Rep. Paula Hawks (D-9/Hartford) held a campaign town hall here in Aberdeen yesterday evening. I’ll summarize her comments in a moment, but first, I’d like to address why I like Paula and why we need more good teachers like her to run for office.
Good teachers are great conversationalists. Sure, good teachers can make good speeches (Paula showed us that at McGovern Day). Good teachers can stand in front of a crowd and speak intelligently on their fields of expertise without notes, as Paula did at the beginning of her program last night. But good teachers shine when they step away from their prepared comments and let their students lead the conversation, when they trade places with their audience and become the listeners. Good teachers listen closely, respond fearlessly, and tie ideas together on the fly to help their students see a bigger picture.
Paula listened intently to every question last night. She picked out and reiterated key points raised to show that she understood what her constituents were saying. She responded with detailed, policy-oriented answers that showed she was ready for any question. Our current Congresswoman, with her ten years of experience in elected office, has yet to project such professional confidence. Yet Paula, with her ten years of teaching experience, has no problem conveying her knowledge, her openness, and her readiness to do the job of representing South Dakota in Congress.
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Now, let’s turn to what Rep. Hawks talked about with Brown County voters.
Agriculture, COOL, and CRP
Rep. Hawks noted that South Dakota lacks a seat on the House Agriculture Committee for the first time in sixty years. She cannot fathom Rep. Kristi Noem’s decision to abandon House Ag in favor of House Ways and Means. Rep. Hawks said agriculture is too important to South Dakota not to have our lone Congressperson on House Ag, and upon election, Hawks says she will demand a seat on that committee.
Hawks cited two vital agriculture issues where we need change. She is appalled at Congress’s repeal of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). As a mom, she wants to know where the food she feeds her kids comes from. She acknowledged that Rep. Noem gave COOL some support, but Hawks promises to lead a fight to restore COOL. She acknowledged the ag-industrial Farm Bureau’s position that COOL might trigger tariffs and boycotts from other countries, but she waved the “America First” flag here and said other countries should not dictate policy for South Dakota and the United States.
Hawks also said agriculture and tourism, two of South Dakota’s biggest economic sectors, depend on strengthening the Conservation Reserve Program. Hawks said 150,000 CRP acres will expire soon and will likely be plowed into cropland. That’s a lot of habitat for the pheasants, ducks, and deer that visitors spend a lot of money in our state to come hunt. And of 727 applications to place over 42,000 acres of South Dakota land back into CRP, the feds only offered to accept two applications for 101 acres. Agriculture depends on conservation, and hunt-tourism depends on habitat. We need more CRP acres.
Energy: “Fossil Fuels Are on the Way Out”
Hawks said South Dakota has an opportunity to be an even bigger leader in renewable fuels. She noted we already have helped lead the nation into ethanol, which she wants to see expand to cellulosic ethanol. Now we need to take the lead in the wind and solar energy that we could abundantly produce. Hawks said she understands that South Dakota’s electric cooperatives have invested in new coal-fired power generation and don’t want to lose out on a return on that investment, but, echoing her Senate candidate counterpart Jay Williams, Hawks said last night, “fossil fuels are on the way out” and renewables are on the way in. We can either be reactive and play catch-up, or we can be proactive and position ourselves to lead the country in renewable energy production and jobs. Rep. Hawks prefers the latter.
Rep. Noem’s HEALTH Act
Rep. Noem has been seeking election-year headlines by pushing her Indian Health Service reform bill, known as the HEALTTH Act. Rep. Hawks acknowledged that the bill has some good elements, like reforming administrative practices at IHS. However, Hawks said the bill includes no funding and thus is an empty shell. It is also an amendment to the Affordable Care Act. Placing this reform in a law that Noem has voted to repeal 63 times puts it on shaky ground in any Congress controlled by Noem’s party. Hawks said the bill privatizes IHS services in ways that won’t work as well in South Dakota as elsewhere. The bill also takes too much of a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach and does not provide for enough collaboration with tribes to ensure adaptation of the reforms to specific needs in specific communities. Building collaboration with the tribes isn’t easy, said Hawks, and it takes more than showing up the day before the election.
Rep. Hawks notes that an easy step for improving health care for tribal members and thousands of other South Dakotans would be to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Hawks invited Noem to join a bipartisan effort to persuade Republican legislators, but Noem shurgged Medicaid expansion off as strictly a state issue.
Guns, Pheasants, Obama, and Six-Shooters
Queried on gun policy, Rep. Hawks says she loves hunting pheasants but can’t bring herself to shoot Bambi. She said that President Obama hasn’t taken away our guns and she doesn’t foresee or support any confiscation of firearms.
That said, Hawks wholeheartedly supports the President’s “No Fly, No Buy” proposal. If an individual is too dangerous to step on an airplane, that individual is too dangerous to buy a gun. Hunter Hawks also said a 30-round clip has no use in hunting. She proposed six rounds as a reasonable limit for magazines. Fellow hunters in the audience backed her up by noting that the federal duck stamp purchasers are restricted to three rounds in the chamber, while deer hunters can only load five rounds. (Again, as Jay Williams suggested last month in Aberdeen, if you can’t hit a bird with three shots, you’re a poor marksman who maybe ought to go practice some more before you march around the countryside with a loaded weapon.) Hawks also said there’s no need for military-style firearms to be in the hands of untrained civilians.
Mental Health Stigma
When an audience member turned the guns discussion to mental health, Rep. Hawks made a remarkable segue to a broader issue about the stigma we place on seeking treatment for mental illness. People talk openly about fighting cancer and their treatments for other physical maladies; Hawks said we should be able to talk about treatment for mental illness as openly, without fear of criticism or shaming. No legislation will fix that stigma, but Hawks showed she can take a moral position that can encourage shifts in attitudes for the public good.
Partisan Politics and Inside Baseball
Turning from policy to politics, Rep. Hawks asserted that Republicans will take a hit this year for nominating Trump and for their Obama-obstructionism. She said that the Democrats have a good shot at taking over the Senate and will “make great strides” in the House. Trump will drive more voters away, and Hawks thinks that will help her campaign. Hawks said her campaign’s poll numbers “have been very good” and Noem is getting “a little nervous.” Hawks said her campaign had received confirmations of three debates, at Dakotafest, on SDPB, and on KELO, but that now “complications” have arisen with Dakotafest, where Noem is now slated to appear with her Republican Senate colleagues in a panel discussion.
Noem may also be nervous about Republican support for Hawks. Last night, Hawks said Republicans have given her campaign moral and financial support and have told her they are ready for a change. When Republicans are ready for change, you know things must be tough.
Living in D.C., Serving South Dakota
Rep. Hawks said that in her first conversation with Senator Tim Johnson, our last Democratic Senator asked her right away, “What are you going to do with your kids?” Hawks said she would bring them to live with her in Washington, D.C., so she could be a full-time Congresswoman and a full-time mom. “Good answer,” said Johnson, who did the same with his kids. Hawks says she talked to Johnson’s son Brendan, and he said he wouldn’t have had his upbringing, with his dad, in D.C., any other way.
Hawks said that when she went to Pierre to represent District 9 in the State House, she was urged to get a “burner” phone to list for constituent contact. Hawks said she rejected that advice and gave out her personal cell phone number. She said she wants all constituents, including Republicans, to be able to reach her as easily as possible.