Democratic candidate for governor Billie Sutton took questions at yesterday’s Brown County Democratic Forum. What was on voters’ minds?
Redistricting: Asked what impact holding the governor’s seat would have on the 2021 redistricting, Senator Sutton said that if the independent redistricting initiative doesn’t make the ballot or doesn’t win voter approval, it will be vital to have a Democratic governor to veto any Republican gerrymandering. Sutton also reminded us to back him up by placing Democrats in at least one third of the Legislature so they can uphold his vetoes.
Death Penalty: Asked by a Catholic sister where he stands on capital punishment, Sutton said he has always opposed the death penalty. (Senator Sutton has co-sponsored anti-death penalty legislation.) Rather than elaborating on the moral arguments against killing prisoners, Sutton noted that the death penalty “financially doesn’t make sense.”
Economic Development: I asked Sutton what he would do with the Future Fund, the economic slush fund the Governor can spend without Legislative oversight. Sutton said that if we elect him, he’s sure the Legislature act will suddenly care a lot more about that unchecked gubernatorial purse power. He agreed that current economic development efforts aren’t getting the job done and recommended shifting focus from “big fish” to small business, rural entrepreneurship, infrastructure, housing, and career and technical education.
Nonmeandered Waters: Sutton avoided a question about whether the current Game Fish and Parks secretary is trying to privatize our public waters (for what it’s worth, the Game Fish & Parks Commission just denied the first petition under the new rules that sought to close off a nonmeandered lake). However, Sutton did say that the new rules on nonmeandered waters passed in Special Session in June were “hurried” and inadequate.
Income Tax: Sutton said that, even though South Dakota already taxes the income of banks and insurance companies, the Legislature as currently constituted will never pass a broader corporate or personal income tax. Sutton said any such tax reform will have to come from a ballot initiative. Sutton did note that voters have shown their willingness to raise taxes for proven needs.
Former legislator Dennis Feickert chimed in that the half-penny sales tax approved in 2016 was only a band-aid on our low teacher pay and that a corporate income tax would be a better way to fund education. Sutton said his 2016 proposal to raise the sales tax a full penny but exempt food would have been better than the current system, which holds lower- and middle-class families back. Sutton said the state is trying to blame school districts for not meeting the teacher pay targets, but the real culprit is the insufficient half-cent sales tax.
Water and Oil: Asked about protecting water from oil pipelines, Sutton expressed his frustration at the fact that TransCanada pays no bond and no clean-up guarantee for its Keystone pipeline. He promised to appoint Department of Environment and Natural Resources personnel “to actually do their job” and protect the environment instead of corporations.
On the Lincoln County landowner lawsuit against Dakota Access for busting up farm drain tile, Sutton said we can “thank Trump.” Sutton said we need candidates for Public Utilities Commission and other offices to back rules and regulatory decisions that would hold pipeliners accountable.
CAFO Zoning: Noting that his attorney wife represented Dakota Rural Action in a feedlot zoning fight, Sutton said he has always supported local control and opposes Legislative efforts to make it harder for local voters to control zoning decisions. Sutton noted that his family used to keep about a hundred hogs but that small operators can’t make a buck on the critters anymore, since the state is favoring big corporate farm operations. Sutton said we need to enforce federal anti-trust law and enact tougher state-level protections against monopoly power.
Tax Reform: Asked about how the tax reforms plans floating around Congress could impact South Dakota’s budget, Sutton reminded us that we get nearly 40% of our state budget from Uncle Sam but said that, given Congress’s track record so far this year, we may not need to get too worked up.
Engaging Voters: Asked how to get young people involved and turn around low voter turnout in general, Sutton said we have to remind everyone that “When you don’t get involved, bad things happen.” He said we need to make the case to young voters in particular “for why it’s important that we elect leaders that are sane.” Sutton suggested that that low bar for qualification for office may be too low even for “some of the people I serve with.” Sutton said his own youth helps him dig the challenges facing the new generation of voters and promised to campaign among the college crowd.