those things as intertwined," Abrahamson said. "And we have to see education as an investment we're making to get an economic payoff."

Abrahamson believes South Dakotans will be more receptive to his and Billion's ideas on the economy, education and other issues than they have been to the views of some other recent Democratic candidates. He bases that opinion on what he sees as the shifting political currents in the state, and the history of successful Democratic gubernatorial candidates such as Ralph Herseth in the late 1950s and Richard Kneip in the 1970s.

"It's not so much us, it's the change in the landscape," Abrahamson said. "If you look at the cycles of Democratic governors in this state and go back a hundred years, in one sense we get a Democratic governor every 30 years. So we're right on schedule."

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