Fresh off her victory in the Democratic gubernatorial primary last week over Joe Lowe, state Rep. Susan Wismer now turns her attention to taking on incumbent GOP Gov. Dennis Daugaard in November's general election.
Wismer, 58, is an accountant who joined the Legislature in 2008. She comes from a family of legislators: her grandfather Art Jones and her uncle Curt Jones were both state senators. Now, Wismer, D-Britton, takes her spot as the first woman nominated for governor by a major party in a tough race to convince South Dakota voters to to buck its Republican trend and unseat an incumbent.
Wismer was in Rapid City last week and sat down with the Journal to answer five questions in her own words.
Why should people vote for you over Gov. Dennis Daugaard?
South Dakota needs competition of ideas between government branches. South Dakota is all gerrymandered up, when they select their legislators. And so the Legislature, for the foreseeable future, is going to be overpoweringly controlled by the Republicans, as a combination of money and gerrymandering. So the only opportunity to give balance to South Dakota state government is to get someone from the other party into the executive branch. They talk about open government in Pierre, they forces cities, schools and counties to conduct all of their business out in the open. But we don't. All important decisions are made in the governor's conference room, closed Republican caucuses, and pre-meeting committee meetings.
What's your take on the EB-5 immigration for investment program, and how would you approach the program as governor?
Nothing's being done about it, because they're doing their darnedest to shut it down. The agenda for the next [Government Operations and Audit Committee] meeting just came yesterday afternoon at 1 p.m., and it's not on there, in spite of the requests that Sen. Larry Lucas and I made to put it on there. We need to at least do our part: keep digging on SDRC, Inc. I do need to separate the private business concerns of Northern Beef from the EB-5 scandal and the use of those funds, and their connection to using South Dakota's good name for that program.
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An international firm has proposed to mine uranium near Edgemont, a project that supporters say will bring jobs and pad state coffers with tax revenue. But opponents worry the mine will harm the region's water supply. Do you support the project?
Unless and until I am completely assured that there would be no damage to the water, I can't see myself supporting it. The Legislature is surrounded with pro-uranium mining people, former legislators that are now there as lobbyists. So they are not hearing the same thing that is being heard out here. And it is just another symptom of our government, which is controlled by one party.
As governor, what issue or issues would be your top priorities?
In my community we have a lot of home-grown jobs. We've also had a lot of experiences with economic development done the wrong way in our part of the state. Not only the EB-5 scandal with dairies and Northern Beef, but also a lot of call centers.
From low teacher salaries to a lack of state-funded pre-kindergarten, South Dakota faces education funding issues. How would you approach that?
When you're in Pierre today, education is constantly just bad-mouthed. Education has no advocate in Pierre today, and there's all sorts of red herrings thrown out all the time just to try to divert our attention from the fact that we are in last place for effort. It's not just that our teachers are down here in pay, it's that our effort is last place. So a change in priorities, a change in the tenor of the conversation. Steering the conversation away from the red herrings and back to the core issues.