U.S. Senate candidates

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Citizens head to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 3 to elect a candidate for the U.S. Senate. The Black Hills Pioneer sent a candidate questionnaire to the individuals vying for one position, which carries a two-year term. The candidates’ answers are published below as received. When necessary, answers were edited slightly for length.

Dan Ahlers

Name and what you do for a living?

Dan Ahlers- I am a small business owner from Dell Rapids, SD.

What motivated you to run for office?

I enjoy public service. For 20 years, I have been involved as a community volunteer and leader. Whether it has been with our before and after school program, community fund or chamber of commerce, I think it is important to give back to my community. As a state legislator, I had the opportunity to serve a much larger constituency. It provided me an opportunity to help people with education and healthcare concerns. It was a privilege to help improve state government, so that it works better for the people.

Washington is full of individuals who have lost touch with the people they serve. The partisan fighting has led to government shutdowns, trade wars and the inability to effectively navigate a pandemic that has impacted our economy and healthcare system. I have a record of crossing partly lines and getting things done.

Why do you think you are qualified for this position?

My experience as a small business owner, community organizer and state legislator gives me the range of experience needed to face and address our country’s current challenges.  As a small business owner and chamber president, I understand the economic impact Covid has had on our economy. I worked directly with our city, businesses and other volunteer organizations to develop a plan that created opportunities for our businesses in order to connect with their customers and allocate resources to members of our community in need. I worked to provide businesses with the information needed to access PPP and other financial resources.

As a state legislator and member of the Appropriations Committee, I have knowledge on how our state government works and its relationship to federal programs.

How many local government meetings have you attended in the last year and during your candidacy?

Because I am actively involved in our chamber of commerce, I regularly attend local city council meetings. During my campaign, I have met with other chamber and economic development groups. I have made visits to utility co-ops, visited with board members of agricultural organizations, and met with mayors and city council members from several communities. I will be meeting with some members of tribal government next week.

What newspapers do you subscribe to?

Through the chamber, I have subscriptions to both of our local newspapers. I also have an online subscription to the Argus Leader. As I travel the state, I pick up copies of local newspapers. I enjoy learning more about the places I visit.

What are the most important issues that need to be addressed in South Dakota?

As I visit with people across the state, the three biggest issues have been concerns over the economy, access to affordable healthcare and a quality education for South Dakota children. For college students, it has been social justice, climate change and student debt. On our reservations, it is economic development, access to healthcare and honoring native treaties.

How do you intend to solve these issues?

It starts with building relationships across the aisle. Our current representation is more interested in placing blame than getting work done. My record in Pierre is in stark contrast to that of my opponent. I regularly crossed party lines and got work done for the people of South Dakota. We were able to make key investments in our economy, education and improve access to healthcare.

As a small business owner and chamber president, I understand the impact of policy at the ground level. My understanding of policy impact and experience as a lawmaker is important to passing good policy. It will be vital in passing a new stimulus package that succeeds where the first package failed. We need to invest in our infrastructure, economy and make sure stimulus gets to the people that need it most.

What is working for South Dakota and how will you retain that progression?

In South Dakota, we respect local control. Although our local governments would have liked a little more guidance from state government during this Covid pandemic, city governments collaborated and worked together towards a common goal. As a state legislator, I consulted my local government (city, county and school boards) for input on legislation at the state level. I would continue that open communication in Washington. This relationship ensures that work we do in Washington respects the role of our local governments.

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

My commitment will be to getting the economy safely back on track and ensuring our healthcare system has the resources it needs to meet the challenges of the Covid pandemic.

What do you hope to accomplish if elected?

I want to improve our economy, access to affordable healthcare and improve our relationship with native tribes.  Most importantly, I want to restore people’s faith in their government. I want the people of South Dakota to know they have someone in Congress that will listen and represent them.

What else do you want people to know about you?

I am married. My wife, Amy, and I have two sons Jackson (13) and Aaron (9). I enjoy being involved in our kids schooling and activities. I’ve helped coach baseball and basketball. For the past three years, I have helped our school district by substitute teaching. The kids are great and it’s fun to have my kids in class too.

I really enjoyed being a small business owner in my community for 20 years. The Dell Rapids community has been good to me. I enjoy volunteering. During the past 20 years, I have been on the board of our before and after school program, the Dell Rapid Community Fund and currently serve as the Dell Rapids Chamber President. It is important to give back.

Do you support newspapers being an independent third-party source to publish legal notices for local governments in print and online?

It is important for people to have access to have an independent source for legal notices and minutes. Preferably, these notices should remain in print. It is too easy for online sources to have material deleted or changed.  

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?

I appreciate the fact that Governor Noem allowed for more local control. However, she should have provided more guidance at the state level. In the absence of her leadership, our local governments and businesses did a good job coordinating and collaborating to put policy and safeguards in place. When the Governor abandoned all guidelines, it undermined many of the policies adopted by our local governments.

As a business owner and a chamber president, I understand the frustration and what is at stake. But if we can use common sense safeguards and receive support at the federal, state and local level, we can keep our economy strong and people safe.

New rounds of economic stimulus have been proposed by both Republican and Democratic parties, yet an agreement cannot be reached. What does Congress need to do to meet in the middle?

The inability of our elected representation to get along and work together is why it is time to send new leaders to Washington.  Our current elected officials are more interested in party politics and staying in power. If we want to pass new rounds of economic stimulus as well as address other issues in Washington, then we need people who know how to work across party lines. My record as a state legislator shows I have the ability to work with my Republican colleagues and get things done.

Do you agree with the way President Donald Trump has handled the COVID-19 pandemic? What specifically?

By in large, President Trump has handled the Covid pandemic poorly. He didn’t take the threat seriously and blamed China. When it arrived in the U.S., he reacted slowly. If he had implemented social distancing and other CDC recommendations, even a week sooner, tens of thousands of lives could have been saved. If he had initially applied these guidelines to school and businesses sooner, even more lives could have been saved. The administration should have been working with healthcare providers sooner to ensure there were an adequate number of tests and access to a sufficient supply of PPE.

In 2016, Senate Republicans said that the next president should nominate the replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia. This was 237 before the election. Now, 38 days before the election the president has nominated a justice to fill the vacancy following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Should the Senate take up the nomination? Why or why not?

If you apply the precedent Senate Republicans set in 2016, then no, they should wait until after the election. Unfortunately, this is more about a political agenda then about filling this vacant seat with a qualified judge. The Supreme Court is falling victim to a politicization of the process and both parties are guilty. This appointment is about the possible outcome of this election and upcoming cases like the Affordable Care Act.

The Supreme Court is part of the balance of power with a role of ensuring equality under the law and protecting individual rights.  The group think mentality of this administration’s court appointees puts individual rights and access to healthcare at risk for millions of Americans.  

Did the GOP-controlled Senate fail to perform its Constitutional duties in 2016 when it declined to take up the nomination of Merrick Garland?

I don’t think the Senate failed to perform its Constitutional duties. There is no rule that sets a time table for when the Senate must schedule the judiciary hearing for a Supreme Court nomination. The Senate did set a precedent in 2016. Now that this precedent doesn’t suit their agenda, they have changed their minds. I think the next Senate should consider a rule for setting a timeline for court nominations.

It seems as if a divide is being created over various issues among neighbors. What do we as citizens need to do to come back together as Americans?

We start by electing leaders that will unite us, not divide us. Current leadership spends more time blaming one another then getting work done. As citizens, we need to be willing listen to one another. We don’t have to agree on every issue, but we should be able to sit down and have a conversation.

Should Congressional term limits be instituted? Why or why not?

I have not been a fan of term limits. That is why we vote. Term limits can impact the balance of power between the branches of government. It has the potential to give bureaucracy and lobbyists more influence and power. We see leadership that has remained in office for decades and the desire to keep that power has led to the dysfunctional Washington that we see today.

Should the Electoral College be abolished? Why or why not?

No, I think we need to keep the Electoral College. Eliminating the Electoral College could potentially make the voters in the middle of this country irrelevant. Many voters already feel their votes don’t count. I would propose we modify the Electoral College so that the electoral votes are awarded based on the percentage of the vote received in each state instead of a winner takes all system.

What is your top suggestion to South Dakotans when communicating with U.S. legislators?

Please stay involved in the process. It is important to make calls, send letters and emails. As a state legislator, I have always appreciated the input from constituents. If your legislator isn’t listening, then it’s time to send him/her home.

Mike Rounds

Name and what do you do for a living?

Mike Rounds

In the private sector, I was a partner in Fischer, Rounds and Associates, an insurance and real estate firm with offices located in Pierre, Mitchell, Watertown, Sioux Falls and Rapid City. I served eight years as South Dakota’s governor (2003-2011) and prior to that, ten years in the state legislature (1990-2000), six of those as majority leader. In 2014, I was elected to the United States Senate.

 

What motivated you to run for this office?

 Washington, D.C. is dysfunctional. Like many South Dakotans, federal government overreach frustrates me. Obamacare, uncontrolled spending, liberal policies penalizing local government and small businesses and the erosion of our Constitutional rights and freedoms motivated me to serve.

I have that same passion today. Our quality of life in South Dakota is second to none. Whether in our family or in our business, at our school or our state legislature, we work hard to make this state better for the next generation. Using South Dakota common sense, I’ll continue to work with grit and determination to make this nation better.

 

Why do you think you are qualified for this position?

In 2014, I promised to use South Dakota common sense and deliver results. As a senator, I’ve passed 35 pieces of legislation into law. These proposals help every day South Dakotans.

We’ve lowered taxes, secured the first two B21 bomber squadrons at Ellsworth Air Force Base, reduced hundreds of burdensome federal regulations, improved small town lending, pushed for market relief for our cattle producers – including Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling and price transparency, confirmed over 200 conservative federal judges and two Supreme Court justices. We’ve also rebuilt our military after years of neglect and improved quality of care for our veterans.

 

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

We have so many meetings, it’s hard to give an exact estimate. On an average day I meet with up to 15 different groups. These groups are typically membership organizations made up of South Dakota citizens representing a particular interest, such as small businesses, city and county leaders, school boards and philanthropic advocates. The pandemic has obviously slowed the pace, but we are trying to keep up through virtual meetings and phone calls.

Additionally, my team and I pride ourselves on constituent service. To date, we’ve responded to more than 175,000 requests from citizens who needed help with a federal agency or simply needed an advocate. We have representatives in every county minimally four times a year. Our staff attends community meetings for me when I am in Washington, D.C.

 

What newspapers do you subscribe to?

Our office gets every daily and weekly newspaper in South Dakota. I read clips from all of them.

 

What are the most important issues that need to be addressed in South Dakota?

Jobs, economy, the budget deficit, national security and fixing a broken federal system. Additionally, and in the short term, we need to continue to address the COVID-19 pandemic in a way that helps us keep our kids in school and get people back to work in a safe manner.

 

How do you intend to solve these issues?

My focus has been on delivering results for South Dakota. I’ll continue the same common sense approach in my second term. We’ll jump start the economy with targeted business and family friendly economic relief. There is a major focus and significant resources being put into research, development and rapid deployment of COVID-19 vaccine(s). A cure is right around the corner, we just need to stay safe over the next few months.

We’ll continue to strengthen our national defense and guarantee that our men and women in uniform are properly outfitted and that our defense systems are second to none. Securing and finalizing Ellsworth as the site for the first two B21 bomber squadrons plays an important role for our security.

 

What do you believe is working for South Dakota and how will you retain that progression?

Overall President Trump’s policies have been good for South Dakota. And, along with the Republican Senate’s support for those policies, South Dakota has benefitted. Our focus has been on jobs and the economy, reducing burdensome regulations and empowering the American people to have more control over their own lives.

Some may be surprised by this, but there are several efforts underway – both economic and defense related – that have broad bi-partisan support. If you’re going to get anything accomplished in the Senate you have to have relationships with people on the other side of the aisle. The national political scene is rough right now, but there are a few Democrats, particularly those from rural states, that we’ve worked with to get things accomplished for our country. The ability to work across party lines, will remain an important aspect of working in the Senate.

 

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

Other than committing our troops to combat, one of the most consequential votes we make is on a Supreme Court Justice nominee. The Supreme Court has a real impact on every one of us. Cases ranging from the Second Amendment, the environment, healthcare and the sanctity of human life – they’ll all be heard.

In 2014, I told the people of South Dakota that I would give each judicial nominee a fair hearing and that I’d do my due diligence. I also promised I would support conservative nominees – those who do not re-interpret the Constitution to fit their ideology.

I will support the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. I’m certain that I’m the only senate candidate that’ll make that commitment.

 

What do you hope to accomplish if elected?

I hope to support improvements for the cattle market, make systemic changes to our spending process and make improvements in health care delivery, accessibility and affordability.

In the cattle industry, we need to restore Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling for beef, increase price transparency, outlaw the ability of foreign beef to be labeled as ‘product of the U.S.A.’ and allow for state-inspected meat processors to sell across state lines. The current policies aren’t working for South Dakota cattle producers.

We need to address our spending and budget deficits by actively managing all portions of our budget. Currently, large programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are not part of what Congress votes on during the appropriations process. These programs need to be actively managed, no different than how South Dakota actively manages our retirement system.

Over the last year, my wife Jean has undergone extensive treatment for a high-grade sarcoma. Going through that process has given me a renewed appreciation for our health care systems. Obamacare and socialized medicine is not the way to go. Healthcare will be a major focus in my second term.

 

What else do you want people to know about you?

First and foremost, I’m a husband, dad and grandpa. All of four of our grown kids and ten grandkids live within 10 minutes of us.

 

Do you support newspapers being an independent third-party source to publish legal notices for local governments in print and online?

Yes. I always have.

 

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?

Having served in the position, I would never second guess another governor.

I’ve also never believed in mandates. Freedom goes both ways. South Dakotans are free to wear a mask or not wear a mask. And, we shouldn’t second guess or mock people on either side of the so-called “mask debate”. That’s what freedom is all about. I wear a mask if I’m in a crowd or a grocery store. And, when I’m not in those situations – I don’t wear a mask. Bottom line - be safe. Protect yourself. Wear a mask if you have underlying conditions or if you’re elderly.

Here is what is evident to me; national Democrats want to lock down the economy for the sake of an election. Republicans want to restart the economy, get our kids back to school – and do both safely.

 

New rounds of economic stimulus have been proposed by both Republican and Democratic parties, yet an agreement cannot be reached. What does Congress need to do to meet in the middle?

Democrats in the House of Representatives have never been serious about getting a deal done before the election. They’re more interested in messaging to their base, so their proposals include supporting businesses selling marijuana, free health care and direct payments for illegal immigrants and publicly funded abortions. Their $2-3 trillion proposal was never a realistic starting point.

Senate Republicans have focused on targeted relief for those struggling due to the pandemic. So, yes, there is a lot of room between the two proposals. As the President has stated, a deal probably won’t get done until after the election. That’s unfortunate.

 

Do you agree with the way President Donald Trump has handled the COVID-19 pandemic? What specifically?

Our focus in the Senate has been on keeping this country open and providing the resources to do so. National Democrats want to keep the country locked down.

South Dakotans have benefited from our approach and would much rather get back to work and school in a safe manner. Sadly, if national Democrats were in charge – we’d be in a very different situation – even here in South Dakota.

We’ve worked with the administration on research and development into vaccines and rapid deployment. We’ll get through this and we’ll see a vaccine in the very near future. I support the administration’s vaccine development effort.

In 2016, Senate Republicans said that the next president should nominate the replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia. This was 237 days before the election. Now, 38 days before the election the president has nominated a justice to fill the vacancy following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Should the Senate take up the nomination? Why or why not?

Yes. The Constitution doesn’t say a President or a Senate’s job stops days or months ahead of their term. I’ve personally met with every nominee – nominated by a Democrat or Republican president – since I’ve been in the U.S. Senate. My job, according to the Constitution, is to be ready to vote—up or down. In every case, I’ve been prepared to do just that.

 

Did the GOP-controlled Senate fail to perform its Constitutional duties in 2016 when it declined to take up the nomination of Merrick Garland?

No. The Constitution provides the U.S. Senate with the authority to advise and consent. The Constitution does not dictate a time in which it must occur. In my case, I did interview Mr. Garland and would have been prepared to vote and fulfill my Constitutional duty, had leadership called for a vote.

 

It seems as if a divide is being created over various issues among neighbors. What do we as citizens need to do to come back together as Americans?

In truth, politics has always been divisive – depending on who was in charge. This is not a new phenomenon. Republicans felt similar anxiety and discontent for eight years under President Obama.

The difference is the current level of violence and destruction. Historically, citizens who felt disenfranchised have not resorted to looting neighborhood businesses, burning private property and rioting against police. I’m very disappointed in the “defund the police” movement; it’s a horrible message and a terrible idea.

In South Dakota, we’re a lot more tempered than what we’re seeing around the country. We know, inherently, that there is more that binds us together than what separates us. We may disagree passionately about issues; but at the end of the day, we all want what’s best for our state and nation.

 

Should Congressional term limits be instituted? Why or why not?

Congressional term limits make sense, as long as Washington D.C. bureaucrats are also term limited. This entire discussion fails to take into account the power of the bureaucracy. Unfortunately, congressional term limits, would tip the scales in favor of the government bureaucrats and away from citizens who elect and have a say in their representation.

 

Should the Electoral College be abolished? Why or why not?

Absolutely not.

If you’re from South Dakota and support the abolishment of the Electoral College, you’re essentially giving your vote to California and Washington. It makes about as much sense as a South Dakota U.S. Senate candidate supporting D.C. statehood.

Our framers knew that an imbalance would exist amongst the states. Providing each state with two senators, as well as the electoral college, guaranteed that populated states like New York and California couldn’t run over rural states like the Dakotas.

 

What is your top suggestion to South Dakotans when communicating with U.S. legislators?

Our office prides itself on customer service. Again, we’ve had over 175,000 interactions with citizens who are having issues with the federal government or have a concern that they want to relay. Many of our legislative ideas came from South Dakotans who reached out to us. This can be done with a simple phone call, email, letter or by scheduling a meeting.

Local efforts drive national decisions. People from every state need to communicate with their national delegation. Otherwise, lobbyists and associations represent that they speak for their membership and that’s not always the case.

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