The first shots fired in the South Dakota governor’s race were duds if you work, own a farm or ranch, raise children, strive for college or technical school, seek health care or want to buy a home or rent an affordable apartment.
Rep. Kristi Noem, about to finish her fourth term in Congress after serving four years in the state Legislature, is offended that her opponent, state Sen. Billie Sutton, called her an “insider” in a digital media campaign.
In a press release sent Monday, Noem denied the allegation and counter-punched by calling Sutton a "long-time Pierre insider and card-carrying member of the Democratic establishment.”
Serious stuff? Not if you live in the real world where the issues are serious.
First, Noem appears a bit out of touch when she calls a Democrat a capitol insider. The party barely registers a blip on the state’s political radar screen and has left little more than a toe print on any significant legislation in recent years. Its record of futility is undeniable.
Noem, on the other hand, is a former assistant majority leader for the political party that dominates every level of government in South Dakota. There is no disputing that Republicans set policy in this state.
But who is considered the most entrenched politician is not the issue in this race. While most agree the political status quo is not particularly adept at problem-solving or innovation, the parties have made their choices for the general election. Now, the conversation needs to be about what can be done to improve South Dakota's standard of living.
An election should be a contest of ideas. Rather than argue about insider status or proclaim what won't be done if elected, the candidates need to address critical quality-of-life issues — and there are many. For example:
Agriculture is slumping
President Trump's trade wars pose a substantial threat to farmers and ranchers already contending with the softest markets in years. Retaliatory tariffs and uncertainty over trade pacts like NAFTA have heightened anxiety in the agricultural industry.
If the trade wars drag on what will Noem and Sutton do to protect and nurture an industry beyond supporting the farm bill?
Workforce shortages, low wages
For decades, state officials and lawmakers have argued that South Dakota's low cost of living allowed workers to earn less yet enjoy comparable lifestyles to those in higher-paying states.
That is no longer the case, however. Health care is expensive regardless of where you live. The cost of housing in the state's larger cities is out of reach for many if not most young families. The cost of insurance, food, cellphones, internet service, cable TV, gasoline and utility services do not vary much from state to state any longer. As a result, more young people are leaving the state to earn more money and professionals are becoming more difficult to recruit.
What can the next governor do to put more money into the pockets of the working class and rebuild a workforce that currently is not meeting the demand for jobs in the state?
Costly secondary education
Over the years, the state has shifted more college costs to students while universities have embarked on building projects that are primarily financed by those same students.
Consequently, college enrollment continues to flat line and those who do graduate have much more debt than their parents, which means many are looking for higher wages and that often takes them out of state. The state's colleges also have the highest tuition in the region.
Will either candidate work to reduce tuition and fees and incentivize more students to stay in the state after graduation?
Access to health care
Congress' inability or unwillingness to reign in soaring health care costs is among the biggest burdens imposed on Americans. The state, however, can work harder to expand the health-care network to better serve smaller communities while providing low-cost screening opportunities for everyone. More mental health care facilities are needed, too. The state also needs a program to recruit more doctors and retain them in a more competitive environment.
What can a governor do to make health care more available, more competitive and promote prevention?
A governor's race that starts with finger-pointing is a red flag for those who desire real solutions to real problems. Let's all insist that these two candidates get out of the political playpen and treat us like adults. Tell us what you will do to make South Dakota a better place for those who live and work here.