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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joe Lowe said this week that a central theme of his campaign against Gov. Dennis Daugaard would be the governor’s refusal to expand Medicaid.

Lowe called Daugaard’s rejection of federal funds to expand Medicaid “mean-spirited and short-sighted.”

Daugaard has said he would not expand the health care program for the poor because he was not certain that federal funds to pay for it would continue in the future and most of the about 48,000 people who would receive coverage are “able-bodied adults.”

If South Dakota were to join other states in expanding Medicaid coverage to individuals and families that earn up to 138 percent of the poverty line -- about $15,451 per individual or $31,809 for a family of four -- the state would have 100 percent of the expansion paid by the federal government through 2016 and 90 percent by 2020.

When Lowe met with the Journal editorial board recently, he pointed out that much of the state’s $4.3 billion budget for 2015 comes from federal funds. It’s ridiculous to refuse federal Medicaid money and accept federal funds for so many other budget items, he said.

Lowe, former South Dakota Wildland Fire Division director, has a strong argument to make about Medicaid expansion that Daugaard will have to defend during this year’s gubernatorial election.

In fact, Daugaard will have much more to defend this time around than four years ago when he defeated Scott Heidepriem with 61.5 percent of the vote. Then, Daugaard ran as the successor to Gov. Mike Rounds, who was still popular. This time around, Daugaard has his own record to explain and defend.

Not that the road for Lowe will be easy. The last Democrat to serve as South Dakota’s governor was Richard Kneip, from 1975-1978.

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During our visit with Lowe, he was vague on several issues -- something that he will have to work on if he is to end the Democrats’ 36-year drought as occupant of the governor’s mansion. What are his plans for South Dakota? He needs to better explain his positions.

We are glad to see an opponent for Daugaard who is willing to challenge the governor’s record for the past four years. Our democracy is stronger when elected officials and the candidates who challenge them are forced to defend their decisions and explain what they’ll do with power if voters give it to them.

By raising the Medicaid issue this early, Lowe is off to a fast start in his race for the governor’s mansion.

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