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District 21 candidates bring variety of backgrounds

Consisting of an attorney, a counselor, a business owner, an insurance agent and two farmers, the field of candidates running for legislative positions in South Dakota's 21st district is a fairly diverse one.

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Consisting of an attorney, a counselor, a business owner, an insurance agent and two farmers, the field of candidates running for legislative positions in South Dakota's 21st district is a fairly diverse one.

Of the six legislative hopefuls running in the district, which includes Bon Homme, Charles Mix, Gregory and Tripp counties, two are sitting representatives, only one of whom is running for re-election.

Representative Julie Bartling and insurance agent Rocky Blare are competing to fill the district's Senate seat, which is being vacated by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Billie Sutton.

In the House, Representative Lee Qualm is hoping to be re-elected, while another Republican (Caleb Finck) and two Democrats (Faith Spotted Eagle and Anna Kerner Andersson) are hoping to take either his seat or the one currently held by Bartling.

Senate candidates

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Julie Bartling, a Democrat and retail business owner from Gregory, is currently one of District 21's two representatives. Since 2000, she has been elected to the district's Senate seat for three terms and to five terms as a representative.

"Serving there in the past, I had a good feel for how the Senate works," Bartling said.

One of the main issues that Bartling said she would like to address if elected is that of District 21's roads, working with the Department of Transportation to ensure that they are both safe to drive on and that minimal deterioration is happening.

"The funding goes toward the larger, populated counties, and I do think we need to rethink that, because it's just an issue that's really become a critical need for our counties," Bartling said.

Prioritizing education, affordable healthcare and keeping property taxes down, Bartling said her values are the same as many of her constituents'.

"I'm committed to the work. Once I get into Pierre, I always have been," Bartling said. "It's been an honor to serve the past number of years, representing the district that I have, and I'd continue that commitment. My door's always open; My phone is always available."

Rocky Blare, a Republican from Ideal, said he decided to run for District 21 senator with the hope of bringing an outside approach to the position.

"I'm running on my own laurels," he said. "It's good to have fresh ideas and fresh faces in there, and that's what I'm trying to bring."

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Blare is running with a pro-life stance, which he said was his primary reason for originally registering as a Republican. Having worked in insurance for nearly 30 years, he said he's interested in the decisions about health insurance being made at the state level.

"I'd like to go up there and not just be a lobbyist, talking to legislators about that, but actually be part of the process," he said.

Blare said he's always been an advocate for coupling business and agricultural perspectives in order to boost economic development in rural areas, and that he wants to expand Social Security, Medicare and its supplements for seniors.

"I always wanted to be involved in the decisions that are made in Pierre, and I want to make a difference up there," Blare said. "I've been a community leader for all my life, and would like to extend that to the state level."

House candidates

Lee Qualm is the sole District 21 incumbent running for re-election. A Republican and farmer from Platte, he's held the House seat since 2012.

"I've enjoyed working with the other legislators to do what is right and what is good for the state of South Dakota, to help move everything forward, making it better for people to live here," Qualm said.

Qualm said that what separates him from his challengers is his belief in limited government.

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"I don't believe in taxing the people. Less government is better," Qualm said.

During the most recent legislative session, Qualm was vice chair of the State Affairs Committee, as well as a member of the Joint Select Committee on Joint Rules and both the House and Joint Legislative Procedure Committees.

Qualm said he's pro-life, a supporter of the Second Amendment and a strong believer in individual freedoms. He also said he values any issue related to agriculture and would like to work to address the opioid epidemic.

"That issue is just rampant in South Dakota," he said. "We certainly need to make some changes to help get some of that stuff under control."

Anna Kerner Andersson, one of District 21's two Democratic candidates, said she'd like to serve as a strong voice for her rural district.

Kerner Andersson is an attorney, which she said gives her a skill set that would make her well-suited to be a legislator.

"I have the professional training and lifelong experience in my career of critical thinking and analytical skills," Kerner Andersson said. "I think that's really important when you're evaluating legislation for the state of South Dakota."

Kerner Andersson said the issues she would focus on most if elected would be economic development, education and providing affordable healthcare.

Before moving back to her hometown of Burke, Kerner Andersson also spent six years in the foreign service, working as a diplomat overseas.

"I'm very used to listening to both sides of an issue and trying to come up with a creative, innovative solution," she said.

Though he's never been elected, Republican Caleb Finck has spent the past two years in Pierre, working with Sen. Larry Tidemann on the Appropriations Committee, and was previously a legislative intern.

"I became quite interested in the process and got to see a lot of really passionate people excited to work for the betterment of South Dakota, and I think I could do that on behalf of the people of District 21," Finck said.

Keeping a structurally balanced budget is one of the issues that interests Finck the most, and he said that, if elected, he'd also like to work on education funding and juvenile justice reform, which he said are two areas of concern that he most frequently hears about from voters.

Finck said that his experience sets him apart from the other candidates.

"If I'm fortunate enough to be elected, I can hit the ground running day one and really try and be as effective as I can be as a legislator," he said. "Sometimes it takes people a little while to get to understand how the committee process works and how to be a legislator ... I have a pretty good understanding of how that works, so there's really not a learning curve there for me."

Faith Spotted Eagle, a Democrat from Lake Andes, was motivated to enter the race by both older and younger generations of her family.

Spotted Eagle said her grandmother and father taught her to take care of everything around her and to listen to her own intuition. Now, she's worried for the future of her own grandchildren.

"As I look around today, there's a lot of desecration of our land, water, people, children and system," she said.

As a PTSD therapist with a master's degree in counseling and guidance, Spotted Eagle said helping veterans is very important to her. She also said that, if elected, she'd like to get state funding for preschools.

"That's such a formative age for children," Spotted Eagle said. "None of education is a priority in South Dakota. That's why we're at the end of the list, nationally. And that's why a lot of people leave."

Spotted Eagle, who was given an electoral vote in the 2016 presidential election, said that even if she isn't elected, she hopes that seeing her run will inspire young people to vote and have a voice for the people.

"It's not just political people who throw their hat in the ring that have influence," she said. "I think it's everyday people that can find a niche, which is what I have done. Whether or not I get elected, I'm not going to be quiet. I'm going to continue to do what my grandmother taught me, and my father, because I have grandchildren."

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