In November 2018, former First Circuit Court Judge Tim Bjorkman of Canistota hopes to capture the U.S. House of Representatives seat set to be vacated by Rep. Kristi Noem, who is running for South Dakota governor.
But on Tuesday afternoon in the Rapid City Public Library, he simply tried to grab the attention of about 35 people during his first “town hall listening session” after announcing his candidacy for the House earlier this month.
Addressing the crowd for nearly 40 minutes at the start of the meeting, Bjorkman pulled from his experience as a judge to highlight problems with the American justice system, its subsequent effects on South Dakota and America, and how that experience ultimately compelled him to run for office.
“A year or two ago, running for Congress was not on our radar,” said Bjorkman, of Canistota. “It became clear that many of the underlying problems that I saw in the criminal justice system called for answers that were outside the authority of the justice system.”
Bjorkman said that the majority of cases brought before him involved people without high school diplomas who often had untreated addictions and mental illness from years of child abuse and neglect in dysfunctional, impoverished homes. The impact of such a system stretched from the state to the national budget, economy and fabric of American culture, he added.
“We have the greatest gap between poor kids graduating from high school and well-off kids graduating from high school of any state in America,” Bjorkamn said of South Dakota, before listing statistics highlighting the income, educational, criminal justice, health care and overall opportunity inequality plaguing the state and county.
Of the low-income population suffering most from these conditions, Bjorkamn said pointedly, “those are the people that I sent to prison.”
“The right to a fair shot, that’s what I fear we are losing today,” he later added.
Bjorkman went on to attack the current health care system in America. He called health care subsidy programs a subsidy for corporations like Walmart that pay low wages and force their employees to seek government assistance, rather than subsidies for low-income people.
Bjorkman said he supported raising the minimum wage to help offset this problem before voicing his support for universal health care.
At the conclusion of his remarks, attendees were offered the chance to voice opinions and ask questions, though Bjorkman said he hoped to simply listen to people’s concerns instead of directly answering them at this point.
Issues such as funding for education, clean energy, Planned Parenthood and the Pentagon were raised, with audience members seemingly in agreement that cuts to defense spending and increased funding for education, birth control and renewable energy options were necessary.
Health care was also addressed on multiple occasions, especially the high costs of coverage, operations and simple equipment like the tubing on oxygen tanks.
Perhaps the most important concern for Bjorkman’s camp came at the start of the town hall comments, though, when one woman asked him how, facing such difficult odds in the Republican stronghold of South Dakota, Bjorkman would convince enough independents to vote for him.
Sitting beside a lectern, Bjorkman simply smiled and jotted something down in his notebook.