Sunday, July 9, 2006

RR interviews Jack

Toward the end of the Red, White and Billion BBQ in Rapid City, I had a chance to talk for a few minutes with Dr. Jack Billion. (Thank you, Todd Epp, Billion press secretary, for encouraging me to corner Jack!)

It was a really inspiring talk. And fun.

I wished I had a tape recorder to capture the conversation verbatim, because, I tell you, this man can speak very persuasively, and has important things to say. I suggest you check out the website to learn more about him and check their posted schedule to see if you can get out there to meet Billion, or his running mate, Eric Abrahamson.

I asked Jack the question that my friends have been asking me, that is, what is his strategy in doing battle with Gov. Rounds, who is a very popular governor who (on the surface) is quite successful, with his recent successes with Homestake, etc. I was for Jack Billion because I knew he was very smart and a team player in South Dakota politics, shared my Democratic values, etc-- but now, after our chat and hearing him (and his very capable running mate) speak again, I'm for him because I think he can beat Rounds too.

Jack said that he will be running against Governor Rounds on his record. He believes we need a change in direction in South Dakota, and Rounds is not providing needed leadership on many important fronts.

Gov. Rounds has talked a bit about health care, but we have 90,000 South Dakotans that are uninsured and it doesn't seem to be getting better.

Rounds' 2010E education agenda may be a positive collection of goals but very little has come of it in the Legislature--in the last two years, Rounds has not been able to get the Lege to make any significant progress on 2010E. (I remember Jack asking, when I first met him on his first campaign trip through the State, "2010? What about 2006?") Like Rounds' minimum wage proposal, there is lots of good talk, but no effective leadership. Jack points out that although the per-student spending has slightly gone up, the overall education spending is down. (And, South Dakota is still last in teacher salaries, right?) (And, howz-about our in-state college tuition, which is now so high that it's cheaper in the long run for my kids to attend out-of-state schools?)

We also talked about economic development. Billion gave me a homework assignment-- to go look to the SD State Economic Development Website ( and look at the pitch to businesses there. I quote:
Study after study, ranking after ranking. They all come back to South Dakota as the one place where you can earn money, and keep it.
Jack said that although "best of" surveys do indeed rank South Dakota's "business climate" highly, the numbers don't necessarily tell the full story. Jack's point to me: this is what the Rounds Administration is selling to businesses: a state friendly to business owners that need an inexpensive labor force and low taxes. (And to boot, you get to use the "Made In The USA" label.) Janklow's economic strategy was similar, and actually many states across the nation are engaged in this sort of bidding war. The fruit of this long-time strategy is seen by digging on to the statistics posted and linked on the state website: South Dakota, at 29K/yr, has the rock bottom lowest average wages of all the surrounding states--and almost a third less than Minnesota (40.3K/yr).

Jack pointed out to me that the current efforts to attract business may not be helping but hurting us the long run. South Dakota may be a great place to start a business that wants low-wage workers, but in perhaps not the best place to start a career. Young people who grow up here love this place, but they do not see opportunities to get on the economic ladder in our State, so after they go to college they often do not come back. The economic development sales-pitch (from Janklow and Rounds) attracts employers that value low operation costs and tax and regulatory sweet deals above all else. This puts our long-term economy (and, I might add, our environment) at risk.

Jack told me that his running mate, Eric Abrahamson, recently observed that the oft-discussed "young people leaving" problem could be very serious to our long-term economic health. Parents raise their kids here, and when they pass on the will leave their land and their money to offspring that live out of state. The end result is the transfer of a large amount of capital out of state. Serious people from all parts of the political spectrum can appreciate that this is an ominous scenario.

Fortunately, we don't have to keep doing it this way. Both Billion and Eric Abrahamson said at the BBQ that it's time for a new paradigm, that is, a whole new conversation and set of values in our economic development strategy in South Dakota. Our State has many other strengths and advantages for business besides low business costs and they believe a new approach is needed if we want better results.

While talking to Jack, I tried at several points to get a comment on the effect of the social conservatives' "moral crusade" and their chilling effect on our society and possible effects to our economy. I mentioned that I am pretty sure that if the current right-wing assault on individual rights was going on back in 1995, I seriously doubt I would have chosen to live here. (Of course, this would have been my loss!) Jack would not go there...he kept bringing it around to his point that we need leadership that will help us actually make progress on, healthcare, education, good paying jobs.

I didn't feel brushed off on these issues, but brought into the fold-- it's clear that Jack is anxious to move beyond these "wedge" battles and be everyone's Governor. Billion is a leader who can bring us together to make some progress on so many fronts. I'm a firm believer that with a leader like Jack, the newly energized moderates of all political persuasions could isolate politicians that would rather bicker about who is ideologically correct than solve problems.

I absolutely back Jack, and I hope you will too!


  1. Anonymous14:29

    Jack's comments on social conservatives and avoidance of commitment to a message is because he, as a doctor, believes homosexuals are physically imperfect...not sick so much as ill-formed in the womb...and said so as much in a health committee in 1995. He told one gay activist just before testifying that the activist wasn't going to like what he had to say when he testified against the ban on same-sex marriage. The Democrats don't support civil and human rights for gays and never have. They just use gays for their own purposes...just like the Republicans use gay Republicans/Log Cabin for votes. Democrats won't lift a's all window dressing. You want action on civil rights you've got to put blood on the streets. And so far gays are unwilling to go that far because red just never was their first choice. Once everything is red, just what can you do with the rest of it? It's a decorator's nightmare.

  2. Vaud20:44

    Since I did not go to the barbecue I am glad to hear about Billion and his ideas for SD. Ruth and Pete Geyerman told me this a.m. that he and his running mate impressed them greatly and they think he has a shot.

  3. Anonymous,

    I don't feel this is that simple. In addition to the "unity resolution" that you (and me) have some problem with, many worked hard to get this resolution into the platform too:
    the South Dakota Democratic Party is opposed
    to adding any discriminatory language to the State Constitution.

    The Dems in this state chose to fight this fight a different way than the right-wing Republicans. A categorical statement against Amendment C would have been my choice, and actually I'm lobbying my church to pass a resolution along those lines than the recent SD United Methodist Church statement.

    However, you know the kinds of distortions that would be thrown at the Dems if they issued such a statement, loaded, false phrases, like "anti-family"; the thinking is Dems would rather debate Repubs on their record and their ideas instead of the same tired old framing battle on carefully constructed wedge issues. Why encourage them? I'm coming around to this point of view.

    Now, back to Jack, I have heard him, in person, categorically state that on general principle the government needs to stay out of people's personal decisions. I agree strongly with this ...

    I believe that we need to continue to work on this problem of misinformation (and disinformation, from the likes of FOF and SDFPC) within our families and in our communities. That's the only real way to turn back discrimination. It was true in the 60s and it's true now. The laws changed AFTER the hearts were opened.


  4. It was true in the 60s and it's true now. The laws changed AFTER the hearts were opened.

    I'm going to have to disagree with you there. If the courts had waited until people stopped being racist to strike down segregation, we would've been waiting a long time. It was, in fact, when people were trying to access the rights that the law had granted them and were being stopped from doing so (by fire hoses and police dogs, etc.) that the tide of public sentiment really turned for the civil rights movement. And if it hadn't been for political leaders stepping in, making sure the law was inforced (sending in the National Guard, etc.), any forward movement might have stopped right there.

    Obviously, a true end to hate and discrimination comes when hearts are opened, but without a push, without people standing up and saying, "This kind of injustice is not okay," most people have no reason to rethink their position.