Former Gov. Mike Rounds said Thursday that he will decide by fall whether to run for the U.S. Senate seat held by longtime Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson.
And if Rounds does run in 2014, he said he won’t be signing any no-tax pledges.
“I don’t think you go in saying I will never do this or never do that,” he said. “No, I will not sign a no-new tax pledge.”
The former two-term governor, who also has served as the Republican leader in the South Dakota Senate, was in Rapid City on business on Thursday. But he sounded very much like a candidate as he railed against deficit spending in Washington, D.C., criticized President Barack Obama’s health-care reform law and slammed Congress for gridlock and inaction on issues important to residents.
Rounds said he would be a tough, though not irrational, budget hawk if he were in the U.S. Senate, promising to seek ways to reduce spending and fight a growing deficit that threatens the nation’s future. But taking a possible tax increase off the table is a poor tactical move in a congressional world where compromise is often essential to getting things done, he said.
“That kind of pledge takes away the ability to negotiate with those who want to spend,” he said.
Rounds has refused in the past to pledge never to support a tax increase. He made that refusal personally to well-known anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.
“He called me at home, back when I was Senate leader,” Rounds said. “I just said ‘no.’”
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., have signed the Norquist pledge. Johnson has not.
Rounds said his decision on the 2014 Senate race will not hinge on who else is running or expected to run. That includes Noem, who has been seen as a possible contender for the Senate seat in 2014 provided she turns her favorite status into a re-election win this year in the House race.
Rounds said Noem has been active in the House of Representatives and could continue to serve the state well there.
“I’ve never based my own decisions on who else is running,” he said. “If I decided to run, I would most certainly like to see her (Noem) be a candidate for the House.”
Rounds said he enjoys being a businessman again and is working to expand the profile of Fischer Rounds & Associates, an insurance firm with offices in Rapid City, Sioux Falls, Watertown and Mitchell, as well as Pierre. He was recently joined in Pierre by his former chief of staff in the governor’s office, Rob Skjonsberg, who works as the former governor’s chief of staff in business.
Rounds said Skjonsberg will be helpful either to continue to “enlarge the profile” of the business or to prepare for a Senate run.
It is unclear whether Johnson is likely to run for a fourth U.S. Senate term. He continues struggling with physical limitations resulting from a brain hemorrhage in December of 2006. But he already has improved his speaking ability from where he was in 2008, when he easily won re-election over Republican Joel Dykstra.
Rounds said he hasn’t spoken to Johnson about the 2014 race and doesn’t know if the incumbent is likely to run again.
“Tim and I are friends. We’ve worked together on things. I was really happy to see him recover,” Rounds said. “Very honestly, we just disagree on a number of policy issues.”
Rounds said he is discussing his possible candidacy as he travels the state, often in the company of Skjonsberg. He has discussed the issue with his family, including his wife, Jean.
But Rounds said that while he is seriously considering the Senate run, he still is months away from a decision.
“It’s still too early to pull the trigger,” he said. “I’ve got to make sure I’ve still got the fire in my belly for a campaign at that level.”
Contact Kevin Woster at 394-8413 or firstname.lastname@example.org