In remarks to an audience of 49 (non-staff, non-press) interested citizens in Aberdeen yesterday, Democratic candidate for U.S. House Tim Bjorkman made clear that rejecting special-interest money is central not only to his campaign but to his vision of fixing a broken Congress.
Bjorkman reiterated his pledge not to take money from political action committees or to participate in the “dialing for dollars” telemarketing that consumes more than half of the typical Congressperson’s day and which Senator Tim Johnson criticized in his farewell address to the Senate in 2014. Bjorkman also blasted the “dues system” in which leaders of both parties assign members to Congressional committees based on how much money they raise for the national party.
Bjorkman said this addiction to big money produces a Congress that is dedicated to the “ultra-wealthy” instead of the public good. He said big campaign donations explain why Congress can’t rein in rising health care and prescription drug prices. He said his Republican opponent, Dusty Johnson, is taking PAC money and will keep taking PAC money, meaning that he’ll take what I will call the Trump/Pruitt line in favor of Big Oil over South Dakota ethanol.
Bjorkman did not include Democratic Party money in his criticism of big money in politics, as he did in a June 7 press conference in Sioux Falls. That’s probably a good thing, as the audience included a number of local Democratic leading lights, including Sharon Stroschien, Deb Knecht, and Lars Herseth, who planned to walk across the street after the public forum at the library to a Bjorkman fundraiser at the ARCC. However, Bjorkman did repeat his desire to see Nancy Pelosi replaced as Democratic leader in Congress, a position he has maintained since he launched his campaign last July.
Bjorkman’s opening speech focused on the ills of special-interest money, but it also made several other salient points:
- At 8:40, Bjorkman inserted his declaration of support for country-of-original labeling (COOL) for agricultural products, opposition to vertical integration in meat-packing, and desire to strengthen the Trump/Perdue-hamstrung Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration in favor of small producers.
- At 10:10, Bjorkman roasted the Trump Administration for its “erratic” trade policy and demanded that our Congressional delegation “do more than wring their hands” and protect South Dakota from the Trump tariffs by reasserting their Article 1 Section 8 authority to regulate commerce with foreign nations.
- At 15:20, Bjorkman, the father of veterans of foreign wars, said it’s a “moral wrong” for us to send our children to war and then dump on their generation the costs of that war due to our cowardly deficit spending.
After his remarks, Bjorkman took questions. To a compound question on Citizens United and public lands, Bjorkman returned to the theme of big money capturing Washington. He noted that Senator Thune took big money ($928,428) from big Internet service providers and let net neutrality die. He tied the public lands question to special-interest money as well, saying President Theodore Roosevelt created national parks and monuments to protect public lands from special-interest exploitation:
Asked why he didn’t run as an independent, Bjorkman noted that there are no independents in the House, thus implicitly acknowledging that running with a party gives a candidate a much better chance of winning. Bjorkman could have cited the example of Larry Pressler, who basked in the “glorious freedom of independence” from PAC money during his 2014 independent bid for U.S. Senate but only finished third. Bjorkman said “proud to say” that more of his inclinations lean toward the Democratic Party but that he has his disagreements with the party. He drew applause by saying that we need people “who put country over party again.”
Larry Stroschien asked Bjorkman how he avoids opposition attacks tying him to Nancy Pelosi:
How do we lower health care costs? Bjorkman recommends Medicare as a public option, a combination of mental health treatment and drug addiction treatment with work training to get people back into the workforce so they can afford health coverage, price transparency, community health centers, and standing up to Big Pharma to get cheaper drug prices.
Shared-parenting advocates are everywhere, persistently pushing their personal inability to keep their families together into public policy issues. The former judge, a member of the judiciary often deemed corrupt by angry dads who lose custody cases, turned the question more deftly than I do, acknowledging that he tried to rule from the bench for the best parent, saying he likes equal time when possible, but noting that the root problem is absent parents (who 85% of the time are absent dads) and citing data from his magnum opus law review paper that children in homes with a single parent and an unmarried lover face ten times more risk of abuse than children in married two-parent homes. Bjorkman also noted that South Dakota’s 2011 budget cuts led to a 35% drop in the number of children protected by the Department of Social Services and led our state to the lowest “screened-in rate,” the percentage of child abuse reports on which the Department of Social Services follows up, in the nation.
To a question on soybeans, trade, and tariffs, Bjorkman repeated his disgust with the “impetuous” behavior of the current White House and cited Congress’s Constitutional authority to manage international trade:
Note how often (three of the seven questions) Bjorkman turns the conversation back to Big Money. The issue of special interests co-opting our Congress appears to genuinely outrage the Democratic candidate, and he’s counting on voters to share and act on that outrage.