District 31 Representatives

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BLACK HILLS — Citizens head to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 3 to elect candidates for District 31 State Representative. The Black Hills Pioneer sent a candidate questionnaire to the individuals vying for two positions, which carries a two-year term. The candidates’ answers are published below as received. When necessary, answers were edited slightly for length.

Mary Fitzgerald

Name and what do you do for a living?

I am Mary Fitzgerald, and currently devoting my full time to this campaign.  I recently worked for Student Financial Services at BHSU.  Prior to that I was an accountant for a Spearfish-based corporation with 30 retail locations in three different states.  [I’m very familiar with what it takes to run a business-much of it deals with local, state and federal government regulations, licensing, taxes, and payroll.] I assist my husband, in providing some affordable housing for families in the Northern Black Hills and also raise livestock.  I’m an active member of the Lawrence County Republican Party, and its current Chair.

What motivated you to run for this office?

Lawrence County, District 31 is one of the nicest areas of South Dakota and I have called Spearfish home most of my life; I was blessed to raise my children here. If elected, you can count on me to preserve AND advance the freedoms, safety, and quality of life we all value. District 31 needs better paying jobs. South Dakotans have a great work ethic and we DON’T pay corporate taxes. That’s key for recruiting new businesses with well-paid positions!  I’ll work tirelessly with others in Pierre to grow our local economy.

Why do you think you are qualified for this position?

I grew-up on a farm and developed a positive work ethic early, and understand our South Dakota values. I’m a BHSU grad with a BS in Accounting and Business Administration, so balancing state budgets won’t be a stretch. I’ve learned how to work with others and develop relationships, both needed for success in Pierre. I amO a good listener and my business experience has taught me how to prioritize issues. I have zero ties to special interests, I have no political agenda, nor any financial interest to promote. I have the grit and determination to complete what I start.

With regards to leadership, what other elected public or nonprofit offices have you held?

I have twice been elected Chair of the Lawrence County Republican Party.  In addition, I have been elected four (4) times as a Precinct Committeewoman to the State Republican Convention.  I have also served on the Rules Committee at the South Dakota State Republican Convention. And, in my past, I was elected President of a local youth softball association (when my daughters played softball).  

How many local governmental meetings have you attended within the last year and during your candidacy?

I am an avid reader of all City Council and County Commission meeting minutes. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, some of those meetings have been held online, which has given us all the opportunity to watch “government in action.”  The last time I was in Pierre to observe the State Legislature in session was January of 2020.  I have also listened online to a great deal of legislative committee testimony regarding pending bills. On October 5th, I listened to the special legislative session.

Do you subscribe to your community’s legal newspaper?

Yes, I have an online subscription to the Black Hills Pioneer. It’s important to support our local newspaper and local businesses because it helps to both understand community needs and forward our local economy

What are the most important issues that need to be addressed in your district?

I believe District 31’s most pressing issues are creating better-paying jobs, responsible growth and development, and affordable housing.  We must support and strengthen our small businesses and the affect they have on our economy and our local community. Corporate food processors must operate fairly and not take advantage of our ranchers.  I am in favor of MCOOL (mandatory country-of-origin labeling) and more transparency in the livestock markets.  Education is important to me and this includes K-12 and secondary education as well.  I am the only candidate running for the state house who is a graduate of BHSU, and I have an interest in its future.  With the increase in people moving to South Dakota, we need to take active steps to make sure that our district remains the beautiful, desirable place to live and raise a family.

How do you intend to solve these issues?

The fact that we do not have a corporate income tax should be an incentive for companies to come to South Dakota and I think Governor Noem has been doing her best to make this happen.  More employment choices will solve a lot of our need.  Companies that offer good benefits including health insurance and retirement would be ideal.  As a legislator you must be able to listen, negotiate and work with people.  Good things happen when people agree to work together to solve problems. This can be done by listening to your constituents and working with government officials at all levels in our state, including our Governor.

What do you believe is working for your district and how will you retain that progression?

I think the residents and families of Lawrence County are what’s working. The people and families in our area are doing a great job of creating and maintaining businesses, serving in them as employees, working our lands as ranchers and farmers, and working together to build a community that has remained strong throughout our history. This is the time to encourage and expand innovation, entrepreneurial freedom, new business and job formation and to discourage government over-regulation, overreach, and higher taxation.

What is the single most important stance you want to take if elected to the legislature?

Limiting the growth of government and eliminating unnecessary regulation.  I will go to Pierre and make myself accessible to my constituents and always listen to the people of Lawrence County regardless of political party affiliation.  I am committed to working with my fellow legislators and other government officials.  I will listen, research, and gather the facts before making any decision for our district.

What do you hope to accomplish if elected?

South Dakota has a duty to provide equal opportunities to all.  The opportunity to succeed exists by fostering common sense government that does not over regulate, over tax, and over-reach its constitutional boundaries.  I will work to provide all Lawrence County residents with the same opportunities and freedoms my family has been blessed with.  

What else do you want people to know about you?

I strongly support Article II of our State Constitution establishing the three separate branches of government that act as checks and balances on each other. I’ll defend Article VI of our Bill of Rights, the Freedom of Religion, and the Right-to-Bear Arms. I know that “family” is our most important institution; it’s where most learning takes place. Education is vitally important to me; all three of our children graduated from BHSU and USD School of Law. I pledge to protect the lives of the unborn. I understand that power comes from the people… and exists for their protection and benefit.

How should the state prioritize its budget given the strong likelihood that revenue will likely be lower in the coming year than in years’ past?

We will all have to tighten our belts and look for ways to reduce our budget while causing the least amount of harm to our citizens. Obviously, if tax revenues are down, cuts will need to be made. As with any budget, there are “gotta-haves” and “nice-to-haves.” Everything will need to be scrutinized for both necessity and usefulness. Governor Noem has scheduled a special session with the state legislature to determine how the COVID-19 aid funds should be spent.

Newspapers publish legal notices and meeting minutes for local governments and do so as an independent third-party while maintaining a permanent record for these. Do you support this preferred method of informing local taxpayers? Why or why not?

I cannot think of a better method at this point than printing the information in local newspapers.  I am aware the information is posted on the government websites, but not everyone has access to the internet or are computer literate.  Local newspapers at this time are accessible to everyone.

Gov. Kristi Noem did not mandate quarantines, mask wearing, and other measures that most other states implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, she promoted large gatherings such as the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, fairs, rodeos, and Fourth of July celebrations. Do you support the way she has handled the pandemic? Why or why not?

We can all comment or criticize an elected official for decisions they have made.  What’s unique is that we have never experienced a pandemic like this in our lifetime…and there are no set rules to aid elected officials.  To quote Teddy Roosevelt “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

South Dakota has made strides in requiring more transparency in government. But, there is always more that could be done. What would you like to see become more transparent in state government?

Accessibility always accommodates transparency.  If elected I would agree to zoom meetings, or cracker barrel type meetings with constituents to keep them informed on what is happening in Pierre and how it would affect our district.   

Two ballot measures before the public this year are the legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana. Do you support either ballot measure? Why or why not?

I do not support either. In regard to Initiated Measure 26- South Dakota already has a legal medicinal marijuana, it is called Marinol.  Like other controlled substances Marinol requires a licensed physician and pharmacist to prescribe and dispense the drug.  

Amendment A legalizes marijuana. Marijuana is a gateway drug to other substances.  It sends the wrong message to our children and we must remain vigilant in protecting our children from drugs.

A ballot measure changing the state constitution in South Dakota to allow for sports betting in Deadwood is up to the voters this year. Do you support this constitutional amendment? Why or why not?

There is only one Deadwood in South Dakota, and it remains a highly popular tourist destination.  Since 1989, Deadwood gaming has contributed over 2.2 billion dollars in gaming revenue, and $336 million in tax revenue. Gaming has provided money to historic preservation, our tourism budget, local schools and government, and the SD general fund.  Deadwood gaming is a significant employer in the Northern Black Hills and is a major contributor to our local economy.  I am in favor of the Amendment B and agree to allow the legislators to limit or allow what sports are included in the Amendment.

Scott Odenbach

Name and what you do for a living?

Scott Odenbach. Attorney at Odenbach Law Office and owner/managing broker of Liberty Tree Properties.  

What motivated you to run for this office?

I have always respected those who step out into public service. It is one thing to question the actions of leaders from the outside, much tougher to be in the fight making the decisions. I believe “all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Just watch the news and you can see it happening right before our eyes. I think we have something special in Lawrence County and in South Dakota and I want to use the gifts, talents and intellect God gave me to help keep it that way.

Why do you think you are qualified for this position?

As a small business owner I have had to sign both sides of the check and work hard to make it happen every day. I have spent my adult life involved with political issues, and as an attorney and real estate broker. I am friends with many of our political leaders around the state. I enjoy collaborating with other people and believe I could be an effective advocate for the unique issues facing District 31. As an attorney I will look at proposed legislation both to see if it would work, and whether or not we need any new laws at all. Sometimes the best thing a lawmaker can do is not pass more laws and regulations but instead look for ways to simplify the legal code.

With regards to leadership, what other elected public or nonprofit offices have you held?

I am the vice president of the Spearfish School Board. I am also a board member of the Spearfish Community Foundation as well as serving on the board of a new organization called Phoenix Rising Education Program (“PREP”) designed to provide assistance through scholarships to those saved from child exploitation/trafficking and to raise public awareness of the issue.

How many local governmental meetings have you attended within the last year and during your candidacy?

Every school board meeting - unless I was attending a funeral or camping with my son Jack in Wyoming. Sometimes family has to take priority.

Do you subscribe to your community’s legal newspaper?

Yes.

What are the most important issues that need to be addressed in your district?

Dealing with the economic impacts and threats to freedom arising out of Covid-19.

Promoting strong families which has the indirect benefits of lowered crime and cost savings to our cities and counties on law enforcement, social services and mental health counseling.

Balancing the need for economic development with the recognition that our way of life here is special and money is not the only metric by which to judge quality of life.

Education, including: Reforms to funding formulas that incentivize saving money rather than spending the entire budget so you can request the same or more next year, and reforming curriculum to ensure we teach young people to love America and appreciate our shared history.

How do you intend to solve these issues?

I would be one of 105 legislators. You have to collaborate with others, build coalitions and have credibility in order to be effective. You have to be nice to people. You have to be able to back up your arguments with facts and good research.  

What do you believe is working for your district and how will you retain that progression?

We have beautiful communities and great educational institutions in Lawrence County and we need to be proactive to keep it that way. In general I am interested in ensuring that as our state brings in new people, companies and economic opportunities, the Black Hills area and our district are at the top of the list to benefit from them and grow new businesses. With that said, there is only one “Black Hills” on Planet Earth. We need to treat it accordingly. Enjoy, utilize, but always protect.  

What else do you want people to know about you?

My two boys and I have been working to keep Lawrence County clean since before it was cool. We’ve been doing “Clean up Higgins Gulch” and surrounding areas at the beginning of May for over 10 years now, and have hauled a ton of trash out of the ditches. I’ve tried to teach my children that if you love something, or somewhere, take care of it! I am a strong believer in conservation and would work to promote those values if serving in the legislature.

How should the state prioritize its budget given the strong likelihood that revenue will likely be lower in the coming year than in years’ past?

Keep our infrastructure in good repair so commerce can continue. Maintain essential services for the truly needy. Fund our educational institutions at sustainable levels. “Keep the lights on” so that as things turn around we’ve maintained functioning institutions to help people get back to work. Getting a better idea of what are truly “essential” government services may provide lessons that can be used in the future as lawmakers review spending requests. Thanks to the leadership of Governor Noem, former Gov. Daugaard, our legislature, and the hard work of our people, South Dakota is doing much better than almost anywhere else.

Newspapers publish legal notices and meeting minutes for local governments and do so as an independent third-party while maintaining a permanent record for these. Do you support this preferred method of informing local taxpayers? Why or why not?

Yes I support it, so long as they stay truly “independent.” We can also use technology to publish and save meeting minutes on applicable government websites with data saved in on-line or cloud-based storage formats more easily accessible to all people, searchable, and available in the future.

Gov. Kristi Noem did not mandate quarantines, mask wearing, and other measures that most other states implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, she promoted large gatherings such as the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, fairs, rodeos, and Fourth of July celebrations. Do you support the way she has handled the pandemic? Why or why not?

Yes. Our governor was right. We’ve done better than other states when factoring in all aspects of a healthy life, including the mental/emotional needs of people and the ability for the vast majority of citizens to maintain their way of life and their jobs and/or businesses. I’m thankful I live in a state with a governor who believes that when in doubt, you choose freedom.

South Dakota has made strides in requiring more transparency in government. But, there is always that could be done. What would you like to see become more transparent in state government?

The “economic development” process, whereby state government agencies and bureaucrats get involved in picking winners and losers from private companies that want to do business here, using our tax money to do it. This is always ripe for abuse and needs to be closely watched. In general I favor a more hands-off, free-market approach to business development that limits government to its essential functions.

Two ballot measures before the public this year are the legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana. Do you support either ballot measure? Why or why not?

No on recreational marijuana. For truly sick people working with a legitimate medical provider, I would be more inclined to support medical marijuana, but as it says on the ballot explanation, there are 95 other provisions within the measure that are full of unknowns. That’s a problem. I fear it could be abused and lead to a slippery slope of widespread recreational marijuana use, and I don’t see the need for us in South Dakota to become more like Oregon, California or Colorado. You’re not free if you’re addicted to drugs.

A ballot measure changing the state constitution in South Dakota to allow for sports betting in Deadwood is up to the voters this year. Do you support this constitutional amendment? Why or why not?

I’m in favor of the current gambling limits in Deadwood, which have grown and come a long way from when gambling was first legalized in 1989. I support Deadwood as a vacation destination for people to come “stay and play” and then go home with good memories. I think success for both casinos and the people enjoying them comes with finding the balance between “family friendly” vs. gambling addiction. The evidence shows sports betting is happening widely anyway, so I would support allowing it to be done legally, in a well-regulated manner, in Deadwood.

Brooke Abdallah

Name and what do you do for a living?

Brooke Abdallah — Realtor in Spearfish, South Dakota

What motivated you to run for this office?

I am running because I want to be a conduit for the solutions South Dakotans are looking for out of their government — and because I believe I have both the temperament and experience to be an effective legislator. I am a person that can work with anyone to find an amicable resolution. I don’t care what party you’re registered with or what side of the issue you stand on. There’s always a way to find a common ground in terms of the issues. Let’s sit down and find it. There is much more that unites us as South Dakotans and Americans than anything that could ever divide us, and I think people tend to forget that.

Why do you think you are qualified for this position?

Our legislature has always been intended to be a citizen legislature, where regular folks come to Pierre to serve the people and then go back home to their communities. I have lived and worked in South Dakota my entire life — building my life, friends, career, family and home here. By virtue of the Constitution, this in itself makes me just as qualified as anyone else running. Beyond that, though, I have worked in Pierre in the Senate during the past two legislative sessions and have become acutely familiar with the legislative process from start to finish, as well as many of the informal quirks of the process that only experience can teach.

With regards to leadership, what other elected public or nonprofit offices have you held?

I founded a non-partisan PAC with over 3,500 members of all political parties whose primary focus is on strengthening civic engagement across South Dakota. I started a South Dakota chapter of RESULTS, which is a non-profit organization focused on advocating for and strengthening anti-poverty policies for low-income Americans, and I have lobbied lawmakers in Washington DC on behalf of these policies.

How many local governmental meetings have you attended within the last year and during your candidacy?

Several.

Do you subscribe to your community’s legal newspaper?

Yes.

What are the most important issues that need to be addressed in your district?

Strengthening small businesses and education, addressing the need for healthcare, and bolstering our state’s economic power. When we strengthen our county’s hospitality industry with small business tax relief we expand the industry locally and provide more reliable jobs. When it comes to healthcare, our community needs more coverage to stabilize the system for Lawrence County’s biggest industry.

How do you intend to solve these issues?

Healthcare and education industries are two huge sources of employment in Lawrence County. We need to ensure every person has access to affordable healthcare as well as quality education, improving the lives of our residents - and the local economy will follow along. We need to expand Medicaid and eliminate the coverage gap. This is a move that not only saves the state millions of dollars in uncompensated care every year, it also stabilizes the systems many of our residents work in.

What do you believe is working for your district and how will you retain that progression?

Our hospitality industry is the crown jewel of our economy. It’s the second largest industry by number of employees and brings in the most revenue. Customers of hospitality spend money everywhere in the district and at every type of business. As I mentioned before, we need property tax relief for our local businesses and to continue prioritizing our area as a travel destination.

What is the single most important stance you want to take if elected to the legislature?

Schools. Healthcare.

What do you hope to accomplish if elected?

I hope to help our schools receive adequate funding, and work to fill the gap in healthcare coverage so that more South Dakotans have access to the healthcare and mental healthcare they deserve. Most of all, I want to provide a common sense voice for my constituents and for the state. We all live here, we all work here, we all want to raise our families here. We’re all neighbors - yet when it comes to politics, basic decency to one another seems to devolve quickly. I want to be part of changing that and I will demonstrate every day that our collective goal of a better, stronger state should be at the forefront of our actions - both in Pierre and in the way in which we treat one another.

What else do you want people to know about you?

No one person has all the right answers to every problem - I surely don’t. But I am a listener and a hard worker. If I don’t know the answer to something, I’ll find it. Most importantly, I am not one who gets tied up in partisanship - I don’t believe in it and that is not a behavior you will see from me. Good ideas aren’t exclusive to any one person or party and I’m willing to put in the time and effort to pass meaningful policy for our state. I am fully committed to consulting with and going to bat for the people of Lawrence County, making it a priority to communicate directly with the stakeholders who are at the core of any given issue in order to make sure that our district’s best interests are being protected.

How should the state prioritize its budget given the strong likelihood that revenue will likely be lower in the coming year than in years’ past?

Funding for teacher pay and schools, economic development and small business relief, and absolutely prioritizing expanding access to healthcare. There will be many people left uninsured due to job loss and hospitals will have enormous uncompensated care bills, with some folks not even able to afford copays for treatment even if they’ve been able to maintain their coverage. Additionally, many students are and probably will continue to struggle for access to education in a safe environment. The effects of the pandemic are far reaching and we are in this for the long haul. Bottom line: schools and healthcare should be top priorities.

Newspapers publish legal notices and meeting minutes for local governments and do so as an independent third-party while maintaining a permanent record for these. Do you support this preferred method of informing local taxpayers? Why or why not?

I absolutely support this. I think an unbiased, independent news source is essential to facilitating transparency and accountability between government and its citizens, while also helping taxpayers cut through partisanship and get right to an easily digestible breakdown of the facts.

Gov. Kristi Noem did not mandate quarantines, mask wearing, and other measures that most other states implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, she promoted large gatherings such as the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, fairs, rodeos, and Fourth of July celebrations. Do you support the way she has handled the pandemic? Why or why not?

While I respect Governor Noem’s right to make the decisions that she has, I don’t necessarily agree with all of them. While I understand that it may be difficult to juggle a balance between maintaining economic growth while also protecting the health and wellbeing of our citizens, at the end of the day, without a healthy and thriving citizenry, there is no economy. Businesses have suffered just the same even without a lockdown mandate in place as employees and patrons alike get sick or have to go into quarantine due to exposure, so the best way to return to normalcy is to do whatever we can to lower the transmission and stop the spread - social distancing, wearing a mask when around others, and not attending large gatherings.

South Dakota has made strides in requiring more transparency in government. But, there is always that could be done. What would you like to see become more transparent in state government?

More transparency is needed in almost every aspect of state government. Accurate accounting of expenditures. A recent example of this is the special session held on Oct. 5 for the legislature to put forth recommendations for how the CARES act dollars received from the federal government should be spent. The legislature put forth recommendations to allocate these funds to things like rapid testing for COVID and contact tracing, among other things. Most of these recommendations did not pass, and as a result the Governor has the sole authority to spend this money without the oversight of the legislature and by extension, the citizens represented by the legislature. There should also be an accurate account of advertising expenses and government travel, including use of the state plane.

Two ballot measures before the public this year are the legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana. Do you support either ballot measure? Why or why not?

I support legalization. These initiatives would bring revenue to the state, diversify our agriculture economy, and relinquish some responsibilities from our hard working law enforcement officers, and from the taxpayer burden associated with incarcerating non-violent offenders who are in prison for marijuana related charges when they could be filling job vacancies, raising their families, and contributing to our economy.

A ballot measure changing the state constitution in South Dakota to allow for sports betting in Deadwood is up to the voters this year. Do you support this constitutional amendment? Why or why not?

I do support this. The importance of Deadwood maintaining a level playing field with surrounding jurisdictions in terms of the gaming industry cannot be understated. Allowing South Dakotans the option of legally wagering on sporting events not only increases revenue in Deadwood, but keeps that revenue in South Dakota as opposed to out of state entities and online wagering.

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