When you run for public office, one of the first things you have to decide is what you will say and do in order to win — and whether you will use issues to divide us or unite us as Americans.

Republican U.S. House candidate Shantel Krebs has apparently made a decision to use issues that divide us, proposing what would in effect be an Islamic registry, requiring residents who came here from Muslim countries to register with the federal government.

Proposals like Shantel's make an appeal to our lowest fear-based instincts rather than our highest ideals. We must never, in keeping our nation safe, surrender those ideals and our freedoms. I won’t endorse a system that treats lawful American residents differently based on religion or origin.

I oppose the travel ban, also. In fact, the list of eight banned nations does not include the countries of origin of a single one of the 19 terrorists who killed American citizens on 9/11. Choosing predominantly Muslim countries while excluding those whose citizens were responsible for 9/11 should cause people to question the wisdom of this proposal.

It’s especially notable that even though I am not her primary opponent, Shantel draws me into the discussion by suggesting that "the other candidates" aren't clear on this issue. Our family, like millions of American families, has known the sacrifice that comes with fighting for freedom and safety. After 9/11, three of our sons, one after the other, answered our country’s call to military service and were deployed in the wars against terror.

The threat of terrorism and the importance of ensuring a safe and secure America is one that demands our fullest effort. I support a methodical thorough vetting of anyone who applies for a visa to enter our country and required systematic check-ins and monitoring of their conduct while here. In fact, an estimated 40 percent of illegal aliens in the U.S. are here because they overstayed lawful visas.

What I don’t favor is selective monitoring on the basis of religion or country of origin. It demeans our American ideals, diminishes our role as leaders of the free world, and will likely produce a destabilizing effect internationally. It risks weakening our support from the very peoples whose cooperation we need to fight terrorism, while encouraging terrorists to train their acolytes in other countries not on the lists or registry.

I have crisscrossed South Dakota for the last five months in cafes, holding town halls, addressing major issues. My positions are known and unequivocal. As to the two major pieces of legislation in Congress — the tax overhaul and the health care bill — I have repeatedly declared that I would have been a “no” vote on both.

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Neither Shantel Krebs nor her Republican opponent, Dusty Johnson, have publicly shared with voters whether they would have voted "yes" to either or both bills. I think it’s ironic that Shantel finally, after all these months in the race, decides to share her position on a presidential decision, but continues to withhold from voters how she would have voted on those two monumental pieces of legislation.

It’s time for Shantel and Dusty to state how they would have voted for these two bills, instead of getting side-tracked by “Islamic registries.” While you’re at it, Shantel and Dusty, do you agree or disagree with the pledge I signed months ago to vote for constitutional term limits for Congress?

The issue Shantel raises here is a smokescreen that avoids the big issues Congress faces — and a dangerous one at that.

Tim Bjorkman is the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives.

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