SPEARFISH — U.S. Senator Mike Rounds, R-SD, stopped by the Black Hills Pioneer Thursday afternoon to weigh in on issues facing the nation. Today we continue our discussion. The first installment of this story ran on Monday.
Pioneer: The Federal government owns quite a bit of land, especially in the Western United States. Do you feel that there are legitimate concerns that some groups, such as the extremist group up in Oregon right now, have with federal ownership or federal control of those lands?
Rounds: “I think the group that is up there right now is making a serious mistake with their approach. I think they have a valid concern, but the approach that they’re using is not going to be helpful. So by suggesting a violent confrontation, they hurt their cause, which, I believe could be a valid cause and that is that the federal government, I think, oversteps its bounds and actually controls more land than what it needs to control, and I think the same thing and even more in South Dakota. I think the attitude of the federal government that they should be taking on more land holdings, more leases is wrong and I’m going to go one step further. I disagree with the federal government coming in, trying to put permanent leases on land.”
Pioneer: Do you think South Dakota has too much federal land?
Rounds: “You mean, do I think they have too much federal land in South Dakota? I don’t know. I don’t know if having a national forest is having too much land, but if they were trying to expand it and compete with the private folks out there, then I’d have a little bit of a problem. I’d want to know what the purpose is for. If you’re creating a park, I think that’s for the public good. If you’re creating a wilderness area, now I’ve got a problem. Because a wilderness area says nobody can come in except us federal employees. I don’t like that. In some cases, we’ve got some beautiful pristine land that’s leased by farmers and ranchers. They protect it, they take care of it, they graze it. The federal government comes in, says, ‘gee this is pristine land, we don’t want you on here anymore. We’re going to cut you out of it, we’re going to create a wilderness area.’ In doing so, the federal government says we can take care of this better than you as a farmer can. That’s happening today. They’re going to have a real tough time getting me to agree to those because I don’t necessarily think that’s the right thing to do.”
Pioneer: We’ve been hearing so much in this country recently about all the folks from the Middle East, North Africa fleeing. Do you feel that opening our doors to them is a good solution.
Rounds: “Not unless we have the plans in place to vet them, to actually find out who they are, where they’re coming from. There are about 12 million displaced persons in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria right now. Right now we did about 2,100 over a period of a year. The president wanted to do about 10,000 immediately. We don’t have the resources to do it and in fact, when we expressed our concerns to him in a letter he assured us that, ‘don’t worry we’ve got the resources,’ but then, the FBI director came back in within a month and said we don’t have the resources to take care of the problem, so they have not discussed that within the administration themselves. The president went out, made a commitment and never talked to the people who would have to execute the plan. That’s not good government and that’s not the way an executive should handle making a commitment. You shouldn’t make promises you can’t keep and that’s exactly what the president went out and did.”
Rounds said a system needs to be in place to vet potential refugees. He added that the VISA waiver is a larger problem as it allows people from 38 other countries around the world entry access to the U.S. without a visa.
“The VISA Waiver program allows people from Syria and other parts of five other countries (with terrorist activity) to come in to their country.”
Pioneer: Is EB5 still a good, viable program for this country and the state?
Rounds: “It is a federal program that we used as a tool, but what I’ve learned, not only working as a governor, but also since I’ve been there, there are a number of safeguards that could’ve been built in to the EB5 system that could’ve made it a better program. I’ve touched base with Chairman Chuck Grassley, who is in charge of the judiciary committee, and told him that I would be willing to work with him on reforms if he would like me to. I think he would like to see reforms made to the EB5 because it does provide a tool for bringing needed capital into rural parts of our states”
Pioneer: Who would you like to see as the Republican candidate for president?
Rounds: “Mike Huckabee. I think Huckabee is still my guy. I think Mike would be a great president. I think he’s solid. I think he’s got the right temperament for it. He’s outside of Washington, yet, at the same time, he’s had experience as a governor. People know who he is. He’s been in the public eye long enough to know there aren’t skeletons there. Me, personally, I know him. And I think he makes the right decisions for the right reasons. So I’m still a Mike Huckabee fan.”
Rounds discussed what the Senate accomplished this year:
“Let’s take a look at what we were able to do this year. I said, ‘look, I’m not going there to do nothing. I’m going there to make a difference.’ But what’s happened this year with 12 new faces in the United States Senate? We passed a budget for two years, we passed an appropriations bill that gets through this year without shutting down government, we extended the debt ceiling to a date certain after the next president is in office. We did the first long-term highway bill since 2005. We had 35 separate short-term extensions. Now we’ve got a long-term five year plan that actually gives states and local units of government some continuity to know they’ve got the money to spend over a five year period. You can plan bridges. You can plan highways. First time since 2005. Next thing we did: Education. We dumped No Child Left Behind; we changed it. We wrote a bipartisan bill with 88 people voting that sends control of education back to states and local units of government. And you can’t use the test anymore to award money back to the states. Major change, first time in 25 years. So, suddenly we’re seeing things start to come together. We made some actual impressions this time. But in SD we can do that in a 40-day session. This took us all year. We had 200 votes on amendments on the floor of the Senate this year. Last year they had 15. We’re really trying hard to make a difference and get things done. And all I ask people is, look at the results. We’re actually getting to the point where we’re showing results. Piece by piece, but there’s so much to be fixed that it’s not going to happen in one year. But if we don’t get started, we’ll never get it done.”
Pioneer: Approval of Congress is dismal. Are you seeing it get better?
Rounds: “13 percent (approval). It’s terrible. … We can’t expect the people of this country to respect us unless we respect one another, and by that I mean let’s forget about making amendments in the middle of the night and slipping things into bills. Let’s make our process transparent. Let’s lay out our goals. Let’s live by a calendar just like anybody else would have to, and then let’s get this budget under control. Live the same way every state out there has got to live. Basically, that is you can’t just continue to spend above and beyond forever. You have to come to consensus if you don’t like the end result, was it better than the year before? Those are the questions you’ve got to ask. Once we start showing people that we actually do care about making a difference, we actually do care about making results and doing it transparently where people can see what we’ve done and they start to understand the process, then we can start to demand the respect that we get. But until then, we can’t. We have to earn it again.”
Pioneer: When you spoke as governor in Spearfish many years ago about the science lab I was so impressed with your vision and your forward thinking about that project, that it got me excited. One of the things you said was, ‘this isn’t for us. It’s not about you, or you, or you and you’ pointed through the room. ‘It’s for the next generations. It’s for our kids, because I would like to keep our kids here.’ You talking that day has stuck with me all these years and your enthusiasm and forward-thinking about the lab.
Rounds: “It’s happening. You hear folks complain about this Omnibus bill, The Omnibus bill was bad, but we got results. There’s $26 million in that Omnibus bill for that laboratory. $10.5 million goes into the LUX-ZEPLIN. The other money is being shared. There’s other money coming from Fermi Lab because the big, huge receptacles for the long baseline neutrino experiment (LBNF/DUNE), that’s being funded. We’re shooting energy streams under the earth from Chicago to 4,850 feet under the ground here. This is a long term project. Here’s the neat part. They need lots of kids involved with this stuff. You’re going to have kids that are going to learn about neutrinos … they’re going to learn about things like dark matter. They’re going to learn what neutrinos are and what the different flavors are, why it’s important and what it is about neutrinos that might play a part in discovering what 75 to 80 percent of what the entire universe is made of. This is basic stuff, but included in it is some really important stuff about different forms of energy. This is the place in the United States that they’re going to be doing those things. So it’s a direct line in to our kids actually competing with and being part of helping some of the greatest minds not just from American universities, but from universities throughout the world. This is our connection with Geneva. This is where the big super-collider’s at. They’re doing some stuff right now, but we’re doing the same stuff over here. We’re competing with them. I think we’ve got 400 people up there working full-time right now. It’s good stuff. Kids, would they ever know they could compete with anyone in the world if they didn’t have that chance? Our kids are sharp, but they have to have an opportunity. This is that gateway in. So, am I high on it? Yeah. We made bipartisan, multistate connections that they go past the party lines to fund it.”
Pioneer: What else?
Rounds: “The other part of this that is of interest, folks, is Ellsworth. We are working hard to make sure we’ve got every chance to protect it. It is very important long-term for U.S. Security. We did just get $23 million for a new dormitory because they needed that. The MQ-9 Reaper, which is being flown in and out of here, that is the drone and the B-1B, both of those have upgrades coming and more of them coming in terms of the MQ-9. The B-1Bs are being upgraded with equipment, all of which is found in the EEA and the authorizations are there.”
Pioneer: Should Ellsworth or the Air Guard facility in Sioux Falls be home to the F-35s?
Rounds: “The F-35s should be in Sioux Falls. The F-16s will be phased out. The F-35 is the replacement for the F-16. We’ve already suggested and we’ve already sent to the air force our inquiry as to please seriously consider — we are in support — local, state, and national — we are in support of having the F-35s in Sioux Falls. They are bigger. It has got the most advanced electronics of any fighter plane in the world. It has got some of the most advanced stealth capabilities of any fighter in the world.”
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