Search Results : bernie sanders

Bjorkman Not Endorsing Sanders’s Medicare for All, Instead Chanting “Bipartisanship”

I thought I heard Bernie Sanders in Democratic U.S. House candidate Tim Bjorkman’s speeches. Last week in Watertown, just as the Vermont Senator was offering his Medicare for All bill, Bjorkman took a step back from Sanders:

“We’ve got universal health care provided. It’s just in a very inefficient and ineffective way. It’s very expensive with very poor outcomes,” Bjorkman said. “Our system is so out of whack that it costs an atrocious amount of money while still leaving millions of people with tiny access to healthcare.”

To that end, Bjorkman indicated he intends to push for universal health care, but he’s not going to just sign up for any proposal. That was evident at the meeting when Bjorkman expressed skepticism at Sen. Bernie Sanders’, I-Vt., vision of Medicare-for-all formally proposed earlier Wednesday, and supported by several potential 2020 Democratic presidential nominees.

Particularly, Bjorkman doesn’t want to commit to that proposal without knowing what the financial impact is.

“I’ve seen no numbers at all. I think that’s very important,” Bjorkman said. “I’m not prepared to take that leap from what little we know of it.”

Bjorkman said any healthcare reform should be achieved on a bipartisan basis [Dan Crisler, “Bjorkman Discusses Issues During Stop in Watertown,” Watertown Public Opinion, 2017.09.14].

I understand that our Democrat candidates are trying to sound like moderate men of the people among a right-skewed, Trump-loving electorate. But we also need some statesmen to point out that when we offer plans with bipartisan support, the radicals in charge of the Republican Party, Congress, and the White House torpedo it. Democratic candidates should definitely praise the men and women of good faith on the other side of the aisle and look for opportunities for everyone to work together, but they should also swing big wood at the partisan screwballs on the other side who are standing in the way of such practical cooperation.

Even if we want bipartisanship, we need to replace a good chunk of Republican partisans with honest Democrats who want to solve problems, not create more problems for regular Americans.



Judge Barnett Protects Jackley’s Explanation of Drug Price Cap

Former Attorney General, now Sixth Circuit Court Judge Mark Barnett today backed current Attorney General Marty Jackley by rejecting the pharmaceutical industry’s effort to force Jackley to write a new, more thorough explanation of the drug-price-cap initiative currently circulating in South Dakota.

As I explained Sunday, the South Dakota Biotechnology Association and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) sued Jackley on August 31, claiming that he left key information out of his legally required explanation of the ballot measure. A.G. Jackley provides no details of Judge Barnett’s decision; he just says, I followed the law, and Mark agrees:

“I have worked to provide a fair, clear, and simple summary of the proposed measure in order to assist our voters. The role of the Attorney General when writing the voter explanation is to be fair and neutral and not to advocate for or against a ballot measure. The Court has reaffirmed the fairness of this process,” said Jackley [Attorney General’s office, press release, 2017.09.12].

Initiative supporter Rick Weiland blows big neener-neeners at Big Pharma:

“The people of South Dakota won,” said Rick Weiland, a key supporter of the South Dakota Drug Price Relief Act. “The drug industry tried to protect their price-gouging practices by denying South Dakota voters their constitutional right to decide whether our measure should be on the ballot but they failed.”

…“The Attorney General’s explanation makes it clear our measure would require South Dakota’s state agencies to pay no more for prescription drugs than what the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pays for the same drugs – which is generally about 24 percent less than what the drug companies charge their commercial customers,” said Weiland. “The Attorney General’s explanation was clear, concise and accurate.”

“The drug companies wanted to insert language in the explanation that was irrelevant to the essence of the measure and would have muddied the waters,” Weiland said. “We’ve seen this before, delay the campaign and tie us up in expensive lawsuits. Bottom-line: they want to keep our measure to lower the cost of prescription drugs off the ballot. We’re extremely gratified that Judge Barnett denied their challenge and supported the Attorney General’s explanation” [TakeItBack.org, press release, 2017.09.12].

PhRMA sued in Ohio last year to keep a similar measure off that state’s general election ballot; that suit failed, and Ohioans get to vote this fall on the drug price cap, which Bernie Sanders thinks is a good idea.



Free College!… for 285 New Vo-Tech Students

Like Bernie Sanders, South Dakota Republicans believe in free college!

Well, free if you’re going to vo-tech in fields where their business friends say they’re short of workers. The state just announced its third round of “Build Dakota Scholarship” recipients, 285 lucky high school graduates who get to go to Southeast, Lake Area, Mitchell, or Western Dakota Tech on the house—the house being T. Denny Sanford and the Governor’s Future Fund (the latter, a.k.a., taxpayers!). “Lucky” is apt, since less than 28% of the 1,028 applicants won this full-ride scholarship for their technical studies.

85% of recipients come from South Dakota. Here’s a breakdown of the awards by state and institute:

State LATI MTI STI WDT Total
SD 85 59 52 47 243
MN 9 4 12 25
NE 6 2 1 9
IA 2 2
ND 1 1 2
WY 2 2
GA 1 1
ID 1 1
Total Result 95 69 70 51 285

The first batch of Build Dakota Scholarship winners should have finished their two-year programs last spring and should be leaping into our workforce. Let’s keep an eye out for a report from the vo-techs and the Governor on job placement for those recipients so we can measure the effectiveness of this Sanders-esque socialism.



Bjorkman Critiques Congressional Campaign Finance Dues System

Democratic candidate for U.S. House Tim Bjorkman continues to speak like a budding Bernie Sanders. The judge-turned-campaigner says corporate money controls Congress, and he’s calling on every Congressional candidate to reject the party dues system:

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’” [Tim Bjorkman, op-ed, that Sioux Falls paper, 2017.08.30].

Showing his bipartisan/nonpartisan inclination, Bjorkman cites the book published by Republican Congressman Ken Buck from Colorado last spring detailing the selling of committee seats. Rep. Buck is a Tea Party favorite. Buck denies climate change, but he also denied birtherism. But his position on either of those fringe issues does not indict his or Bjorkman’s assessment of the corruption of Congress by party leaders addicted to corporate money.

Bjorkman says the dues system gets just as nasty as Donald Trump’s personal threats against lawmakers who don’t bow down before him:

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 [Bjorkman, 2017.08.30].

Let’s see if Bjorkman’s critique of big money in politics earns him the same disdain from national Democratic leaders that Rick Weiland got in his Senate bid in 2014.



Bjorkman Fought Insurers to Protect Sick Clients, Advocates Public Option

At his Congressional campaign launch in Canistota on July 13, Democrat Tim Bjorkman made clear he wants the United States to follow the rest of the civilized world and implement some form of universal health care. Visiting Langford and Britton Friday, Bjorkman spoke of the experiences he had fighting private insurance companies that have shaped his support for more public health coverage:

Tim Bjorkman in jeans and short-sleeve shirt
Tim Bjorkman

As an attorney, he fought insurance companies and their decisions to deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions. He specifically recalled two cases he took to a jury trial and won. In one of those cases, however, his client fighting for coverage died before he received the news that his case was won.

In another case, he took an insurance company to court because a family received a hefty bill after their insurance company approved care at the hospital. In that case, he said, the insurance company tried to differentiate between approved care and covered care. This case was eventually won on appeal.

“We need to have everyone covered,” Bjorkman said. “Getting affordable health care for everyone is the most American thing to do” [Elisa Sand, “House Candidate Bjorkman Sees a Need to Get Health Care for All,” Aberdeen American News, 2017.08.26].

Bjorkman tells Sand his priority is “fighting the corporate power” (again, Bjorkman is talking like Bernie Sanders), in this case by allowing low-income Americans to buy into Medicare. That public option would help millions of Americans escape the predations of private insurers whom Bjorkman fought as a lawyer.



Defeated on ObamaCare, Rounds Fights Imaginary Devil of “Government-Run Health Care”

Senator Mike Rounds
Mike projects his failure through his tears…

Senator Marion Michael Rounds, like all Trump enablers, had a really bad week. Senator Rounds caps off his really bad week by writing a really bad column. “Government-Run Health Care Does Not Work,” moans Senator Rounds, after seven months in which he and his Republican majority haven’t really worked.

If you read no other response to Senator Rounds’s sniveling horsehockey, read this:

No Democrat I know of is advocating “government-run health care.” No one is saying we should nationalize every hospital, make every doctor a government employee, and submit everyone’s diagnosis and treatment to a vote of Congress.

I’m saying, and Bernie Sanders is saying, and a lot of smart people are saying, we should handle everyone’s health care the way we do with Medicare. Grandma and Grandpa pick their hospitals and doctors and treatments; we just pay for their health care, far more efficiently than private insurance does, with taxpayer dollars. Medicare for Everyone: government-paid health care. 

*     *     *

Now, if that’s not enough, let’s do the line-by-line.

Comprehensive health care reform is necessary to relieve American families from our current failing health care system [Senator M. Michael Rounds, weekly column, 2017.07.28].

We made the current health care system a whole lot better with the Affordable Care Act, which was basically a Republican reform adopted by Obama and Democrats in 2010 as a compromise measure. The Affordable Care Act individual insurance marketplace is not collapsing. You, Senator Rounds, even worked with Tom Daschle and President Obama to make the ACA work better before you decided your political aspirations depended on kicking and screaming about ObamaCare.

Following recent votes in the Senate, it’s clear that reforming our health care system is no easy task [Rounds, 2017.07.28].

You and your party sure thought health care reform was easy during seven years of shouting, “Repeal ObamaCare!” Only “following recent votes” does the difficulty of the task become clear to you? Unlike you and your Dear Leader, Barack Obama and the Democratic Party knew that health care could be so complicated, and when they took over in 2009, they spent over a year crafting a workable plan that is helping Americans today.

However, I remain committed to working with my colleagues toward a solution.  We believe affordable health care is best achieved through a competitive, market-based system that allows for innovation, competition and optionality [Rounds, 2017.07.28].

“Competitive, market-based system” is at the core of every plan your party has put to a vote this year, and every one of those plans failed to win enough Republican votes to pass. “Competitive, market-based system” was also at the core of the part of the health care system prior to the ACA (and Medicaid, and Medicare) that failed to deliver coverage and care for poor, old, and sick Americans. Your “competitive, market-based system” does not work in health care.

In the quest to address Obamacare’s failures, some have been advocating for a single-payer, government-run health care system in which health care is provided for every single citizen for free and financed by taxes [Rounds, 2017.07.28].

Wrong—see above: government-paid, not government-run. Also, single-payer does not make care free. We all pay, through our taxes, just like we all pay now through insurance. We just pay a lot less.

Care is rationed, and citizens cede their health care decisions to a central government bureaucracy [Rounds, 2017.07.28].

Oops! Senator Rounds, you’re talking about our current multi-payer system in which private insurers and employers ration care and choose our doctors and treatments.

Additionally, the cost makes it unsustainable for future generations. Either taxes – which are already too high – will continue to skyrocket in order to pay for universal care, our debt will spiral even further out of control, or both [Rounds, 2017.07.28].

Wrong—single-payer is cheaper than private insurance, so single-payer is more sustainable than the current system.

Our ability to make decisions for ourselves and our families will suffer. Bureaucrats don’t like taking advice [Rounds, 2017.07.28].

Do Grandma and Grandpa’s ability to make decisions suffer under Medicare? And how much advice do the profit-driven agents at your family insurance agency like to take from patients?

And we have many examples to substantiate this: In the U.S., California and Vermont recently tried to implement universal health care at the state level; both were abandoned as quickly as they were enacted due to its cost [Rounds, 2017.07.28].

Sure, the California plan got snarled in a debate about the $400-billion price tag. But let’s clarify the figures:

However, a report by professors at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, commissioned in part by National Nurses United, estimated that after taking in the savings of single-payer, such as lower administrative costs and prices of pharmaceuticals, the actual cost of the plan would end up at around $331 billion. And, because 70 percent of the state’s current health care spending is covered by public programs like Medicare and Medi-Cal, California would only need to come up with $106 billion in new revenue, which researchers proposed could be done through two new taxes (a 2.3 percent gross receipts and sales tax), with exemptions for small businesses and tax credits to offset costs for low-income families. In exchange, nearly all of Californians’ medical expenses would be covered, doing away with premiums, copays, and deductibles [Clio Chang, “What Killed Single-Payer in California?New Republic, 2017.06.30].

That exchange—taxes go up but premiums, copays, and deductibles go bye-bye—turns out to be a good deal:

But let’s say they’re right and the cost is closer to $400 billion overall, and that $100 billion in new revenues is needed (the high end of their $50b-$100b scale). That would pencil out to a monthly cost to each Californian of $208. ($100 billion / 40 million = $2500, which is the annual sum; divide that by 12 and you’re at $208.)

The average monthly premium for a Californian, as of 2016, was just under $600. For a household, it’s just above $1600.

In other words, even assuming the fiscally conservative analysis of the Senate Appropriations Committee and spreading the cost evenly across every Californian, single-payer would cost a third of what it currently costs Californians – just for health insurance alone. And unlike the present system, this would mean Californians don’t have to pay anything else beyond that $208/mo. No copays. No co-insurance. No out of pocket costs (at least within the Golden State). The ultimate savings would therefore be even greater. Californians could wind up paying just a quarter of what they pay now, if not less [“Single-Payer Would Cost a Third of Current Health Care Costs Per Family,” Health California, 2017.05.26].

Single-payer would have saved money in Vermont, too:

…even [Governor Peter] Shumlin’s projections indicated that the plan would reduce Vermont’s overall health spending and lower costs for the 90% of Vermont families with household incomes under $150,000. Despite differing projections, all three studies showed that single payer was economically feasible [John E. McDonough, “The Demise Of Vermont’s Single-Payer Plan,” New England Journal of Medicine, 2015.04.23].

Now back to Senator Rounds:

In Canada, long wait times in their single-payer system are the norm.According to a Fraser Institute report, British Columbia residents have to wait up to six months just to get an MRI. Ontario’s own Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care states that residents may have to wait up to 11 months for hip replacement surgery [Rounds, 2017.07.28].

Sure, Canada’s wait times exceed the international average, but…

  1. Canada doesn’t have to throw out single-payer to fix that problem; they could just use more electronic medical records.
  2. The U.S. is also below the international average: 43% of Canadians say they were able to get same-day or next-day appointments last time they were sick; the U.S. figure was 51%; the average in the 11 nations studied by the Commonwealth Fund was 57%.
  3. The countries that beat us were Germany, France, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Netherlands, all of which have some form of national health insurance system.
  4. Canadians report more timely access to mental health care than the international average.
  5. A far larger percentage of Americans skip health care due to cost than do Canadians.

Droves of Canadians seek care here in the U.S., at an additional cost to their already-high taxes to pay for government-run health care [Rounds, 2017.07.28].

“Droves” is a fuzzy term. Maybe 45,000 Canadians sought health care in another country in 2015; so did 250,000 Americans:

Overall, then, that’s about 0.13 percent of Canadians and 0.08 percent of Americans who flee their countries for health care. Those are pretty similar numbers. The only real difference is the reason for leaving. Canadians mostly cite wait times for elective surgery. Americans mostly cite the high cost of medical treatment [Kevin Drum, “Americans Flee America for Overseas Health Care Just Like Canadians,” Mother Jones, 2017.02.08].

And overall, Canadians are living longer, losing fewer moms and babies, staying slimmer, and expressing more satisfaction with their health care system than we Americans are.

Thus destroyed on the Canadian comparison, Senator Rounds flees to Europe:

Across Europe, where universal health care is prevalent, the cost to governments for this care is exploding, contributing to rising national debts. But instead of increasing taxes, which oftentimes are already over 50 percent of one’s income, governments are slowing down care to curb the cost, and innovation is stymied [Rounds, 2017.07.28].

Yet most of Europe manages to spend half as much per capita on health care as we do and still provide more health care resources and produce better health outcomes. Evidently slowing down care isn’t killing Europeans or Canadians faster than we Americans kill ourselves.

Here in the U.S., the federal government has proved inept at running any large, nationwide program effectively, especially when it comes to health care [Rounds, 2017.07.28].

Sweeping generalization. The federal government runs all sorts of large, nationwide programs effectively—Medicare, military, moonshots….

Look no further than Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Indian Health Service (IHS) for proof [Rounds, 2017.07.28].

VA care still scores better on patient satisfaction than the health care industry as a whole. IHS would run a whole lot better if Rounds and colleagues would just give it funding instead of campaign slogans.

While there are good employees in South Dakota at both agencies, nationwide these programs have been plagued with decades of long wait times, bureaucratic mismanagement, corruption and – most importantly – providing inadequate quality of care to Americans. In some cases, patients have even died waiting for care. Meanwhile, administrative costs have skyrocketed, wasting countless taxpayer dollars on paperwork instead of focusing on patient care [Rounds, 2017.07.28].

Comparing VA care to non-VA care is complicated, but older studies found the VA meeting or beating the private sector on cost.

As for IHS care, sure, it’s a mess. But again, that’s because Congress somehow expects IHS to treat remote rural populations with more health problems on less money:

The IHS is chronically underfunded. It receives a set amount of money each year to take care of 2.2 million native people — no matter how much care they may need. On the reservation, IHS facilities often don’t have services that people elsewhere expect, such as emergency departments or MRI machines. And those limited facilities can be hours away by car. In town, reaching care is easier, but clinics also don’t have enough funding to meet all of the health needs of the community. And people can’t get the free medication they are entitled to through the IHS anywhere but an IHS facility.

…In 2013, Indian Health Service spending for patient health services was $2,849 a person, compared with $7,717 for health care spending nationally, according to a report from the National Congress of American Indians. That despite the fact that Native Americans typically have more serious health problems than the general public, including higher rates of diabetes, liver disease and unintentional injuries [Misha Friedman, “For Native Americans Health Care Is a Long, Hard Road Away,” NPR, 2016.04.13].

A set amount of money each year—that’s exactly what Senator Rounds wanted to do to Medicaid. Senator Rounds would have ignored the care the poor actually need, just as he ignores the care American Indians under IHS actually need.

I wholeheartedly believe that everyone should have access to quality health care if they want it. No one should be priced out of health insurance for themselves or their families [Rounds, 2017.07.28].

Yet that’s exactly the effect that the three plans you, Senator Rounds, voted for last week would have had on millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions.

But forcing all Americans onto a costly, ineffective system that will reduce the quality of care and making them surrender all control of their health care decisions to the federal government is not the answer [Rounds, 2017.07.28].

The Republican plans you voted for, Senator Rounds, would have forced millions to pay more for insurance policies that cover less than their current plans. And no one under the ACA, the Canada Health Act, the UK National Health Service, or Australian Medicare has “surrender[ed] all control of their health care decisions to the federal government.” You’re not criticizing a real policy alternative here, Senator Rounds. You’re crying “Dragon!” to distract us from what you’re trying to burn down.

America is home to the best health care providers in the world, due to a free market system that allows for innovation and competition. Replacing Obamacare with a competitive, free-market system that actually controls costs, allows for innovation and focuses on the patient will allow us to continue our proud tradition of being the world’s health leader [Rounds, 2017.07.28].

Again, our best health care providers in the world somehow aren’t providing the best health care outcomes in the world. And even the conservative National Review recognizes that your talk about the “free market” is a sham: the Republican plans still kept all sorts of government intervention in health care. We didn’t have a real free market in health care before the ACA, and nothing Republicans offered would recreate a free market in health care. Moving to single-payer is the truly conservative policy option that would free up more resources for free market innovation in other sectors of the economy.

Nothing in your three votes directly provided for more innovation, cost control, or focus on patients. Your votes just would have made health insurance unaffordable for millions of Americans.

*     *     *

That’s every word of Senator Rounds’s column on “government-run health care,” and darn near every word is wrong.

Unable to win on the facts, unable to persuade a majority in the Senate away from Barack Obama’s so-far successful Affordable Care Act, Senator Mike Rounds resorts to fiction to win an argument no one is making. We don’t want government-run health care. We just want a more efficient way to pay the bills. Toward that end, Senator Rounds has offered nothing of substance. Nothing.



Twitter Analysis: Sutton Promotes Campaign, Bjorkman Adds Policy Points

As a minor diversion, let’s compare this week’s Twitter content from South Dakota’s two declared statewide Democratic candidates, Senator Billie Sutton and Tim Bjorkman.

Billie Sutton is running for governor. He’s been on Twitter since May 2011, sending out notes about Legislative action and other news. Since announcing his bid for governor on May 31, Team Sutton has devoted his Tweets exclusively to his campaign. His only tweet over the last seven days was a July 24 promotion of a July 21 pro-Sutton letter to the editor from a Vermillion supporter:

@billiehsutton, Twitter screen cap, retrieved 2017.07.29
@billiehsutton, Twitter screen cap, retrieved 2017.07.29

Tim Bjorkman joined Twitter in January 2011, but the earliest Bjorkman Tweet currently available is a July 12 invitation to his campaign kick-off in Canistota. Tweeting six times this week, Bjorkman posted two media reports of his Rapid City town hall (which means he’s held as many public meetings in Rapid City in two weeks of campaigning as Rep. Kristi Noem has held in seven months of this session of Congress) and four comments or articles related to the health care debate:

Notice that Democrat Bjorkman highlights the comments of prominent Republicans to support his criticism of Congress, the GOP health care bill, and the President. His Twitter feed includes no references yet to Pelosi, Ellison, or other prominent Democrats, even though at his campaign launch he talked an awful lot like a South Dakota Bernie Sanders.

Using Twitter to promote one’s campaign makes sense. But this week, Bjorkman outdid Sutton in volume and variety of posts by commenting directly on policy issues and sharing Senator McCain’s Tuesday floor speech to suggest his political values.



Marijuana Advocate & Breitbart Reader George Hendrickson Runs for House as Conservative Independent

If there’s any synergy for Democrats to gain from two potential marijuana ballot measures drawing young independents to the polls in 2018, George Hendrickson is looking to take it away.

Hendrickson, a frequent advocate at Legislative hearings for pro-cannabis measures, tells Dana Ferguson he plans to run for Congress as a conservative independent:

“South Dakota Republicans are always afraid of voting for the independent because it could help elect the Democrat,” he told [Ferguson]. “But that could be different in this election because every single person I’ve talked to, they are so mad at the establishment, Democrat and Republican alike, that they are dying for a real choice.”

…The lifelong Republican who left the GOP after he became fed up with perceived corporate influence said he’ll work to reform medical marijuana policy at the federal level, push for welfare program reform and consolidate federal agencies [Dana Ferguson, “Medical Cannabis Advocate, Former Police Officer Enters U.S. House Race,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2017.06.15].

On his public Facebook page, Hendrickson shares Breitbart posts cheering Trump’s border wall and Kid Rock’s run for Senate, promotes a video claiming climate change is a hoax (rebutted by Snopes here), and forwards a year-old smear claiming that Bernie Sanders bought a $170K Audi with political campaign contributions (shown to be unsubstantiated and implausible by Snopes here).

So, sensible voters, keep Hendrickson’s preferred sources of information in mind. A guy who reads and shares Breitbart, Fox, and dubious, dated Web memes probably isn’t someone we want making real policy decisions. His own reference to the fear of Democrats winning makes clear he’s not us liberals’ guy. As it stands, we liberals should stick with Tim Bjorkman, who expresses a far broader concept of compassionate governance and brings a judge’s experience at sifting through evidence and separating fact from fiction. Let Hendrickson focus on the one-note pot voters (who might not show up at the polls otherwise and thus don’t really hurt our vote count) and the cranky conservatives whom he might draw away from the white-bread Republican nominee.



Video: Bjorkman Talks Universal Health Care & Minimum Wage, Challenges Reporters

After his first big campaign speech, Democratic U.S. House candidate Tim Bjorkman huddled with reporters for thirteen minutes of Q&A. KELO TV used about 20 seconds for its personality/horserace question; KDLT used about 25 seconds of Bjorkman’s comments on his judicial experience and his view that we need a federal solution on health care to make up for South Dakota’s failure to expand Medicaid.

Bjorkman’s full exchange with the press is far more enlightening (my apologies for poor audio—lots of people were behind us getting sloppy joes!):

Bjorkman’s first response, on why he’s running for Congress, reveals a deeply humanitarian, service-oriented motivation. He served the public for years as a judge. The problems he saw from the bench—mental health, drug addiction, health care in general—affect not just the defendants who came before him but their families and especially their children. Bjorkman speaks of kids in “highly dysfunctional” homes living “lives of quiet desperation in the shadows of our culture.” Without hope and guidance, those kids “fall into the patterns of their parents and experience poor educational outcomes,” and “all too often they’ll fall into alcohol and marijuana use” before their teens. Those children and their parents “need a counselor more than they need a guard. They need treatment more than they need jail or prison.” Bjorkman says he can’t get those people the help they need from the bench; thus, he feels compelled to seek solutions as a Congressman.

At 3:13, Bjorkman says three magic words: “universal health care.”

There’s a solution to our problems. All the other countries that are developed have developed it. Heritage magazine did a study of the most economically free countries in the world… ten of the eleven more economically free countries than the United States all had universal health care. That’s Heritage Foundation. Forbes magazine addressed it [Tim Bjorkman, press conference, 2017.07.13, timestamp 2:50].

Bjorkman was referring to the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, on which in 2017 the United States has slipped to #17, and this 2015 Forbes  article, which said that, sure enough, ten of the eleven nations that beat us in 2015’s Heritage economic freedom rankings had universal coverage:

The two advanced economies with the most economically free health care systems—Switzerland and Singapore—have achieved universal health insurance while spending a fraction of what the U.S. spends. Switzerland’s public spending on health care is about half of America’s, and Singapore’s is about a fifth of ours. If we had either of those systems, we wouldn’t have a federal budget deficit [Avik Roy, “Conservative Think Tank: 10 Countries With Universal Health Care Have Freer Economies Than The U.S.,” Forbes, 2015.01.27].

At 3:50, Dana Ferguson asked if Bjorkman thinks 2018 will be a good year for Democrats in South Dakota. Bjorkman showed no interest in handicapping the partisan horserace. He similarly declined to wave the partisan flag in response to the next question, about how a Democrat can win in a red state, by saying that sure, party matters, but that he believes South Dakotans vote for the person.

At 5:50, Bjorkman reiterated the call he made in his speech to raise the federal minimum wage:

Yes… the federal government should increase the minimum wage. I just suggest $11 an hour. It would be $11.25 an hour today if we’d kept pace with 1968. I think we’re as great a nation today as we were in 1968 and that we should pay $11 or $11.25 an hour. If we did, that’s an anti-poverty… an anti-welfare or a welfare-cutting program, because it will remove people from the welfare rolls if they’re earning a fair wage, and we will not have to subsidize the people who are paying low wages [Bjorkman, timestamp 5:50].

At 7:50, Bjorkman avoided (ducked! dodged! dang it!) my question on his stance on immigration. Having just announced a “few minutes ago,” Bjorkman said he wants “to give thoughtful answers” and “not just give off-the-cuff responses” that “wouldn’t be worthy of the question you asked.” He did promise to address immigration and other issues in position papers and invited all of us reporters to come back and interview him in-depth on those positions as the seventeen months of the campaign progress.

Bjorkman also left me hanging at the end on my question about engaging young voters. He certainly believes young people should be interested and involved in this House contest, because the race is all about “preserving the American dream for their generation and their children.” Preserving the American dream ought to be enough to mobilize everyone to study the candidates and vote, but preserving the American dream is a banner any candidate can wave. Bjorkman the man of principle, policy, and problem-solving will want to sit down with his team of campaign strategists and marketers to figure out how to distinguish himself in the marketplace and uniquely appeal to the young voters who, if properly motivated, could tip the election in his favor. (Of course, Bjorkman may have already distinguished himself from all comers by saying “universal health care” and “increase the minimum wage.” Team Bjorkman: are you positioning Bjorkman as South Dakota’s Bernie Sanders?)

Around 8:45, Bjorkman spoke of the hard, lonely accountability of being a judge:

There’s nobody else to point a finger at or blame for any decision you make. You alone stand accountable for it. You alone are responsible for it, and it’s a very lonely job to sentence somebody for first-degree murder.

A trial judge makes thousands of decisions that impact people’s lives in important ways every year, and every time your duty is to do what’s right, what’s fair and just. So do I think that’s a good exercise for making decisions for the public on issues? Yes, I do, I think it’s good training for that [Bjorkman, timestamp 8:45].

Bjorkman should speak of that experience and responsibility every chance he gets. That judicial experience may even excuse, explain, and justify his not having a quick answer on immigration. As a judge, Bjorkman spent years making decisions with grave consequences. The liberty, health, safety, financial well-being, and the very lives of citizens, not to mention the proper application of law, hung on his thoughts and words. The details of his every decision were subject to review by higher courts. Bjorkman had to take his time to make sure he reviewed evidence from all sides and worked toward a just decision. The courtroom is no place for off-the-cuff statements. Neither is the campaign trail or Congress, not for Bjorkman, a thoughtful decision-maker who recognizes the impact of his words and policies. He won’t wing it; he’ll take his time and think it through. (Another note to Bjorkman’s campaign staff: on this key quality, thorough, thoughtful Bjorkman is the anti-Trump. Keep him off Twitter!)

The follow-up question about whether handing out all those sentences might produce a backlash at the polls from convicts and families didn’t faze Bjorkman. “Most people who go to prison, they’re struggling and they know it, and their families know it.” He said many people he sentenced told him, “I don’t want freedom; I want to be cured.” Bjorkman comes across not as a hard case who doesn’t care about the defendants who’ve come before him; quite the contrary, he sounds like a judge at peace with his conscience who has used the bench to help broken people.

Making none of the press coverage was Bjorkman’s suggestion to the press for a really useful news story:

You want to see what’s going on in our culture… sit in court for a day, or better yet, do a story where you’re following someone into the couet system and through the penal system, parole system afterward. You’d have a very powerful story. It might win you an award if you want to do that. It just takes some work and effort. I’ve recommended that to several reporters. Nobody’s taken me up on that. The parole board will welcome you on that end, too, to sit in on hearings, they’ve told me that [Bjorkman, timestamp 11:45].

On this suggestion and in his resistance to standard reporters’ horserace questions, Bjorkman signaled a practiced, professional, and gently sparring relationship with the press. “I’m not gonna do what you’d like me to there,” Bjorkman said to KELO’s question at 12:20 about why voters should choose him over his Republican opponents Dusty Johnson and Shantel Krebs. Bjorkman is not nihilist tyrant Donald Trump trying to delegitimize the national press that is exposing his sins. Nor is he a naïf frightened or bedazzled by the cameras and mics. Bjorkman is gently challenging the local press to focus on issues that matter and not falling into the quick-hit horserace comments that make it easier for reporters to meet the ten p.m. deadline.

I still want answers on immigration and engaging young voters in democracy (plus education, Native American relations, net neutrality, privacy…)… but as Bjorkman noted, I’m asking several months before anyone will really be paying attention. I have high expectations, and Bjorkman has time to meet them. In his first campaign press scrum yesterday, Bjorkman showed he may have the chops to do it.



Video: Bjorkman’s First Public Speech as Candidate for U.S. House

Recently retired judge Tim Bjorkman held the first public event of his U.S. House campaign yesterday evening in Canistota. The Democratic candidate spoke to a friendly crowd of about 170 friends, neighbors, and visitors at the Canistota Veterans Memorial on the grounds of the Canistota Public School.

Introducing Bjorkman were his neighbor and former Canistota teacher and school superintendent Keith Ligtenberg, his friend and Total Stop Food Stores president Jeff Nielsen, and his sister Nancy Pulford:

In a 25-minute address, Bjorkman spoke of his desire to honor “what really makes America great… her ideals.”

Bjorkman said he saw firsthand in his courtroom the impacts of the middle class falling away from the well-off. Bjorkman said that growing inequality creates a “quiet desperation” and threatens “the economic, social, and moral fabric” of the nation. The problems he saw from the bench are beyond his ability as a judge to sole; thus, said Bjorkman, he feels a calling to run for Congress, where he believes he can solve these problems.

Sounding like Bernie Sanders, Bjorkman expressed his dismay that one American family has more wealth than 130 million American combined. He said it is morally wrong that in a nation as rich as the United States, one in three kids grow up poor.

Bjorkman said we need to honor work again and require able-bodied recipients of public assistance to to do some kind of work. He advocated moving people off welfare by raising the minimum wage. Bjorkman said the federal minimum wage he made back in 1968 at the Kimball IGA offered purchasing power in today’s dollars of $11.25. (This CNBC report pegs the 1968 value at $10.90.) He said a mom working full-time at an $11/hour minimum wage wouldn’t qualify for food stamps. Bjorkman indicated that a minimum wage that still leaves full-time workers qualifying for public assistance merely subsidizes low-wage employers.

Bjorkman called for more access to mental health care and drug treatment in our corrections system. He said we don’t need to have a debate about whether health care is a “right”; we simply need to recognize the making health accessible to all is the right thing to do morally and economically.

Citing Warren Buffett’s statement that “medical costs are the tapeworm of American economic competitiveness,” Bjorkman said that health care costs drag American businesses down more than taxes.

Bjorkman said the health care system reminds him of something Almanzo said to Laura in the Little House books:

“Everyone gets their ice; it’s just that the rich get theirs in summer and the poor get theirs in the winter.” The poor in South Dakota get their health care in our emergency rooms, our jails, and our prisons, often erratically and when it’s too late to easily treat, and often far, far more expensive than it needed to be.

Bjorkman called the House GOP health care plan “a moral, economic disaster” that is hardly a health care plan and more of a tax cut for the wealthy. He said he would have voted against that plan. He called on his fellow candidates in the House race to say on the record how they would have voted on that House plan.

Bjorkman also decried the cuts the Trump budget would make to the USDA. Those cuts, said Bjorkman, amount to “economic war on rural America” at a time when rural communities are already worse off than our cities with “higher poverty, higher unemployment rates, higher incidence of substandard housing, and poorer water quality.”

Bjorkman said South Dakota has too often elected people we like but who go to Washington and fall in with their national party’s agenda and wealthy corporate special interests. Bjorkman said just about everyone in Washington has a lobbyist except for regular folks and promised to be “your advocate.”

After the speech, guests enjoyed sloppy joes served by the Bjorkman campaign. Folks with young ‘uns then walked a block downtown to enjoy the carnival on the first evening of Canistota Sport Days festivities.