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District 19 elections attract six challengers

Six candidates will appear on the ballot Tuesday to represent South Dakota's 19th district in the state legislature. District 19 consists of Bon Homme, Douglas, Hanson, Hutchinson and McCook counties, and it is currently served by three Republica...

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Stace Nelson

Six candidates will appear on the ballot Tuesday to represent South Dakota's 19th district in the state legislature.

District 19 consists of Bon Homme, Douglas, Hanson, Hutchinson and McCook counties, and it is currently served by three Republicans, all of whom are running for re-election.

The incumbent District 19 senator, Stace Nelson, has one challenger (Ardon Wek), while this year's field of candidates vying to represent the district in the House is fairly large, with two incumbent Republicans (Kent Peterson and Kyle Schoenfish) and two Independent candidates (Alison Bowers and Roger Hofer) running for the district's two House seats.

While there are currently six candidates in the two races, seven names will be listed on ballots. John Koch, a Democrat from Freeman, was also running for the district's House seat before he died earlier this week. If he wins the election, the seat would be filled by gubernatorial appointment.

Senate candidates

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Incumbent Stace Nelson, a Republican from Fulton, hopes his record will get him elected to a second term as the district's senator.

"I'm proud to serve my Democrat, Republican and Independent constituents," Nelson said. "My record shows that I place them first and foremost in my service in the legislature, and I've got a bulletproof record on conservative values."

As a self-described "honest public servant," Nelson said he wants to focus on government openness and accountability and to address the corruption he says has been identified in the executive branch.

"Unfortunately, our legislature and our executive branch have not done a good job of being open in addressing these shortcomings in the last several years," he said.

Nelson has been a member of the state legislature since 2010, having served as a representative for District 19 before being elected senator. During his term as senator, he has been the vice chair of the Commerce and Energy Committee and a member of the Judiciary and Local Government committees.

Nelson is being challenged for the District 19 Senate seat by Ardon Wek, a Democrat who said he's wanted to run for office for a long time. Prior to this election, he was unable to do so because he was busy running his farm near Freeman.

Wek said now that the next generation is moving up, he wouldn't need to be on the farm every day and could instead bring his experience as a farmer to the Senate.

"I've been a farmer my whole life, so agriculture is important to me. I think it's a large component of South Dakota's economy," Wek said.

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Wek said that, if elected, he'd also like to focus on using education to develop a strong workforce and on healthcare issues, such as making sure South Dakotans can afford healthcare and nursing homes can stay staffed.

In addition to farming, Wek has owned a spray foam insulation business for the past decade, and he believes that experience would be helpful in the Senate. He's been on the Volga-based South Dakota Soybean Processors board of managers for 21 years and has served as the director of the South Dakota Soybean Association.

House candidates

Incumbent Republican Kent Peterson said he thinks being a father and a farmer and having business experience are all factors that qualify him for re-election to the House.

"I've enjoyed getting to serve the people of District 19 and want to continue to do that. I think there's still more work to be done," said Peterson, who lives in Salem.

Peterson has two business degrees and spent several years as a financial advisor before returning to his family's farm 10 years ago. He said he's an advocate for new ideas related to agriculture.

"The ag economy in South Dakota is the number one industry, almost seven times bigger than the next, which is tourism," he said. "We are in a struggle right now with some of the things that we're facing, but I've been an advocate for ag and all things ag over my four years in Pierre, and I continue to push that."

Peterson said that he's tried to face any issues facing District 19 with conservative values and common sense.

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Kyle Schoenfish, also an incumbent and a Republican, said the experience and relationships he's acquired in the House make him qualified to keep the job.

"I know how the legislative process works," Schoenfish said. "I have good respect among my colleagues from both parties. I work with both parties to get things done."

Since first being elected in 2012, Schoenfish, a certified public accountant from Scotland, has worked on government accountability measures and said he wants to make sure the state government is accountable for how tax dollars are used. He said what separates him from the other candidates is his experience.

"I have a record of representing the district and voting for their needs, supporting our schools in our small town, and our farmers," Schoenfish said.

Schoenfish added that, if re-elected, he'd work on improving the funding formula used to distribute money to schools.

Alison Bowers, a high school science teacher who lives in Alexandria, decided to run for District 19 Representative to learn more about the election process. She said that getting to this point in the election cycle was largely accidental.

"I attended some meetings of the Hanson County Democrats and was just interested in learning more about local government," Bowers said. "I've always been relatively interested in national politics. I was interested in learning more and how I could get involved."

Bowers said she was asked to run as a placeholder candidate for the Democratic party, but that her petition was denied because she was not registered with a political party. So instead, she entered the race as an Independent.

"If I were to win, I would hopefully find time to get prepared, and hopefully I would have a lot of resources to ask for help," Bowers said. "That's one thing that I do feel like I would be confident at. I'd try to find people that I felt like would be able to help support me in that role, and I'm definitely open to asking for help from either side of the party line."

Bowers said that, as a science teacher, she's interested in issues such as renewable energy, climate change and protecting South Dakota's bodies of water, as well as advocating for equality.

Roger Hofer is also running as an Independent. A former Bridgewater City Council member who has served as an EMT for 26 years, Hofer is running with the goal of bringing accountability to state spending.

"It really ticked me off the way the Gear Up deal and EB-5 (were handled), and it seems like money was not well spent," Hofer said. "There's no accountability to the auditing process."

Additionally, Hofer said that, if elected, he'd address funding for South Dakota's schools.

"School funding is a big issue. I happen to think that the school funding formula is basically broken, and it needs to be changed," Hofer said. "They're, it seems like, spending more money on building buildings rather than actual education."

Hofer, who stated that he would tell the truth and be accurate if elected, said he's also opposed to the 2021 Capital Outlay Cap.

"Some of our tax money for smaller school districts, some of that will go to the larger schools, like Sioux Falls, Harrisburg, Rapid City, etc. And I don't think that's right," Hofer said.

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