District 31 candidates discuss issues facing Lawrence County

From left, Scott Odenbach, Mary Fitzgerald, and Brooke Abdallah are the three candidates running for the two open seats in the South Dakota House of Representatives. Pioneer photo by Alex Portal

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SPEARFISH — With two seats coming open in the District 31 House of Representatives, the three candidates running for the positions met at the High Plains Western Heritage Center in Spearfish Thursday for an hour-long forum to answer questions posed by community members.

 “I think that my interest in running for public office started in my childhood,” Brooke Abdallah said. “For several years I’ve chaired the Lawrence County Democrats, I have served on the executive board of the state party. I’ve been elected as a delegate to the state and national convention. I’ve worked on several different campaigns state wide and local. I spent some time in Washington D.C. lobbying law-makers on behalf of anti-poverty policies and affordable housing for South Dakotans, and the past couple of years I’ve worked in Pierre in legislature, and so I’m very familiar with the whole process from start to finish.”

“I’m a fifth-generation South Dakotan, I grew up on a farm in Vermillion, S.D.,” Mary Fitzgerald said. “I am a former and current chairman of the Lawrence County Republican Party, and I have devoted much of my life to electing Republicans to office and if I am fortunate enough to win the election on November 3 I will represent everyone in the county, I don’t car if you are a republican or a democrat or have never voted, it will be my duty at that time to serve our district.”

“I come from a long line, I would say, of Republicans and patriotic Americans who lived the value of hard work,” Scott Odenbach said. “I’ve got a lot of friends around the state, a lot of experience in politics, a lot of legislators I know, and I know I can hit the ground running and do a good job building coalitions for our district and hopefully get a lot of things done for the people here.”

All three candidates agreed on many of the issues posed during the forum. Each candidate expressed the importance of being accessible to the local governing bodies and constituents throughout the county in order to stay up to date with the individual needs of each area; each candidate advocated for increased funding for education throughout the county; they were each against forcing business closures and raising taxes to offset lost revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic; allowing sports wagering in Deadwood; and maintaining the logging industry in the Black Hills. Some area’s where the candidates differed included expanding Medicaid throughout the state.

“In a perfect world, that would be great to do,” Fitzgerald said. “I just don’t know, at this time, where we would get the money and I really couldn’t discuss any more about it because my knowledge is limited on what it would actually cost us.”

“No I would not be in support of expanding Medicaid,” Odenbach added. “I don’t think that more government involvement in healthcare is the answer. … We’re such a donor state as far as federal funds, in South Dakota, and when you start having a situation where our federal government is approaching $25 or $30 trillion in debt there may come a day where they say, ‘there’s no more quote unquote free money.’”

“I am in favor of expanding Medicaid if it were something that we were able to find our part in the budget,” Abdallah contradicted. “To me it’s a little bit of a no-brainer. There are tons of uncompensated care by individuals that go to the hospital or go to the doctor that are then picked up by the county and the state, and therefore the taxpayers.”

Two ballot measures regarding marijuana are on the Nov. 3 ballot – Initiated Measure 26 and Constitutional Amendment A.

“I don’t support the legalization of recreational marijuana,” Odenbach said. “As far as medical marijuana … (if) that’s something that they truly need, I’d be more in favor of something from a medical standpoint.”

However Odenbach went on to state that due to the additional provisions associated with IM 26, he would not be inclined to vote for this particular item.

“I would say I’m a no vote on that as well just because, again, I don’t know where it’s going to take us and I don’t want us to be more like those other states with this.”

“The recreational option, it’s neither here nor there to me. I know that it would quell some of the revenue problems that we have in this state and additionally give some diversity to agriculture sector, but that’s for the voters to decide,” Abdallah countered. “As far as medical goes-absolutely in favor of that, and I don’t know why you would not be.”

Abdallah pointed out that although there is a marijuana substitute currently available for prescription called marinol, a synthetic drug might not be the best solution.

“That is a synthetic pharmaceutical drug, which I think is an important distinction to make in the middle of the nation-wide addiction problem that we have to pharmaceutical drugs.”

Fitzgerald was more direct in her response.

“It’s a big ‘no’ on both of those,” she said. “As far as the Initiative 26, we do have the marinol, which is available to people.”

Fitzgerald’s hardline approach to the legalizing of marijuana came, she said, as a result of the South Dakota Medical Association being opposed to it.

“If the doctors of South Dakota are saying it’s a bad idea I would have to agree with them. … And it’s a terrible message to our kids. We want our kids to stay out of drugs and if you’re legalizing it how in the world can you ever convince your children that drugs are bad.”

In person voting will take place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Spearfish Senior Center for city residents and the Spearfish City Park Pavilion for county residents. To read how candidates responded to questions from the Pioneer, read Wednesday’s Black Hills Pioneer.

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