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District 20 candidates offer familiarity, experience, fresh perspectives to SD House of Representatives

On Tuesday, an incumbent, a county official and a local businessman are contending for two spots in the South Dakota House of Representatives.

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The three candidates running for District 20 House of Representatives answering questions during the candidate forums held at the Dakota Wesleyan University Sherman Center on May 17, 2022.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic
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MITCHELL — All three candidates running to represent the Mitchell area in the South Dakota State Legislature could each bring something a little different to the table.

An incumbent would bring familiarity, a county official would bring experience and a local businessman would bring fresh perspectives, according to the candidates themselves.

With two open seats for District 20 in the South Dakota House of Representatives, Jeff Bathke, Ben Krohmer and Lance Koth — all Republicans from Mitchell — have filed their petitions and worked a campaign in the hopes to advance to Pierre.

With no Democrats running for the seat this election cycle, the top two vote-getters in Tuesday’s primary will represent residents from the counties of Davison, Hanson and Jerauld, as well as a section of western Miner County.

The Mitchell Republic reached out to each candidate to produce a short profile on each.

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Jeff Bathke, Davison County planning and zoning administrator and emergency manager, is running for District 20 House of Representatives.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

Jeff Bathke, R-Mitchell

With the exception of his time in college, Jeff Bathke has spent his entire life in the Mitchell area. Originally from Plankinton, he moved into Mitchell after graduating from the University of South Dakota with degrees in psychology and administration with an emphasis in organizational leadership. He and his wife have now lived in the city for nearly three decades.

Currently serving Davison County as the planning and zoning administrator as well as the emergency manager, Bathke said he finally decided it was time for him to pull the trigger on running for state office.

“I’ve always been interested in running for political office,” Bathke told the Mitchell Republic. “I’ve worked in government for most of my career, and the timing was just never right, but I feel that now it is.”

As part of his 27-year career, Bathke has worked with the Department of Corrections — both as an internal employee and an outside private consultant — as well as with Davison County. He said this experience would allow him to hit the ground running in Pierre.

“I’ve worked for federal, state and local government, and being on the receiving end of legislative and government oversight isn’t always easy,” Bathke said. “I’ve seen that firsthand.”

Should he be elected, Bathke has some major priorities he plans to address as soon as he makes it to the Capitol — his first being economic development through agriculture.

“Obviously agriculture is key to the livelihood of every other small business we support in the community. Agriculture has a huge ripple effect that rolls down to every other business pretty much everywhere in the state,” Bathke said. “If a farmer doesn’t have a productive year, he’s not going to buy a combine. Then the combine salesman isn’t going to buy a new truck, the truck salesman isn’t going to buy a new house. … It all keeps rippling all the way down.”

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As administrator of planning and zoning, Bathke sees almost every building permit that comes through the county, and has made the connection between prosperous agricultural years and its effect on the housing market.

His second priority is to address infrastructure funding that could spur increased development across South Dakota, potentially mitigating a worker shortage.

“As planning and zoning administrator, I push continued growth because that equalizes the property tax burden for residents,” Bathke said, adding that a statewide push could lead to additional workforce housing. “It’s hard to get employees and it’s hard for those employees to find a place to live. If we can have additional developments pop up that provide affordable housing, that would help solve our worker shortage.”

A U.S. Army Reservist, Bathke also hopes to focus on veteran care, after the federal government announced a plan to reduce services to veterans in Fort Meade, Hot Springs and Wagner.

A deep history of government experience and practice writing legislation, administrative rules and local ordinances is something Bathke thinks could give him an edge over his fellow candidates.

“I feel that people will vote for experience. … I'm a proven leader, and I’m not afraid to put my life on the line to get things done,” Bathke concluded. “My style is not just to identify the problems, but to offer a few courses of action to make a decision and get things done.”

Because of his position as a county employee, Bathke was required to seek approval from other governmental authorities to determine whether his candidacy and potential seat in the House would be a conflict of interest. He received all required approval in March.

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Ben Krohmer, prefabrication manager of Mitchell-based Krohmer Plumbing, is running for District 20 House of Representatives.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

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Ben Krohmer, R-Mitchell

Ben Krohmer lives on the same Mitchell block that he grew up on. The lifelong Mitchell resident attended two years of college at the University of South Dakota before deciding to return to Mitchell to join his family’s business, Krohmer Plumbing, where he’s worked across the Great Plains region for more than two decades.

After incumbent Rep. Paul Miskimins, R-Mitchell, opted not to run again, Krohmer, an active member of the Davison County Republican party for nearly a decade, saw the vacant seat as an opportunity to put his name on the ballot.

“I knew one of the incumbents wasn’t running for re-election, so I figured this was as good of a time as any to do good for the community,” Krohmer told the Mitchell Republic. “I truly believe I would be a strong voice and stand for the people.”

Krohmer points to three main issues he looks to tackle if he were to be elected to the House of Representatives: addressing the workforce shortage, cutting wasteful spending and funding childhood education.

Working in a business that employs roughly 140, Krohmer knows all too well the lack of tradespeople actively seeking employment in South Dakota.

“Every place is looking for employees right now. You look around and every place has staffing shortages. Places are closing or shutting down for lack of staff,” Krohmer said. “It impacts everyone. Not just the business, but also their customers and people who are trying to get work from there or food or whatever.”

To address this, Krohmer believes more emphasis is needed on technical education or on-the-job training programs.

“It’s all about trying to get younger folks interested and also going to technical schools and going into the workforce for on-the-job training. There’s nothing against college, but not everybody needs to go to college and we’re kind of seeing the effects of that right now,” Krohmer said. “With some degrees, there's just not jobs available here in the state, so [graduates] have to go elsewhere to seek out career paths, whereas tech schools and on-the-job training are available right here, right now.”

In addition to workforce issues, Krohmer wants to get rid of tax burdens for constituents while cutting down on wasteful spending in Pierre.

“The half-percent sales tax, I would’ve liked to see that go. If we’re following the law, it was supposed to be removed after we implemented the state sales tax. Once we hit a benchmark, we would’ve removed tax, bringing $143 million in savings to South Dakotans,” Krohmer said. “When we’re seeing these unprecedented times of record inflation, we need to be able to help these people at home, they’re our priority.”

Hand-in-hand with reducing taxes, Krohmer called for adjustments to how the state spends money, and would like to see more money moved toward childhood education.

“The state is [comfortable] with funding education, obviously there’s a lot of things that need funding and we have to pick and choose our priorities,” Krohmer said. “Whether that means there’s an increase in pay [for educators] or not, the funding is there for education. We have the money, we just have to make sure it’s prioritized.”

Krohmer believes he’s the only candidate in District 20 that has to make a payroll each week, something that signals fiscal responsibility.

“I’m just thankful and blessed for everyone’s support, and together, we’ll have a state government that does a better job of working for the people,” Krohmer concluded.

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Rep. Lance Koth, a former banker and current state representative, is running for District 20 House of Representatives.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

Rep. Lance Koth, R-Mitchell

A Mitchell resident since 1978 and banker in town for roughly four decades, Lance Koth is the lone District 20 incumbent running for re-election. A longtime community activist, he’s been involved with multiple community organizations and nonprofits, including the Salvation Army, Dakota Counseling and the local development corporation, to name a few.

Since retiring from banking, Koth wondered how else he could get involved in the community, so he ran for state office. Now, wrapping up his second term in Pierre, he’s decided to throw his name in the ring again, seeking to further the work he’s done for the last four years.

“I’ve had four years in Pierre. I’ve served on [multiple committees], and just being involved in state government I feel like I have the experience, and, even at this stage of my life, I’ve learned a lot on how to get things done,” Koth told the Mitchell Republic. “One of the reasons I wanted to run again is to continue efforts to curb the federal and state government overreach. Two is I want to continue to promote free enterprise of private ownership and less government interference.”

Koth said he could discuss for hours the plethora of priorities he looks to address in Pierre, and, with a laugh, admitted it’s tough to narrow down his most important goals. On the forefront of his mind, however, is how South Dakotans and their governments will handle skyrocketing inflation.

“The biggest concern I have this coming year, and even two to three years down the road, is how do we handle the inflation we’re seeing and the economic effect it is going to have?” Koth said. “My priority, should I be elected, is to watch the expenditure side of state spending like a hawk.”

Recalling when Gov. Dennis Daugaard needed to cut the state’s budget by as much as 10%, Koth emphasized the need for the legislature to have an accurate forecast of what revenue is coming and going from the state’s budget, so lawmakers can cut expenditures to keep costs in line with the budget.

“That's tough to do, and I don't want to see that happen again,” Koth said. “I really feel that we need to keep ahead of it and see what’s going on [with the budget].”

Along the lines of fiscal responsibility, Koth wants to see the state’s reserve funding bumped up slightly over time to provide a cushion should the nation fall into a deep recession.

“Currently, we have 14% of our general budget, about $2 billion, in reserve. That is to be used for if we really have a slowdown, which I’m concerned we may have because of inflation and rising interest rates,” Koth said. “That started with Daugaard, and since then we’ve been increasing the reserve from 8%. That’s going to continue to be one of my priorities — that we maintain that fiscal responsibility, and should we hit a recession, we can fall back on that.”

A third (of many) priorities, Koth hopes to use his status on an interim committee that studied real estate taxes to find solutions that alleviate high tax rates on certain properties, including farmlands. He noted, however, that it’s a delicate balance, as many counties and municipalities struggle with little tax income.

While he cites his experience in the state legislature and fiscal responsibility he learned through his time in the banking industry as credit to his re-election campaign, Koth said the quality of each candidate running for District 20 puts his constituents in good hands, no matter who wins.

“There are three viable, good candidates — Mr. Bathke, Mr. Krohmer and myself. I’m confident that any combination of two would do just fine in Pierre,” Koth said.

With typically lower voter turnouts in primary elections, Koth urged the public to get out and vote — no matter who they vote for — calling on South Dakota to see a 50% or greater turnout on Tuesday.

Dunteman covers general and breaking news as well as crime in the Mitchell Republic's 17-county coverage area. He grew up in Harrisburg, and has lived in South Dakota for over 20 years. He joined the Mitchell Republic in June 2021 after earning his bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He can be reached at HDunteman@MitchellRepublic.com, or on Twitter @HRDunt.
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