Voters to decide Sibson v. Vehle, round 2

The definition of conservatism, and which candidate better embodies the word, are central issues in the District 20 state Senate Republican primary race between incumbent Sen. Mike Vehle and challenger Steve Sibson, both of Mitchell.

Steve Sibson
Steve Sibson

The definition of conservatism, and which candidate better embodies the word, are central issues in the District 20 state Senate Republican primary race between incumbent Sen. Mike Vehle and challenger Steve Sibson, both of Mitchell.

It's Sibson's second run at Vehle. In 2010, Sibson ran as an independent against Vehle and, in the general election, took 21 percent of the vote to Vehle's 57 percent.

Back then, Republicans criticized Sibson for splitting the vote. This time, Sibson is running as a Republican to represent District 20, which after redistricting now consists of Jerauld County in addition to Davison and Aurora counties.

Vehle claims he out-Republicans and out-conservatives Vehle -- to which Vehle responded, "I hate labels" and dismissed Sibson's tactics as an irrelevant "sticks and stones" brand of politics.

In his 2010 bid for the Senate, Vehle described his politics as moderate to conservative -- a bit looser on social issues and definitely conservative on fiscal issues.


Vehle, 62, grew up in Chamberlain and went to the University of South Dakota, where he studied political science and business. He worked on the Washington staff of Sen. Jim Abdnor in the 1970s. Back in South Dakota, he served as president of Shanard Inc., a grain, feed, seed and fertilizer company, before joining CorTrust Bank, where he eventually retired as a vice president and credit card manager.

He has served two terms in the House and two in the Senate.

Sibson 56, works as the controller of the toner product division of Toshiba America Business Solutions, his employer for 21 years.

Sibson is a Mitchell High School graduate and earned bachelor's and master's degrees in accounting from the University of South Dakota. He has said his conservative Christian beliefs form the core of his life.

The stylistic differences in the two men are readily apparent.

Sibson said he played in a rock band during his college years. He still projects a Bohemian air -- he clipped his pony tail a few years back -- despite his conservative philosophies.

Vehle looks the part of the banker/businessman he used to be and the legislator he is, often dressing in more formal attire.

Vehle has served two terms in the House and two terms in the Senate and defends his conservative record. It's tough to be conservative enough today, Vehle said, joking that "Even Ronald Reagan couldn't be elected today."


Vehle bristles at Sibson's charges that his voting is influenced by the Council of State Governments' directives. The organization is funded by corporate interests who guide policy, Sibson claims. He also has said Vehle gets marching orders from the organization.

"Nobody tells me how to vote," Vehle said.

Sibson, who is well-known in political circles for his Sibby Online blog, which he started in 2003, sticks with his charge of deficient conservatism in Vehle.

"The evidence is certain. I've been to Pierre a lot, and they know that I'm a true conservative there."

Both men see education as a major issue for South Dakota.

"What's wrong with rewarding leadership and mentorship in teachers?" Vehle asked, speaking about HB1234. The final version of the bill, he said, turned out differently from Gov. Dennis Daugaard's original proposal. Vehle is pleased that the final version gives more local control by allowing extra funds to reward the best teachers, funds to attract teachers in critical areas such as science and math, and scholarships for teachers to teach in areas that are poorly served.

Sibson believes the state should quit planning the centralization of education. Instead of accepting new common core educational standards that he claims will dumb down education, and over-testing kids to make sure they meet those standards, he said the state should put the power to establish standards back in the hands of local school boards.

HB1234 will reward teachers who teach to the new standards, but it won't encourage or reward teaching creativity, he believes.


"To fix the problem, let the teachers teach and let the local boards decide how to run our schools," Sibson said.

Vehle believes extra money is needed for education, but he isn't a fan of the extra percent sales tax that will be placed before voters in November. The money would be used for Medicaid and education.

"I don't like the way it's written," he said.

"The measure tells us how that penny should be spent. ... I'm nervous about that in a legislative measure."

Vehle said he's also hesitant about tying up that extra percent when it may be needed down the road.

State economic development is another big issue, said Vehle, because the state's economy needs new businesses in order to grow its sales tax receipts.

"Economic development is critical; because if you're not moving forward, you're going backward."

Sibson believes the state needs to back off a practice of using what he claims is up to one-third of economic development funds as "bribe money," to draw out-of-state and international companies here, because doing so puts existing companies at a competitive disadvantage.


Profits earned by foreign companies don't stay in South Dakota, Sibson said. He cites Verifications, which is pulling up stakes in Mitchell next year and outsourcing jobs overseas, as an example of "fly-by-night" companies who are out shopping for the best deals from local and state governments.

That's an unfair criticism, Vehle said.

"You can always point out the one that didn't work," Vehle said. "You take calculated risks and occasionally some fail, but you've got to look at all the successes we've had and not critique the ones we've lost."

Sibson believes what's needed is a fair and free competitive marketplace to select good companies. "Let the consumers do it; they know best what they want," he said.

Vehle, meanwhile, has continued to press one of his favorite subjects: road maintenance and improvement.

"The things we need to look at are the roads and infrastructure," Vehle said. "The longer we put off working on our roads, the higher the maintenance and eventual replacement costs will be. At some point, we're going to have to reinvest."

That will take money, and Sibson said there's plenty available.

"Our total government budget went from $3 billion to $4 billion since 2008. There's plenty of money there; it's just not going where it needs to go. It's a lack of priorities."


Mike Vehle

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