Nobody expected Democrat Billie Sutton's campaign for governor to be driven by his desire to create a new society for South Dakotans.
Lately, though, even his credentials as an agent for modest but meaningful change seem shaky. He's stuck on the status quo and made that clear enough last week during a seven-minute interview with Todd Epp on KELO radio.
His identification with Republican-majority dogma is already well-known. Sutton has a strong anti-abortion voting record, his 80 percent rating by South Dakota Right To Life speaking for itself. Ditto his 79 percent rating by the National Rifle Association. Siding with those organizations four out of five times makes him more than just "safe" when it comes to which side he's chosen in the "culture wars."
He's a full-blown ally of the GOP. Like it or not, Democrats have to swallow their pride and accept Sutton's affinity with Republicans on abortion and guns, and his party faithful seem to be doing so with a pragmatic shrug.
All that has been a given up to now, but Sutton's KELO interview revealed an even more Republican-like attitude toward the ultra-important matter of taxation. When quizzed about a state income tax, Sutton unequivocally said, "I'm opposed."
This was the politically realistic response, no question, but his reasoning behind that position was programmed and reminiscent of the hackneyed rhetoric that has supported the repeated failure of Republican government in South Dakota to move this state forward economically.
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When asked why our state shouldn't be taxing income, Sutton supported the present and disdained the future by saying that "we are attracting more people here and attracting businesses here. We have a very good welcoming business community and culture here in South Dakota. We want to keep it that way."
Keeping it "that way" is a woefully poor standard to maintain in South Dakota. Even Sutton's opponent, Republican Kristi Noem, acknowledged as much last spring when she declared that "our economy is falling behind."
Our state's economic performance relative to the United States and the surrounding region has been awful. More pointedly, "that way" has been surpassed by our surrounding states, most of whom have an income tax. The management and consulting behemoth McKinsey and Company just released a table comparing economic conditions by state, using rates of in-migration of millennials as the standard for comparison.
Published in U.S. News and World Report in May, it ranks South Dakota behind its five immediate neighbors — Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Iowa, and Nebraska — that have a state income tax. We're at the back of the pack along with Wyoming, another state with no income tax.
Sutton's politically obligatory reasoning for opposing an income tax in South Dakota is understandable enough, but there's no way to claim that it has something to do with attracting more people and businesses when the comparisons say otherwise.
Promising to be a caretaker of the "same-oh, same-oh" makes Sutton's comfort level with South Dakota's economic status quo unnerving in a state that consistently has trouble keeping up with the rest of the country.