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Sutton sets up for final session

At center, state Sen. Billie Sutton, of Burke, mingles with guests during an event held at Cornerstone Coffee House & Deli on Wednesday evening in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Political pundits are sure to scrutinize state Sen. Billie Sutton's voting record this legislative session, but the Democratic candidate for governor won't change his approach to decision-making.

The Senate minority leader, Burke resident and former rodeo star has his sights on campaign finance reform, early childhood education and open records, among other items, in his final session as a South Dakota state senator. But Sutton's not going to let politics get in the way of legislating on behalf of his constituents in Bon Homme, Charles Mix, Gregory and Tripp counties.

"I'm not the type of person that's going to change my vote because it's going to gain me political points, that's just not what I subscribe to," Sutton told The Daily Republic on Wednesday in Mitchell.

As Sutton prepares for both the 2018 legislative session and a possible matchup with Republican political heavyweights U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem or state Attorney General Marty Jackley, he took to Mitchell on Wednesday to meet with fellow South Dakotans. While meeting with voters, he's hearing and learning their priorities, and one priority has broad appeal.

In 2016, a measure meant to address government accountability and potential corruption was approved by voters, but it was quickly undone by the state Legislature in 2017. Sutton says many felt the repealed and partially replaced Initiated Measure 22 was a betrayal of public trust, and he intends to bring campaign finance reform back to the fore.

"So the one piece that hasn't been addressed from that repeal was campaign finance reform," Sutton said. "And so I'll be bringing legislation to address that to put in the same limits that IM 22 had sought to do."

Sutton is also aiming to address early childhood education in 2018, an issue in which he says South Dakota falls short.

According to Sutton, South Dakota is one of a handful of states that doesn't fund early childhood education, and he thinks the state shouldn't be closing the door to young families.

"I think that's hurt us, it's a black eye for South Dakota," he said.

Sutton proposes an early childhood advisory council be established, as he said South Dakota is one of two states in the nation without one. He called the council a "cheap endeavor," one which would help bring attention to the economic and social impact early childhood education can have on a state.

About eight months after the session, Sutton is expected to square off with Jackley, Noem, former state legislator Lora Hubbel or attorney Terry LaFleur. Election Day is Nov. 6.

Meanwhile, the legislative session kicks off Monday and ends in March, and voting on behalf of his current constituents won't be an issue for Sutton.

"Honestly, that's always been easy for me," Sutton said about serving the folks of south central South Dakota.