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The person who filled out Paula Hawks’ voter registration card for her turned out to be very, very wrong.

When Hawks turned 18 and went to register, a county official had already checked the Republican box after seeing that both of Hawks’ parents were Republicans.

“At the time, I was 18 years old and I was like, ‘OK, well, sure,’” Hawks said in a recent phone interview with the Journal. “And then as I got into college and I started thinking about really what that meant, and what kind of message that sent about me, I changed that for myself."

Not only has she remained a Democrat ever since, but she’s also running for the South Dakota Democratic Party’s nomination for U.S. House.

“I think that the progressive values that I value are the values that most people hold to,” Hawks said. “And I think it’s all in the messaging and the way that you present yourself and stand up for what you believe in.”

With no challenger for the nomination so far, Hawks appears headed for a November 2016 showdown with incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, who is serving her third term in Congress. Noem has not yet made a formal statement that she will seek re-election.

Hawks, of Hartford, is a 39-year-old bank training specialist and former high school science teacher. She has been a representative in the state Legislature since 2013.

Hawks grew up on a farm near Flandreau and has three children ages 4 to 14 with her husband, Steve, an applications programmer analyst who grew up on a ranch near Faith.

In the latest installment of the Journal's ongoing Newsmaker 5 Question series, Hawks shares some of her views.

Why did you leave teaching?

My last couple of years at West Central, I was also the lead negotiator for the teachers’ association. And so I had a lot to do with negotiating pay, negotiating language and dealing with the decisions that were being made in Pierre by the Legislature.

It was about the time that 1234 came out (House Bill 1234, which sought to implement teacher merit pay and eliminate tenure, among other things, but was referred and defeated in 2012) and we were working to reverse that with the referral.

There were a lot of things in there that I really did not think were good for education. While the referral process is great and can be used effectively, I also felt like it was important to get some voices in the Legislature itself that could speak to those things before it became necessary to refer them to voters.

So it came down to deciding whether I had a strong enough voice in my classroom or if I needed to take that voice to a bigger seat, and that’s what I decided to do.

After you got into politics, you have stayed with it. Why?

I really enjoy it, the interaction I get with people all over, not just folks from my district, but all over the state and folks who come to Pierre to talk about issues that are important to them. It really just lit a fire in me and made me see how important it is to be actively involved, and if you have a strong voice, to use that voice to help people who otherwise wouldn’t be heard.

Some say you’re very similar to Kristi Noem because you’re both women, you both grew up on East River farms, and you both like to talk about the way your rural upbringing influenced you. So, how are you different from Kristi Noem?

I am passionate about a couple of issues that I think are really important, not just to me but also to South Dakotans. And those things include taking care of our college students and helping them to find a way to not be so enveloped in student debt when they come out of college that they can’t even see their way out of it. And that’s something that’s really important to me as an educator and a parent.

It’s also important for me to stand up for women’s rights — equity in the workplace, equity in the decisions they make, and equity in their ability to vote and do all of the things that everybody else gets to do.

And then our senior citizens are facing the highest drug prices they’ve ever seen and those continue to go up, and we have to make sure we’re not making it impossible for our senior citizens to find medical help without going broke.

What made you take the leap from local to statewide politics?

I have a strong voice, I know how to get my message across without being too wordy, without being too aggressive, without being too philosophical about it. I know how to listen to people and hear what they have to say and wrap that up into what I want to say and how I want to represent the people that are taking the time to talk to me.

Having that kind of voice lends to my passion to serve, and if I can serve on a higher level and be an effective representative for the state of South Dakota, that is what I want to do.

What kind of campaigning have you been doing so far?

We have been going at it for not quite two weeks yet, and I have been locally traveling in this area just kind of getting out and meeting folks and making sure they can put a face to the name. That’ll be my first and most important goal is to make sure people know who I am, and so I’ve been traveling to some of the fairs on this side of the state, and then later in the month and into September I will be making my way out to Rapid City and the surrounding areas.

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Contact Seth Tupper at seth.tupper@rapidcityjournal.com

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Enterprise Reporter

Enterprise reporter for the Rapid City Journal and author of "Calvin Coolidge in the Black Hills." Receiving encrypted news tips through Peerio with the user name seth_tupper.