Senator Al Novstrup repeatedly talks about how one should listen more than one talks.
Enjoy that for a moment….
Al’s point, of course, as any good campaign manager will say should be the point of anything a candidate says on the stump, is to say that “listening” somehow distinguishes him from his opponent. When Al Novstrup says good legislators “spend more time listening than you spend talking” (see 5:01 in this video from yesterday’s candidate forum), he means that his opponent—that’s me, Cory Allen Heidelberger!—spends more time talking than he does listening.
Al’s subtextual claim, like so many other things he says, is false, as anyone watching yesterday’s Senate candidates forum here in Aberdeen can tell by my statements from the podium. Watch me in the Chamber video as I listen to the other speakers and take notes. Listen to how frequently my comments respond to things that other speakers have said at the podium. Even in my three-minute opening statement, which was an opportunity to deliver some carefully focus-grouped, studiously wordsmithed, and thoroughly rehearsed marketing gem, I ditched all three versions of my opener that I had drafted and instead dovetailed off statement that Al made about “South Dakota values” barely sixty seconds before I took the mic. “I share your values, too,” I began, “and I’ve got the evidence to prove it”:
And I kept listening and responding to what I heard throughout yesterday’s forum.
On online sales tax, I listened closely to Senator Novstrup’s support for taking $58 million more out of South Dakotans’ pockets and made clear to the audience that they just heard a Republican incumbent support collecting more tax dollars, which should negate any negative attacks the Republicans try to make against Democrats for supposedly raising taxes. I also pointed out that the “fairness issue” that Al uses to cloak his support for higher taxes doesn’t tell the whole story about a sales tax regime that still gives advantages to remote online sellers.
By the way, kudos to Senator Brock Greenfield for effective use of a visual aid and demonstrating how to hand a bottle of water to the Queen of England.
I had to go first on the next question, which was, “Do you support the Partridge Amendment?” That the moderator couldn’t even pronounce it right on the first pass suggests that neither he nor many regular voters would know what the Partridge Amendment is. As first speaker, it thus fell to me, the only non-incumbent at the podium, to explain what the arcane little law is, in sixty seconds or less. That’s probably fortunate for the audience, because, thanks to my extensive blog coverage of the Partridge Amendment and the 2016 sales tax increase for teacher pay of which it was a crucial part, as well as my long experience as a teacher, I’ve already explained the Partridge Amendment to the public more times than Al and Brock have put together:
Sure, I talk, but I use the sixty seconds allotted here to talk to the voters first, to help them get the information they need to understand the issue first, then use the last fifteen seconds to offer my position on the Partridge Amendment. I understand when it’s a legislator’s duty to listen, and I understand when it’s a legislator’s duty to talk, not to puff himself up and win votes but to educate the voters so they know what’s happening in Pierre and can make smart choices. Even when I do get to my selling point, I offer the voters a concrete policy, revising the Partridge Amendment to focus on lowering the sales tax on food, to chew on (which I then expand on here on the blog with hyperlinks, showing that I don’t just talk; I say, “Here, read, see for yourself, and make your own informed decision”).
And if you’re listening, notice that both Republicans, Senator Greenfield and Senator Novstrup, said the same thing I did: they hesitate to repeal the Partridge Amendment but are willing to consider repealing it to apply these new tax revenues to priorities other than reducing the overall state sales tax rate. Only Senator-Elect Susan Wismer expressed immediate, unhesitant support for repealing the Partridge Amendment.
I only got to half of the next question, a complicated combo on job training for disadvantaged adults and strengthening mental wellness. But I listened and acknowledged the preceding speakers; comment on the challenge posed by the question in our limited time. I listened to the other speakers and tried to bring out aspects of the problem not already mentioned. And I put the issue in practical political context by pointing out that we need to do better than our current District 3 Senator at working on a bipartisan basis to move beyond talk and to enact concrete solutions:
You’ll notice that I also listened assiduously to the timekeeper and, unlike other speakers at yesterday’s forum, actually stopped when she held up the red stop card. You give me 60 seconds to talk, and I will use the full 60, but little if any more than that.
I listened closely to the falsely premised gotcha question fired at Senator-Elect Wismer specifically. I didn’t rise to offer support or clarification or otherwise speechify; instead, I listened to what was said, took time to research the issue, then posted on it later here on the blog when I felt I could speak responsibly on the facts.
The next question about enforcing child support against biological fathers didn’t offer much room for disagreement. I listened to Novstrup’s response, didn’t hear much disagreement with my own thoughts, then offered a brief explanation of the state’s role in protecting children and the positive update of the child support schedule passed in 2017.
The next audience question asked us candidates, “How would you work to enhance working relations with the South Dakota legislators—keep in mind, compromise?” I offered concrete examples of how my experience as an educator and a journalist have helped me build working relationships with South Dakotans of vastly different professional and political backgrounds.
But then listen to Brock, who says, “Some people” (really? who?) “would like to engage in name-calling and vitriol, and others” (what? only others? not everyone? really?) just want to see us do the best job for the people who have elected us.” Listen to Al, who again vaguely warns that NSU will lose out if we don’t keep electing crony Republicans (though he has yet to give an example of any bill that helped Northern that crucially hinged on his ability to forge relationships with leaders on either side of the aisle, and who has yet to give any concrete example of his ability to build relationships across the partisan divide), who criticizes “name-calling,” and who says his mantra is, “Be nice to everyone.”
We’ll come back to that. First, one more question, the last question of this forum, on meth and opioid addiction.
First, I show I was listening by helping the moderator figure out who should speak next. Note also the relationship I build with Senator Greenfield by cooperating to help him take his rightful place as first speaker on this issue. Most importantly, notice how I dovetail perfectly with Senator Novstrup’s statements, to which I carefully listened, by transitioning from his exhortation to individual action to what we’re really supposed to be talking about, the policy solutions that the voters pay legislators to make.
And lest you think my “listening” is just code for “grab Al’s words and beat him over the head with them,” note also that at 5:40, I note that Brock offered the good practical policy solution of requiring doctors and pharmacists more closely monitor opioid prescriptions toward which our Legislature has made some positive steps.
Now for the closers. Again, as with my opener, I had some comments planned. But as I listened to Al and Brock talk about “name-calling” and “vitriol” and “being nice to everyone,” as I thought about how those words contrast with their actions, as I thought about the Republican inaction on which Senator-Elect Wismer focused her most pointed criticism (I haven’t said much about her performance yesterday, but yes, I was listening to my friend Susan, too), I realized the words of my opponents (Brock isn’t my opponent on the ballot, but he was tag-teaming with Al, so let’s rumble) framed the theme that effectively summarizes for the voters this forum, this election, and this Legislature.
You’ll note that this one-minute closer is the only speech for which I took my notes to the podium. In one regard, yes, these closing comments were planned… on the bottom half of my legal pad, in the eight minutes before I delivered them.
Senator-Elect Wismer and I didn’t coordinate our attacks on Republicans’ tendency not to back up their words, but we came to the same point. Here’s how I put it:
I just can’t stand here and be lectured on niceness and name-calling by a bunch of Republicans who don’t mean what they say.
The gentlemen next to me have said, “We don’t believe in name-calling and vitriol,” but it’s Republicans who give us a President Donald Trump. Think about that.
Al tells me, “Be nice to everyone,” but we shake our heads when I point out the fact that a lot of Republicans in this room go to the hate rallies that have been sponsored by racists in this community and say, Well, we don’t want everyone in this community, just good white people like us.
They talk about “relationships” when really what they mean is We want to belong to The Club in Pierre and have the elites do what we want and repeal what the voters have asked for. That’s not relationships. That’s cronyism. That’s corruption.
There’s a big difference here. If you want real relationships, real trust with people, you have to build that by meaning the things you say.
Republicans use a lot of words. The big difference is that I mean the words that I use.
So you’re better off voting for an honest Democrat than a dishonest Republican.
Let’s get some real trustworthy relationships in Pierre with people who mean what they say. Thank you [Cory Allen Heidelberger, closing speech, Senate candidates forum, Aberdeen, SD, 2018.09.15].
(In high school, I stunk at extemporaneous speaking. I think I’m getting better.)
Aberdeen, South Dakota, you are better off voting for honest Democrats who really do listen than dishonest Republicans who only talk about listening. Vote accordingly.