Economic Development

This promise specifically involves the role that our lone congressional delegate can and should play in economic development for South Dakota communities: I promise to train each and every member of my congressional staff – 18 individuals – in economic development for South Dakota. There should be few higher or more important priorities for our sole member of Congress than helping our own communities grow and thrive.

As a lifelong rural South Dakotan, I believe that our South Dakota towns and cities remain a good place to raise families. They offer opportunities in school and community that few others enjoy, which is why my wife, Kay and I chose to raise our own family of four sons in Canistota.

But the fact is, our communities face real challenges these days: the ag economy is soft, our small businesses face stiff competition from giant online companies that have unfair tax advantages, and we lack a strong voice in Congress, which seems more interested in taking care of Wall Street than Main Street.

While the challenges rural South Dakota communities face are real, in my travels to well over 100 of our communities during this campaign, I’ve also been reminded of the strong desire of many of them to prosper and grow. These communities display the heart of South Dakota as they find ways to deliver healthcare, sustain businesses, maintain their infrastructure, and improvise to provide needed services through whatever means are available to them. Broadband and its benefits such as telemedicine, telepharmacy, and telecommuting will transform rural America in important and positive ways – but we need to keep our infrastructure strong to take advantage of them.

And yet many of our 311 South Dakota communities lack the knowledge of specific federal programs that are available to cities and towns, a fact that I learned first-hand while serving as a city attorney for several communities.

A key role that our sole representative in DC can play is to promote the vitality and livelihood of South Dakota’s communities, and also aid in the promotion and development of the entrepreneurial spirit in them so that they can continue to serve as great places to raise our families. That’s why my congressional office will serve as a clearing house and a resource for them to access federal programs, to assist entrepreneurial efforts, and work together with the State Office of Economic Development to promote South Dakota communities and their growth.

We’ve got to join in fighting alongside communities all across the state who’ve shown the spirit to not only survive but to thrive over the coming decades. And we’ll do it so they can continue to raise great children who have opportunities to remain within our borders to live, work, and raise families of their own.

Term Limits

My next promise to the people of South Dakota is one I made months ago: that I will support a Constitutional Amendment imposing Term Limits on Congress, six years in the House and twelve in the Senate, to include any service prior to the amendment’s adoption, which would send home roughly half of all incumbents as their current terms end.
Here’s the problem: Congress has an approval rating that hovers between 10 and 15%, incumbents have re-election rates of over 90%. That suggests we have a hard time firing people who we think are doing a lousy job for us. A major reason for this is that corporate and special interests supply those they control with massive amounts of PAC and other money to keep them in office.

Today we have members of Congress from both parties who have served for 30, 40, and even 50 years there. This isn’t what the founding fathers had in mind. Instead, the Constitution’s framers envisioned public servants who would “lay down their plows for a season of service” and then return to their communities to again live as one of the governed.
The reality of human nature is that the longer people spend time in Washington the less responsive they tend to be to the people who sent them there. Worse yet, those in Congress now who have been there for such a long time are taking seats in Washington that could go to new faces and a new generation of public servants with fresh ideas. It’s time for change in Washington.

I want to end the thinking that suggests that only a select few Americans can serve in Congress, and that it is a place to go to advance a career rather than a place to serve.

If a political leader is truly a wonderful public servant and wants to continue to serve, it doesn’t hurt our nation to allow that individual to sit out an election cycle, watching from the bench for awhile to regain the people’s perspective, and then seek election without the benefit of incumbency.

That’s why, in addition to other Congressional reforms I have recommended, I support term limits. It is a necessary first step to more fundamental reform in Congress, because we’re not going to reform Congress by sending and keeping career politicians there. Real change will come only from the outside.

Congressional Leadership

As a way to let voters know what I will fight to accomplish in Washington, I am making a series of promises to you of what I will do and what I won’t do as South Dakota’s lone congressman. I call it my Promises to South Dakota.

This promise has to do with our current Leadership in Congress.  No government can function well without strong leadership, and one of the key reasons that our Congress isn’t functioning well is that the leadership—in both parties—is awful.  Our government lurches from shutdown to shutdown, creating artificial crises, because Congress has mostly abandoned the discipline of enacting appropriations bills to fund government, something that requires compromise.

Major bills that repeal large pieces of the Affordable Care Act and add $1.5 trillion dollars to the national debt are passed without a single hearing, and our leaders have such contempt for each other that they rarely speak.

It’s no wonder that our federal government barely functions! Because of that, little ever gets done, and the American people pay the price for a government that doesn’t work.

So, my first pledge is one I have spoken of since the day I announced my candidacy back in July of last year: that as South Dakota’s lone Congressman, I will not support Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House or any other leadership position.

Ms. Pelosi has been the Democratic leader for 15 highly contentious years. She represents a wealthy San Francisco district that couldn’t be more unlike South Dakota.

But the biggest reason I can’t support her is that Congress is in need of major reform and it won’t come from our current leadership.  Ms. Pelosi, along with Paul Ryan, chooses to preside over the deeply troubling Congressional Dues system which they could together abolish, but which sustains their leadership. As I’ve stated months ago, I won’t vote for anyone who maintains it.

I’ll vote for someone as leader who reflects our interests and can relate to and will be responsive to our needs.

I’ll be sharing more of my promises to South Dakota over the coming weeks.

Congressional Reform

Congress is dysfunctional.  The House of Representatives averages 138 “legislative days” a year – less than one in three days each week.  They usually begin on Tuesday and adjourn on Thursday afternoon, and spend less than a third of that time actually drafting bills, attending hearings, or voting; in fact, as much as half that time is spent fundraising, beginning their first week in office.

It is a money-dominated system destined to produce the kind of Congress we now have: members who place their re-election above their duty to America. Instead of campaigning face to face with regular citizens, they are elected in the first place by courting wealthy donors. When you ask a person to give thousands of dollars to your campaign, they want something in return, as Donald Trump repeatedly reminded us.  If you play the game, you become owned by your donors, having assured many that you will support their legislation – legislation that all too often protects the wealthy class and works against average Americans.

All this keeps most solid citizens from seeking political office: few willingly subject themselves to the sordid efforts to raise such money. But we implicitly agree to this process when we keep electing them anyway: although Congress has an approval rating around 15%, incumbents have a re-election rate of over 90%.

I reject that kind of campaign. I have committed to running a different kind of race. I’ve spent the past 7 months conducting town halls, and meeting South Dakotans in cafes, homes and places of business. I listen to their concerns, and answer their questions about what I believe and want to accomplish as our next congressman.

I’ve spoken and written repeatedly of the damage wrought by corporate and special interest control of Congress. The recent tax law perfectly demonstrates the power of those forces. In the aftermath of an election that was supposed to “drain the swamp,” this tax law is a gift that will keep on giving for years to come, to the rich and politically connected.

If power is to be restored to the people of this nation, this must change; but change requires leaders of conviction who will risk defeat to bring it about.

So, I have decided I will not take money from any PAC whatsoever.  I have put some of my own money into the campaign and I am relying on regular South Dakotans who will support a candidate who won’t be owned by anyone, and every day will do the business of the people.  I solemnly promise that I will not bow to the big money that controls Washington. If I had to raise money that way in order to win, I’d rather stay home because  I wouldn’t be any more effective for the people than those we now send.

For these reasons I will fight for these fundamental reforms:

1.      Enacting a Congressional Term Limits Amendment;

2.      Ending the deeply troubling Congressional Dues System, in which members pay dues to their parties to serve on committees of their choice;

3.      Prohibiting members from raising money while Congress is in session;

4.      Requiring Congress to live by the same insurance coverage as the average American, eliminating low cost Capitol Hill medical services that the rest of America lacks; and

5.      Prohibiting a member of Congress from employment in firms that employ lobbyists for five years after leaving office.

Dusty has declined to tell the voters whether they intend to participate in the congressional dues system if they are elected.  Neither has rejected it, nor have they signed the term limit pledge that I signed months ago. I invite them to share with us their stances on that and each reform issue I have set out.

South Dakota can send a ripple across America by electing a person who refuses to participate in the big money campaign process. That is the way to restore government of, by, and for the People. If we continue to venerate and elect the candidate who raises the largest war chest, let’s stop decrying big money in politics.

Common Sense Gun Law Reforms

I grew up around guns in rural South Dakota. I am a gun owner, an occasional hunter, and a 2nd Amendment supporter. Three of our sons served in the military and are gun enthusiasts. If anyone tried to take away a gun of mine they would have to fight me for it. As a judge I saw the effects of society’s propensity toward violence, sometimes but not always involving guns. The moment calls for honest discussion about how to prevent more senseless killings, and that discussion should take place with as little rancor and partisanship as possible.

First some facts: more people have died from gun violence since 1970 than in all American wars combined. We have far more guns and gun deaths than any other nation in the world: nearly six times the per capita rate of Canada, and nearly 16 times that of Germany.

Almost 2 in 3 of the 33,500 annual gun deaths are by suicide. Of the roughly 11,000 homicides, about half the victims are young males, and some 1,700 women are killed as the result of domestic violence. The horrendous mass shootings we have experienced have totaled about 320 deaths annually over the past 5 years – around 2% of all homicides; as an aside, about six Americans die annually at the hands of Islamic terrorists. Handguns are by far the most common weapon used in killings.

While about 90% of those who take their own lives suffer from a mental disorder, it is a much less common factor in homicides. As a judge, it became clear to me that the vast percentage of our overall crime problem, including violent crime, involved people who struggle with untreated addiction, often after experiencing a dysfunctional childhood.

Just as the types and causes of gun deaths vary, so the solutions will also be different. One thing is clear: we must learn to take better care of each other and seek to adopt policies that work for the wellbeing of ordinary Americans.

Our own congressional delegation seems to agree, pointing to the role of mental illness; yet instead of promoting better mental healthcare, the majority in Congress has employed its efforts to reduce mental health funding, and to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which, importantly, provides coverage for mental health and addiction treatment in every policy.

So, what measures are most calculated to reduce gun violence? Sadly, we have far less data on this than we should because Congress has effectively banned the Centers for Disease Control [CDC] from funding research on gun violence.

I advocate these first steps:

1.      A law mandating uniform background checks on all gun sales, with free service at sheriffs’ offices for private transfers and estate transfer exemptions; and improved sharing of information among reporting sources;
2.      Prohibiting any device, such as bump stocks, that converts a semi-automatic into an automatic weapon;
3.      Prohibiting individuals on the government’s terrorist watch list from buying firearms;
4.     Encouraging states to adopt red flag laws that allow a court to temporarily remove guns from a person who poses a danger to himself or others, with mandatory database reporting and removal upon clearance by a medical specialist;
5.      Promoting interventions like the Sandy Hook Promise that identify and reach out to at-risk individuals, including restorative justice and anti-bullying programs;
6.      Committing our nation to a War on Mental Illness and to ensuring every American has affordable health coverage to treat it; and
7.      Importantly, removing the ban on the CDC studying firearm violence;

I will become a target of the NRA and its enormous political action committee.  That’s okay.  The NRA, like many other special interests, tends to bully politicians, which helps explain the absence of sound reform. This is one reason I refuse to take any PAC money.

I suspect that most South Dakotans are just as sickened as I am by the endless slaughter of Americans, and also tired of special interests controlling our Congress.

Two questions lie before us: do we have the courage as a nation to defeat the powerful special interests that have thwarted reform on this and so many other issues; and what kind of America will we leave behind for our children and grandchildren?

Healthcare: The Defining Issue of our Day

The first American president to promote national health insurance was Republican President Theodore Roosevelt, who believed that no country could prosper if its people were sick and poor.

Today not everyone accepts that view.  Yet, a recent study by the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, notes that the U.S. ranks 12th in the world in measures of economic freedom and 10 of the 11 nations ahead of us have achieved universal coverage.  This isn’t a coincidence—our lack of universal coverage is holding us back economically.

The fact is, universal healthcare is the best way – along with education – to ensure a level playing field for all Americans to fulfill their highest potential and live a productive life. Today, middle and low-income workers and their employers struggle to pay for healthcare, and millions more of our poor are shut out of the system altogether, saddling too many with staggering debt or forcing them to live with debilitating pain that keeps them from working or being the parent their children need.

And the sad fact is, many who lack coverage end up falling out of the middle class, due either to massive debt or untreated conditions. Health insurance costs, subsidies, and coverage are extremely uneven in America. Seventy-five percent of Americans receive some form of subsidized healthcare, but, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 50,000 South Dakotans remain uninsured, or with very expensive, insurance, about half who are middle income employees and employers. These individuals get NO premium tax credit and also must pay the exorbitant premiums and high deductibles for insurance purchased on the ACA health insurance marketplaces.

The other half are low income individuals – often workers who do not qualify for Medicaid and who earn too little to qualify for premium tax credits under the ACA, so lack any access to coverage, because South Dakota state government elected not to expand Medicaid to include them.  Imagine the devastating effect of a major illness on those families making between $11,880-$24,300 with no insurance! Nearly all of us get healthcare eventually; it’s often neither timely, nor affordable.   To paraphrase what Almanzo told Laura about ice, as she later recounted in the Little House books: everyone gets their ice. It’s just that the rich get their ice in the summer, and the poor get theirs in the winter.

That is true of healthcare in America. The poor get their healthcare in our emergency rooms, our jails and our prisons, often erratically, at extremely high costs we all end up paying, and often, when it is too late to easily treat.   During my time as a judge, those who appeared before me in felony court and those I sent to prison often were beset by addiction and mental illness that led to crime, and nearly all lacked access to mental health and addiction treatment on the outside.

Our Native American neighbors and friends face a crisis of a different sort – people there are dying because their facilities are some of the worst in America, and no one in government seems to care. The high cost of healthcare also hinders our manufacturers’ ability to compete internationally; Warren Buffet calls it “the tapeworm of American competitiveness.”  And he’s right.

Let’s debate the best fit for us as South Dakotans, but to work, any plan must provide timely, affordable healthcare for all Americans.  Everyone who is able to work should pay for their care, but no one should pay too much. It’s the right thing, both morally and economically.  And while we address the best way to ensure affordable care for all, let’s allow those who currently lack access to employer or other coverage the option to enroll in Medicare. The conservative business magazine, Forbes, has shown that if we enact sensible universal healthcare we not only will save  money, we can actually balance our budget!  The reason is that we already pay for universal care, just not in obvious ways: in county care for the poor, jail inmate and prison care, and in higher healthcare costs and
increased crime.

We’re entitled to know how the candidates for our sole seat in Congress would have voted on the morally and economically disastrous bill the House passed six months ago; so far, none of the announced candidates have told us.  That’s not leadership. They owe it to South Dakotans to let us how they would have voted on this monumental legislation.

Access to healthcare is a solvable problem, and it’s one every other developed nation has already solved.  America is economically stronger and wealthier than them all.

We need  members of Congress willing to set aside partisan politics in order to reach a broad agreement and common sense plan that reflects who we are as Americans, and that covers everyone. That is the only way we will achieve what every other developed nation has already accomplished: affordable healthcare for each of our citizens.

Responsible, Fair Tax Law and the Republican-passed Legislation

Republican House leaders portray their $5.5 trillion tax cut as middle-class tax relief. Nonpartisan tax experts, including Congress’s own Joint Committee on Taxation, conclude though that the greatest share of the tax cuts go to corporations, the ultra-wealthy and their heirs, while many in the middle class will see taxes rise over time.

The majority party in Congress plans to pay for some of this by cutting hundreds of billions from Medicaid, which provides health care to poor children and their caretakers, as well as nursing home care for our elderly who have spent their resources, from Medicare, and by cuts to other domestic programs, including the USDA.

All this will heavily impact South Dakotans, leave millions nationally without health coverage, and shift costs the federal government now bears to state and local taxpayers.

But these painful measures still won’t be enough to pay for the massive tax cuts for corporations and the very well-off. So these cuts will also cause our national debt to soar another $1.5 trillion to $2.3 trillion and likely slow rather than spur economic growth.

This is trickle-down economics, which as one economist said “is like loading a horse with oats in order to feed the sparrows.”

Proponents justify this by claiming that corporate tax rates are too high, but the truth is that corporate taxes have declined by half as a percentage of our economy over the past 50 years. While the sticker price is 35 percent, the average rate corporations pay is closer to 20 percent.

The best evidence that large corporations are prospering is that their profits and the stock market have been hitting all-time highs for years now.

And as for our highest income earners, they already enjoy relatively low taxes by historic measures and over time have gained a bevy of tax loopholes only they can access. This is why we routinely hear stories of billionaires who pay effective tax rates lower than secretaries or farmers.

Meanwhile, wages among the middle and lower middle class have stagnated despite massive worker productivity gains. These facts help explain why 1 percent percent of Americans control 90 percent of our wealth, and why one in three American children grows up poor.

The truth is that ultra-wealthy and giant corporations don’t need a tax break, and we can’t afford to give them one. America has a national debt of $20 trillion and counting. Just as a family cannot continue to spend more than it takes in, neither can a nation do so without finally reaching a day of reckoning.

So, how should we approach tax reform? First, we should enact revenue-neutral corporate tax reform that lowers rates and closes loopholes, allowing repatriation of money held overseas.

Second, we should close loopholes only the well-off can access and apply the savings to a tax cut for those who need it and will actually spend it to stimulate the economy: the middle class and small business families who create about two in three American jobs.

We can also help low- and middle-income families by converting the mortgage interest deduction to a credit, so a homeowner receives back 15 percent of mortgage interest paid, allowing those who don’t itemize to also benefit. And instead of eliminating the personal exemption for each family member, as the bills propose, we should restore the exemption to its former value by increasing it from the current $4,050 to $6,000, and we should help low-income working moms and dads by increasing the child-care credit. These are each pro-family measures that will help the middle class and spur the economy.

Finally, we can help small businesses and farmers level out their taxes by instituting my proposed “Rainy Day IRA” plan, which would allow them to set aside up to $50,000 annually from taxable income to be invested tax-deferred until needed in a low-income year.

This bill is less about sound policy than it is about giving the party in office and their major donors a legislative victory. The last tax overhaul — enacted during the Reagan administration — passed with bipartisan support. That kind of bipartisan approach is missing so far and it is sorely needed to enact the sort of sound tax policy that will stand the test of time.

Muslim Registry

When you run for public office, one of the first things you have to decide is what you will say and do in order to win – and whether you will use issues to divide us or to unite us as Americans.  Republican U.S. House candidate Shantel Krebs has apparently made a decision to use issues that divide us, proposing what would in effect be an Islamic registry, requiring residents who came here from Muslim countries to register with the federal government.

Proposals like that Shantel makes appeal to our lowest fear-based instincts rather than our highest ideals. We must never, in keeping our nation safe, surrender those ideals and our freedoms. I won’t endorse a system that treats lawful American residents differently based on their religion or origin.  We saw what happened in Nazi Germany where Jews were forced to register with the government, and what happened in this country when we forced American citizens of Japanese descent into internment camps – in many cases while their sons were fighting and dying for our country in the war against Nazi Germany.

I oppose the travel ban as well. In fact, the list of eight banned nations does not include the countries of origin of a single one of the 19 terrorists who killed almost 3,000 American citizens in the 9/11 attacks. Picking out predominantly Muslim countries while excluding those whose citizens were responsible for 9/11 should cause thoughtful people to question the wisdom of this proposal, and how effective it will be in actually confronting terrorism threats.

It’s especially notable that, even though I am not her primary opponent, Shantel draws me into the discussion by suggesting in her comments that “the other candidates” aren’t clear on this issue. Our family, like millions of other American families, has known the sacrifice that comes with fighting for our nation’s freedom and safety. After the 9/11 attacks three of our sons, one after the other, answered our country’s call to military service and were deployed in the wars against terror.

The threat of terrorism and the importance of ensuring a safe and secure America is one that demands our fullest effort and must stay true to our American ideals. That’s why I support a methodical, thorough vetting of anyone who applies for a visa to enter our country, and required systematic check-ins and monitoring of their conduct while here. In fact, an estimated 40% of illegal aliens in the U.S. are here because they overstayed lawful visas.

What I don’t favor is selective monitoring on the basis of religion or country of origin. That demeans our American ideals, diminishes our role as the leaders of the free world, and will likely produce a destabilizing effect internationally. Such a policy also risks weakening our support from the very peoples whose cooperation we need to fight terrorism, all the while encouraging terrorists to train their acolytes in other countries not on the lists or registry.

I have criss-crossed South Dakota for the last five months, holding town halls, spending time in cafes, addressing every major issue. My positions are known and unequivocal. As to the two major pieces of legislation in Congress – the House-passed tax overhaul and the health care bill that passed the House but stalled, I have repeatedly declared that I would have been a “No” vote on both.

Neither Shantel Krebs nor her Republican opponent, Dusty Johnson have publicly shared with voters whether they would have voted “Yes” to either or both bills as our current Congresswoman did.  I think it’s ironic that Shantel finally, after all these months in the race, decides to share her position on a presidential decision, but continues to withhold from voters how she would have voted on those two monumental pieces of legislation she would actually be asked to decide if she were in Congress today. It’s time for Shantel, Dusty, and anyone else who seeks to be our next representative in Congress to simply state how they would have voted on the Republican healthcare and tax bills, instead of getting side-tracked by “Islamic registries.” And while you’re at it, Shantel and Dusty, do you agree or disagree with the pledge I signed some two months ago to vote for constitutional term limits for Congress?

We face pressing but solvable issues in this country that require thoughtful, sober responses. None are more important than healthcare, taxes, and fundamental reform in Washington needed in order to restore Congress to a body that will overcome corporate control and work for the people who elect them.

The issue Shantel raises here is a smokescreen that avoids the big issues Congress faces, and it is a dangerous one at that.

Congressional Dues

Washington is broken. We wonder why, when we send decent people to Washington, nothing ever gets fixed, why our national debt keeps growing no matter which party is in the majority and why well-off people get lavish tax breaks and pay a smaller percentage of their income in taxes than a waitress, or a farmer, or a small business owner.

I believe the biggest problem is that Congress has fallen under the control of politicians beholden to the ultra-wealthy, large corporations and other special interests. Here’s one way it happens: we send people to Washington who promise to drain the swamp, but they soon find that it’s more like a comfortable hot tub.

During orientation for new House members, their party leaders see to it that they are pampered, wined and dined, but soon those party leaders explain a practice most of us know nothing about. Today, both parties’ leaders levy dues based on the congressman’s committee choice: the more lucrative the committee for fundraising, the higher the dues.

Yes, astoundingly, our representatives are expected to pay to do the work we elected them to do. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., likens the practice to extortion: “They told us right off the bat as soon as we [got] here, ‘These committees all have prices and don’t pick an expensive one if you can’t make the payments.’”

We aren’t talking about token sums. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., explained in his recent book, “Drain the Swamp,” that to serve on a mid-level congressional committee, a first-term Republican congressman is expected to pay $220,000 in dues to the Republican National Congressional Committee – a second-termer – $450,000. The higher that one rises in party leadership, the higher the dues: a top Republican committee chair is expected to pay $1.2 million, higher-up party leaders from $2.5 million to $10 million, and the Speaker, a whopping $20 million, which was no problem for Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who, according to Buck, raised $50 million.

Who provides them these extraordinary amounts? Wealthy corporate and special interest donors, introduced to the new members by leadership. These donors are more than happy to give big contributions in exchange for the control they wield. This is how party leaders use our congressmen as conduits to funnel enormous sums of money to the parties against the people’s interests.

If you don’t pay your dues, you’ve got a big problem. The leadership can get nasty. Democratic leaders have maintained a wall of shame listing those who owe dues; they have also sent collection letters and even made phone calls to “delinquent” House members.

It gets worse. Leadership promises to route dues back into key races the incumbents are at risk of losing, but if the congressman opposes the party’s leadership on a key issue – say, the recent health care bill – the party may not just withhold campaign money in the next election; they may use the war chest to fund a primary challenger.

It takes a strong person to withstand such pressure, and many don’t.

I am convinced this system is not only morally corrupt, but that it also polarizes and serves the large corporate and special interests.

The only way to change a corrupt system is to fight against it.

I am willing to stand – alone if necessary – to oppose it. But I don’t believe I will be alone. There are others in both parties who bitterly oppose this system and hate how it shackles many from doing what is right. They need help to end it.

That’s why I call on the other House candidates in South Dakota and House candidates across America to state on the record that, if elected, they will refuse to support the dues system and will vote against any party leader who does not repudiate it. And to every voter in both parties: if you really want meaningful change in Washington, vote against any candidate who declines to publicly reject the dues system.

Ending this practice won’t eliminate corporate influence in Washington, but it’s an important step. This is about a simple question: whose interests are being served in Washington? How we choose to answer it will determine the kind of America we leave for our children and grandchildren.

Published in the Argus Leader: http://www.argusleader.com/story/opinion/voices/2017/08/30/voice-corporate-money-controls-congress/105122298/

Net Neutrality

The Loss of Net Neutrality is Devastating for Rural South Dakota.

I spent time in December meeting with the CEO of a South Dakota telecommunications cooperative, discussing our shared vision for how rural broadband can lead the way to enhanced economic development in rural South Dakota. Broadband holds incredible potential for rural South Dakota development, allowing local entrepreneurs to market worldwide, creating new opportunities for rural South Dakota communities to serve as the sites of businesses that transact around the world, enhancing telemedicine, and allowing telecommuting in all sorts of industries as never before.

But there is at least one emerging roadblock. I have spoken at length about how Washington seems to be conducting, intentionally or otherwise, what amounts to a War on Rural America. Another chilling example of this is its efforts to eliminate Net Neutrality, the principle that internet service providers treat all content equally and not give preference to internet giants which provide digital content. Under this principle, a user can load every web site or video equally, regardless of where the content is hosted.

In December, the Federal Communications Commission [FCC] voted 3-2 to dismantle the Net Neutrality rules that were established in 2015 after widespread organizing and protests by those who advocate for a free internet. These rules required internet service providers to treat all web content equally and neither block nor prioritize some content over other content in exchange for payment. The FCC decision to repeal that rule means that the federal government will no longer regulate high-speed internet as a public utility, like phone service. The effort to eliminate net neutrality, sadly supported by our congressional delegation, is a blow to rural South Dakota, particularly because rural residents have fewer choices of internet service providers. Less competition equals higher prices.

The FCC decision was widely unpopular – more than 20 million Americans had submitted comments to the FCC opposing the change. The reason there are so few service providers is that government has essentially granted those that exist monopolies in exchange for providing universal service. But the FCC vote removes their duty to provide universal service. It treats a provider like an information provider rather than a communications provider, a characterization that inaccurately captures how we think about and treat the internet today.

Dismantling Net Neutrality will have far-reaching impacts across America, but the FCC action is a particularly powerful blow to rural America. After a decade of public investment in broadband – as rural America stands on the brink of unleashing the potential of the digital age for its citizens – this action threatens to undermine that investment. It is another example of Washington – and our own congressional delegation – turning their backs to us.

Places like South Dakota already face tough challenges concerning broadband infrastructure. Unlike urban areas, which have, because of population density seen robust investment in infrastructure and growth, the opposite has been true in states like ours. In 2016, 39 percent of rural communities lacked access to true broadband — defined as a minimum download speed of 25 Mbps — even though it is present throughout urban America. In fact, nearly 11 million American households lack any access at all to broadband, and over 45 million non-urban households have a single provider offering wired 25 Mbps speeds.

South Dakota has not shared the economic growth so much of the rest of America has experienced over the past eight years. The data shows that poor broadband equals lower population growth, weaker economic development, fewer education opportunities, lower property values, and declining home sales. Good broadband, on the other hand, is a conduit to the rest of the American economy and a shield against economic isolation that too often comes with geographic isolation.

With good broadband, people can telecommute; they can practice telemedicine, connecting patients with specialists across the nation; they can develop micro companies on the Dakota plains, use the best technological resources in agribusiness, and generally compete on a much more level playing field with the rest of the international market in a host of innovative ways. Not surprisingly, entrepreneurship soars with it. Fast broadband removes much of the impediment of geographical remoteness in rural areas.

Broadband’s potential is limitless. Except for this: ending net neutrality will also likely end the promise of rural South Dakota overcoming  its geographic and economic isolation and destroy the hope of the economic promise  broadband technology holds.

This issue is not over. Congress has the power to undo what the FCC just did under the Congressional Review Act. It should exercise that authority to pass what’s known as a “resolution of disapproval” to overturn the FCC’s regulatory vote. You can be heard by calling our congressional delegation and urge them to reverse the FCC’s Net Neutrality-killing vote. While new legislation statutorily imposing Net Neutrality is also a possibility, the likelihood is that any new legislation fail to include the favorable rules of the Net Neutrality policy the FCC just repealed.

We need an advocate for South Dakota. I will fight in Washington to restore the principles of Net Neutrality.

The Dreamer’s Act

I support federal legislation to place into statutory law Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals [DACA]. Congress needs to lead by reaching a common sense and humanitarian solution for DACA.

There are several bills to choose from. The right thing to do is to provide these children the stability all children long for and deserve. Let’s protect the children!

Term Limits

Congress has an approval rating that hovers around 9%, but here’s the problem: Incumbents have re-election rates of around 90%. This suggests we have a hard time firing people who we think are doing a lousy job for us. A major reason for this is that corporate and special interests and other big donors party interests supply those they control with massive amounts of money to keep them in office. One key way to combat this is to enact a term limits amendment.

Today we have members of Congress from both parties who have served for 30, 40, and even 50 years there. I don’t believe this is what the founding fathers had in mind. Instead, the Constitution’s framers envisioned public servants who would “lay down their plows for a season of service” and then return to their communities to again live as one of the governed.

The reality of human nature is that the longer people spend time in Washington the less responsive they tend to be to the people who sent them there. Worse yet, those in Congress now who have been there for such a long time are taking seats in Washington that could go to new faces and a younger generation of public servants with new ideas. It’s time for change in Washington.

That’s why, in addition to other Congressional reforms I have recommended, I support a constitutional amendment that establishes congressional term limits, to include years of service prior to the amendment’s enactment. This amendment would, if adopted, bring about a massive, immediate change in Congress.

I want to end the thinking that suggests that only a select few Americans can serve in Congress, and that it is a place to go to advance a career rather than to serve. Such a change will open Congress to more youthful Americans and people from outside the political arena who are willing to serve for a time and then return to their communities.

If a politician is truly a great public servant and wants to continue to serve, it doesn’t hurt our nation to allow that individual sit out a few years, watching from the bench, for awhile to regain the people’s perspective, and then seeking re-election without the benefit of incumbency.

Recapturing the American Dream Part III

One of the ways America has changed the most over the past several decades relates directly to education. In the 1950s, one parent with a high school diploma could support a family. Those days are long past. Education has become the great economic and cultural divider in America. You can see its impact in many powerful ways.

Today, a parent’s own educational achievement tends to determine a child’s outcomes in virtually every aspect of life. The highest educational tier is made up of families in which at least one parent possesses a college degree. The middle tier is comprised of families in which the parent has some higher education but less than a four-year diploma, while the bottom tier consists of families in which the parents have earned no more than a high school diploma.

Once set in place, these tiers produce strikingly different outcomes for the children born into them. Two of the most significant are these: just 1 in 10 children of college-educated parents grow up in a single parent home, while 2 in 3 children, whose parents earned no more than a diploma, grow up in a single-parent home. Seventy percent of children of a never-married parent live in poverty.

This economic poverty has often come with social and cultural poverty and commonly means the child grows up isolated from much of the support and mentoring other children know. The result of all this has been that children of parents with no more than a high school diploma, experience a more-pronounced inequality of opportunity than at any other period in the last century of American life. This shift has been so impactful that upward mobility–a hallmark of American values—is today rare. Students whose parents are poor are five times more likely to drop out of school than those of well-off parents. It’s especially stark in South Dakota: we have the widest gap in the nation in graduation rates between low-income students and children of well-off parents.

Aside from the incalculable loss to the quality of a human life, the financial stakes to society of how these children fare academically are high. It has been estimated that the cost to the public for every child who fails to earn a diploma is around $388,000 in lost productivity and welfare assistance.

Even after an achieving, low-income student earns a diploma, barriers exist for further education. College graduation rates also have become so stratified by income that among students with an average level of academic ability, those who come from high-income homes are now about six times more likely to earn a college degree than youths from low-income homes. The ultimate assault on the American concept of merit-based achievement, however, lies in this reality: today it is less likely that a high-scoring poor student will earn a college degree than a low-scoring student from a well-off home.  While this is not what we think of as the American way, it has become the American reality.

If you want to help me fight in Congress, for laws that will change these trends, you can donate online at timbjorkman.com or mail your contribution to Tim Bjorkman for South Dakota, PO Box 201, Canistota, SD 57012.

Recapturing the American Dream for our Children, Part II

The problem of the dysfunctional family—which lies close to the core of mass incarceration as well as a host of other national ills—may well be the most confounding dilemma confronting our state and nation. Its tentacles extend far beyond the prisons, and unseen, into many of the economic, social, and cultural tensions the nation experiences. To meet the challenge it poses, we must first acknowledge its role. Our political leaders simply don’t confront these realities in public, while privately shrugging their collective shoulders and sighing that nothing can be done.

If they are right, our children and grandchildren face a dramatically altered America because they will not be able to bear the societal costs of the dysfunction that lies ahead. I disagree with the politicians. I believe the problems we face are solvable. If I thought otherwise, I would not be devoting a year or more of my life to seek this office. In the coming weeks I’ll be discussing some of these solutions – and inviting your thoughts and proposals.

First, though, there is more difficult ground to tread concerning hard realities of life in America and South Dakota and how the American Dream has been lost for many of our children. So, before I discuss some ways we can recapture the American Dream for them, and reinvigorate the American Spirit for us all, I will be sharing more of those realities in Part III in the days ahead.

Recapturing the American Dream For Our Children, Part I

During my time as a judge, most of those I sent to prison came from highly dysfunctional, impoverished homes. They frequently experienced mostly untreated multigenerational addiction, often with mental illness from childhood abuse and neglect, and lacking either a diploma or a work ethic. Their problems began early: they tended to start school behind the other kids, only to early on develop their own substances uses quite young, sometimes as early as 8, until they fell out of school altogether and in time, into the court system. All this has helped lead to a separate sub-culture, and, over the past few decades, has had devastating impacts on our budget, our economy, and the fabric of our culture.

Consider a few statistics:

  1. Today, in this nation and state, government pays for 1 in every 2 births through Medicaid.
  2. The unintended pregnancy rate among poor American adults is twice that of the average of the developing nations.
  3. While in 1978 our state prisons held about 500 inmates, today that number is about 4,000, more than ever, and the rate of growth over the past 40 years is 30 times the population growth rate.
  4. Two-thirds lack a diploma, 90% have a substance disorder, the vast majority grew up without a father; and poor.
  5. Eighty percent of our state’s prison inmates are there for nonviolent crime, and the annual turnover rate is also around 80%. Many are there because of ongoing addictions, and we lack adequate treatment for and because they continue to use they violated probation until they go to prison because the system has no other place for them.
  6. We hold more seriously mentally ill people in our jails and prisons than in therapeutic facilities;

The most vulnerable and tragic victims of this cycle are the current generation of their children untold numbers of kids growing up in dysfunctional poverty – who live in the shadows of our communities, in quiet desperation, and without hope.

We must do far, far more to protect the children.

I’m Tim Bjorkman and I’m running for Congress

I’m Tim Bjorkman and I’m running for Congress. My wife, Kay and I believe in South Dakota.

We have deep roots here. Our two grandchildren represent our family’s 7th South Dakota generation. We know what it’s like to run a business, to serve in the community and invest in those around us. And, having watched three of our sons go off to war, we know the gravity of a vote to send soldiers into harm’s way, and how that decision affects them and their families long after they return.

A year or two ago, running for Congress was not on our radar.

But today in America we face a dramatic economic gulf between those with exorbitant wealth and those who work a full-time job yet must depend on welfare just to survive. There is something seriously wrong when, in the wealthiest nation in history, one in three of our children grow up poor, and when a single family owns more wealth than the bottom 130 million Americans.

In the midst of this economic divide, our national debt has ballooned; and millions of Americans suffer from a lack of timely healthcare, with devastating consequences, that include threatening the American Dream for our most vulnerable children.  Our prisons have turned into mental hospitals, and you and I pay for all this with higher taxes and medical bills.

Too many elected officials from BOTH political parties are beholden to special interests instead of our interests. I am especially troubled by the proposed budget and healthcare cuts, which amount to a War on the Heartland. We need to send a strong advocate to Washington. It’s time for fresh leadership in BOTH parties. Issues such as healthcare should not be about political maneuvering; and they’re not about left or right; they are about our moral center, about who we are as Americans, and how we care for one another. We need to return to traditional Democratic values that honor hard work and allow us to live good, productive lives. Government’s role should be to lend people a hand-up rather than a handout, and we should again encourage a strong work ethic and the virtues necessary to develop it: like personal responsibility, diligence, and perseverance.

Our time on earth is brief, but how we live here will determine the kind of America and South Dakota we leave for our children and grandchildren. That’s why I am running for Congress. Thanks for listening. God Bless you and God Bless America.