• Tag Archives Tim Bjorkman
  • Comparing Campaign Launches: Sutton Tuned More than Bjorkman to Press and Party Politics

    I’ve attended two Democratic candidate kick-offs this year, Senator Billie Sutton’s gubernatorial announcement on May 31 and Judge Tim Bjorkman’s Congressional announcement on July 13. Since it’s a beautiful sunny weekend, let’s take a break from policy and talk about the press and political optics of these two events.

    Trailer for TV cameras at Sutton event, 2017.05.31.
    Trailer for TV cameras at Sutton event, 2017.05.31.

    Sutton and Bjorkman both launched their campaigns on their home turf—Sutton out in Gregory County, Bjorkman in Canistota—which means neither launched in a major media center. But the Sutton event was clearly designed to accommodate the statewide media who would make the drive. Team Sutton staged its show on a Wednesday at 11 a.m., allowing plenty of time for reporters from Sioux Falls and Rapid City to drive to the Sutton Ranch and still get home in time to file for the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. news. Team Sutton set up a flatbed trailer behind the crowd to give the press good camera angles. The campaign distributed signs during the show to enhance the visuals. The campaign incentivized attendance with a tease: they didn’t say for which office Sutton was declaring, meaning reporters wanting the first headline or Tweet had to be at the event.

    Team Bjorkman didn’t tease us with any, “Will Tim go for House or primary Billie?” Bjorkman declared for House on Monday. Nor did Bjorkman’s launch lean toward the media in the other ways Sutton’s did. Team Bjorkman scheduled his launch for Thursday at 6 p.m.—good for friends and neighbors getting off work, but rotten for reporters who have to hustle after hours to make the 10 p.m. TV deadline or the print deadline for Friday’s paper. There was no flatbed or special media section; camera operators just grabbed the best free patches of grass they could find among the crowd. I didn’t see any campaigners handing out signs, though volunteers from out of town brought some well-used signs from this year’s frequent Resistance activities.

    Tim Bjorkman for Congress
    Tim Bjorkman for Congress bumper sticker

    The Bjorkman campaign did appear to have a leg up on the Sutton campaign with handouts. When I parked down the street and started getting my gear out of my car, one member of a crew of very young volunteers approached and offered a Tim Bjorkman for Congress bumper sticker. Volunteers were also manning a sign-up table and handing out smaller shirt stickers, which were donned by numerous attendees. I arrived later at the Sutton event, so maybe I missed their handouts, but I didn’t see bumper stickers at the ranch. (But I was also mistaken about the composition of Sutton’s beef sandwiches, so I welcome correction!)

    While both men downplayed partisan politics, the speakers at each event showed that Team Sutton was more consciously targeting a statewide Democratic audience. Introducing Sutton were three South Dakotans well known in Democratic circles: Sutton’s wife and Gregory County commissioner Kelsea Kenzy Sutton, former legislator Bernie Hunhoff, and former Texas Congressman Max Sandlin, who is now a Sioux Falls guy and husband of our former Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. Bjorkman’s introducers were more local and personal: his sister Nancy Pulford, his neighbor and former Canistota school superintendent Keith Ligtenberg, and his friend and local grocery entrepreneur Jeff Nielsen. Bjorkman’s speakers basically said, “We know and love Tim.” Sutton’s speakers said the same thing, but they sent an additional message. The presence of Hunhoff and Sandlin said, Billie is the Party’s guy. Primary him at your peril.

    Part of the audience at Bjorkman's campaign kick-off in Canistota.
    Part of the audience at Bjorkman’s campaign kick-off in Canistota.

    Bjorkman mustered a bigger crowd than Sutton. I guesstimated 130 at Sutton’s launch and 170 at Bjorkman’s. South Dakota Democratic Party chair Ann Tornberg attended both campaign kick-offs, as did prominent former Democratic legislator Scott Parsley from Madison. While my face-count is far from comprehensive, I saw a few more Democratic colleagues and candidates in Sutton’s crowd. Sutton drew folks like Mark Winegar and Quinten Burg, while Bjorkman drew former legislators Rod Hall and Frank Kloucek. Bjorkman’s crowd included a contingent of Sioux Falls Democratic Forum regulars. Bjorkman also drew the attendance of Republican District 25 Representative Tom Pischke and an observer from the Daugaard Administration… although I think those two Republicans were just in town for Canistota Sport Days.

    Sutton’s launch clearly played up his rural credentials—at the ranch, Missouri River bluffs and boundless sky in the background, hay bales for seating, Sutton beef for lunch. The Sutton crowd was also rich with cowboy hats. I saw one cowboy hat in Canistota, and that was on Bjorkman’s son John. Bjorkman’s Canistota setting was far from urban, at the small-town veterans monument, in front of their small-town K-12 school, just up their small-town Main Street from the Sport Days carnival rides as they started up. (Patrick Lalley still would have called it too rural.)

    Tim Bjorkman in jeans and short-sleeve short
    Tim Bjorkman in jeans and short-sleeve short

    But looking at the candidates themselves, you’d have taken Bjorkman for the more rural man. Sutton the cowboy left his hat on the ground and spoke in a dark business suit. Even with no necktie, Sutton was still a bit fancy for the local bar. Not Bjorkman: the former judge stepped out in broken-in jeans and a short-sleeved checkered shirt, closer to the regular rural guy many South Dakotans fancy themselves to be. Now there’s an argument to be had about dressing for the job for which one is applying, but there’s enough polo shirt and blue jeanery going on among our Congressional candidates for that argument to make much of a difference.

    These observations about the optics of Sutton’s and Bjorkman’s campaign kick-offs probably won’t amount to a hill of beans in determining whether they win on Election Day (lo! these many months from now). But they do suggest that, out of the gate, the Sutton campaign is more attuned to the press and perhaps the dynamics of intra-party politics. I don’t mean to say that tuning a good thing; I just mean to say that tuning is a thing.

  • 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 dysfunction” 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: Neighbors, Family, Politicos Eager for Bjorkman Campaign

    Tim Bjorkman’s first speech as a Democratic candidate for U.S. House brought out about 170 of Bjorkman’s friends, family, colleagues, and interested political types. Among the Canistota crowd was former legislator Rod Hall from Mitchell:

    Susan Decker from Canistota liked what she heard:

    …as did Canistota farmer Bo DeKramer:

    Denise Kurth came down from Salem to hear the former judge talk politics:

    Between school and work, Bjorkman’s son John is looking forward to helping his dad campaign… although John says it will be a while before John himself thinks of running for any office:

    Veteran legislator Frank Kloucek had just gotten off the tractor from cutting wheat and hurried up from Scotland to hear Bjorkman’s announcement. Even a snoot full of wheat dust couldn’t keep Kloucek’s exuberance for Bjorkman’s campaign from coming through:

  • 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.

  • Former Judge Tim Bjorkman Declares Run for U.S. House

    First official Bjorkman campaign photo: checked shirt, wood fence... ah, country living....
    First official Bjorkman campaign photo: checked shirt, wood fence—ah, country living….

    Speaking of Democratic candidates, we have another declared contender for the U.S. House race. A month after his final day as circuit court judge, Tim Bjorkman has announced he wants to go to Congress.

    The Canistota man hasn’t put up a website yet, but he did reserve the domain TimBjorkman.com late Saturday night (03:14:49 Zulu Time Sunday morning, says the ICANN WHOIS record). The campaign has put up a Facebook page for the official campaign kick-off, which is Thursday, 6 p.m., at the Canistota Public School Veterans Memorial near 4th and Main. The event promises a “non-partisan, thoughtful, outside-the-box advocate who will be a strong voice for South Dakota and against corporate Washington.”

    Bjorkman has appeared twice at the Sioux Falls Democratic Forum in the last three months. Theoretically, he would face Chris Martian in the primary, but since announcing his desire to run for Congress in April, Martian has been politically quiet. The Mitchell Daily Republic mentioned some candidatorial posturing by Senator Troy Heinert and Rep. Shawn Bordeaux on Friday in Pickstown, but neither of them have pulled any official triggers.

  • Retiring Judge Bjorkman Speaks to Sioux Falls Democratic Forum Friday

    Judge Tim Bjorkman, FB photo, July 2015.
    Judge Tim Bjorkman, FB photo, July 2015.

    My sponsors at the Sioux Falls Democratic Forum have landed an interesting speaker for Friday’s luncheon. Addressing all interested listeners at noon at the Sioux Falls VFW will be Judge Tim Bjorkman, who will offer “A Judicial Perspective on Mass Imprisonment: Its Profound Impact on South Dakota’s Social, Cultural, and Economic Well Being.”

    Judge Bjorkman serves the First Judicial Circuit, which runs along the Missouri from Buffalo County to Union County and reaches up to Hanson and McCook counties. He comes highly recommended by a First Circuit native and Governor’s chief of staff Tony Venhuizen, who clerked for Judge Bjorkman:

    …any replacement for Bjorkman will be stepping into the shoes of a very thoughtful judge, said Venhuizen, who served as Bjorkman’s law clerk in 2008 and 2009.

    “He’s the type of guy you’d want as a judge,” Venhuizen said. “He’s very thoughtful and very interested in doing the right thing” [Jake Shama, “Mitchell, Yankton Judges to Retire,” Mitchell Daily Republic, 2017.03.21].

    Venhuizen was responding to Judge Bjorkman’s announcement in March that he will retire from the bench come July.

    The Mitchell Daily Republic featured some noteworthy comments from Judge Bjorkman’s bench in 2010:

    To Steven Youmans, a 21-year-old man who admitted to consuming alcohol and testing positive for marijuana while on probation: “When I look at the pre-sentence report, I see that you lied to me when you stood before me about your marijuana abuse. I don’t take offense myself as a person, but for the system of justice that governs … you offended that system when you lied.”

    …To Patricia Erler, a 61-year-old woman who admitted to receiving approximately $2,000 in fraudulent unemployment funds: “I’m torn, Ms. Erler, because of the insidious nature of fraud. It’s hard to detect. It’s a blight on our society, frankly, and there seems to be an increasing disrespect for money that comes from the government. There needs to be a clear message, in my view, that it won’t be treated lightly.”

    To Loren Mead, a 19-year-old man who admitted to drinking alcohol while on probation: “Every time that you appear in front of the court, any sympathy that your own personal history might generate is less and less. He didn’t set any beer in front of you or make you drink or cause you to skip out on your treatment program. Those were all choices you made, weren’t they? That’s really what life is all about. Sometimes to be an adult man or woman is about accepting the moral responsibility for our own actions and not looking for someone else to blame” [“Quotes from the Courtroom,” Mitchell Daily Republic, 2010.12.28].

    Judge Bjorkman explained that his bench commentary arose from the pattern of family breakdown that he saw in pre-sentencing reports:

    Bjorkman said he didn’t initially plan to attach words of wisdom to his sentences. It just happened naturally as a byproduct of his analysis of pre-sentence reports, which contain information on the criminal’s family, education and substance-abuse history. Bjorkman said the reports indicate a “disintegration” of the family structure.

    “The breakdown of the family is the most powerful component,” he said. “Probably 85 percent of the people who stand in front of me on a felony sentencing grew up without a father in the home or grew up with an alcoholic, drug-addicted or abusive father. Usually, two of those three exist.”

    But Bjorkman is careful to point out that a rough history does not excuse criminal action [Adam Kaus, “Local Judge Mixes Commentary in with Sentencing,” Mitchell Daily Republic, 2010.12.28].

    Listeners can learn more from Judge Bjorkman about his view of imprisonment in South Dakota at the Democratic Forum Friday at the Sioux Falls VFW on South Minnesota.