“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.”
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.
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].
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.
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.
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.
A.G. Jackley shifts blame for the light sentence to the Legislature (for changing Class 6 felonies like Bollen’s to presumption of probation) and Judge Tony Portra (for signaling that he already had too many inmates in the Brown County Jail). But Bjorkman’s argument about preserving the public trust seems to qualify the sort of aggravating factor that a judge could use to exercise the discretion that Bjorkman says judges have to put Class 6 felons in prison but for which A.G. Jackley failed to argue.
Got a question for Congresswoman Kristi Noem? Come to the Brown County Fair on Friday. According to the Aberdeen American News, South Dakota’s lone Representative will be on the fairgrounds sometime Friday along with SDGOP attorney general candidate Jason Ravnsborg.
Noem’s visit may overlap with that of the Democrat who wants to replace her, Tim Bjorkman, who will be at the Brown County Democrats’ excellent fair booth Thursday evening and Friday morning.
Here’s the full roster of scheduled political appearances at the Brown County Fair, as published in today’s Aberdeen American News:
Tuesday: Billie Sutton, Democratic candidate for governor, 5 p.m.
Wednesday: State Auditor Steve Barnett, candidate for secretary of state; Josh Haeder, staffer for Senator Rounds and candidate for state treasurer.
Thursday: Public Utilities Commissioner Chris Nelson.
Friday: U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, Republican candidate for governor; Jason Ravnsborg, candidate for attorney general.
Saturday: Dusty Johnson, candidate for U.S. House; Public Utilities commissioner Kristie Fiegen.
No word on Ravnsborg’s competitors for A.G., Charles McGuigan, John Fitzgerald, and Lance Russell. John Thune, Marty Jackley, and Shantel Krebs tell AAN they are coming but haven’t set times yet.
Also descending on Brookings later this month are Democrats—yes, Democrats!—pursuing their dreams of victory in 2018. The Brookings County Democrats are hosting their annual picnic on Thursday, August 24, at 5:30 p.m. at the Community Life Center of the First United Methodist Church on the corner of 6th St. and 7th Ave.
Speaking to the Brookings picnickers will be Senator Billie Sutton, who is running for South Dakota Governor, and Tim Bjorkman, who is running for U.S. House. The Brookings Dems will also offer door prizes, t-shirts for sale, and initiative petitions to sign.
The Brookings County Democrats picnic is (attention, new Jackrabbits!) free and open to the public. But if you’re able, help out the cause by bringing a dish to pass and an item to donate to the Brookings County Food Pantry.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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 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.
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:
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: