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In State Fair debate, US House candidates speak about first-term goals

HURON – In their first TV debate, the men seeking South Dakota’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives gave different answers Sunday on how each would judge his first term as a success.

Republican Dusty Johnson, Democrat Tim Bjorkman, Libertarian George Hendrickson and independent Ron Wieczorek answered 90 minutes of questions from KSFY anchor Brian Allen on the Freedom State at the South Dakota State Fair.

They are competing to succeed U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, a Republican who’s held the seat since 2010 when she beat four-term Democratic incumbent Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. Noem now is trying to win election Nov. 6 as the Republican nominee for governor against state Senate Democratic leader Billie Sutton.

Johnson is attempting a return to state office. He won election to the state Public Utilities Commission in 2004 and received a second term from voters in 2010 but stepped aside to be chief of staff for Gov. Dennis Daugaard and worked since 2015 in the private sector at Mitchell. Johnson said Sunday he wouldn’t give his vote to any candidate for House speaker who doesn’t have a plan for tackling the national debt.

Johnson doesn’t think the federal farm bill will be completed this year so he wants to serve on the House agriculture committee. He also wants to be on the House transportation committee.

“I want to be a strong voice and South Dakota values are going to be there,” Johnson said.

Bjorkman, a retired state circuit judge from Canistota, said he’s seen the need to reduce costs of health care and wants it available to every person in South Dakota.

“I’m a reformer and I’ll go to work there for that,” Bjorkman said. He promised to fight insurance and pharmaceutical companies and would fight for family farmers on the House agriculture committee and as a member of the House judiciary committee.

Hendrickson, from Sioux Falls, said he wants to focus on controlling the federal government’s bureaucracy. For example, he said patients of the Indian Health Service receive three cents of every dollar spent in the service’s system.

“That’s how our whole government works,” Hendrickson said. His approach to federal agencies: “Correct them or kill them.”

Wieczorek, from Mount Vernon, has been a supporter of Lyndon LaRouche’s campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination and previously ran for statewide office four times.

Wieczorek said Sunday that “Wall Street” owns the top end of both major parties and controls Congress. Wieczorek urged voters to look at his brochure. “At least I’ve got a program. The party doesn’t seem to have anything but to tear each other apart,” he said.

In their closing statements, Wieczorek said the nation faces “a philosophical war” on returning to a republic or continuing the path toward an empire. Hendrickson said his son’s medical condition steered him into advocacy. “No offense, but we keep sending lawyers and career politicians,” he said.

Bjorkman said he’s unhappy with Congress. “Let’s try something different,” he said, promising to “work from the middle of the aisle” and be “a strong, independent voice.”

Johnson said he’s worked his whole life. “I do think we need somebody to work for us in Washington,” he said. “I want to earn your vote because I want to work for you.”