- Associated Press - Friday, October 24, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - The two leading candidates in South Dakota’s governor’s race differ on almost every issue, but they’re particularly split in one area: the status quo.

State Rep. Susan Wismer, who’s trying to unseat Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard in a state that hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since 1978, says South Dakota needs competing ideologies.

“With a balancing voice in the governor’s office, a lot more positive things would happen for South Dakota,” she said.

Daugaard, though, says Republican control has worked well for South Dakota and points to his administration’s economic successes. He says split-party rule can lead to gridlock like the situation in Washington, D.C.

“To suggest that by having diversity of party identification, you automatically have a division of attitude and a diversity of opinion that doesn’t already exist, ignores the fact that there is a good diversity of opinion and attitude already,” he said.

The two are also competing with independent candidate and former University of South Dakota law professor Mike Myers.

In its 125-year history, South Dakota has sent only four Democratic governors to Pierre. Republicans have controlled both houses of the state Legislature and the governorship since 1994.

Under Daugaard, the state has trimmed its budget and seen surpluses, reformed how it treats nonviolent drug offenders and brought its unemployment rate to second-lowest in the nation behind only North Dakota.

Wismer says one-party rule has led to corruption and significant cuts in state funding. The progress, she said, has come at the cost of cutting spending in key areas, particularly education, nursing homes and transportation infrastructure.

The shortage of qualified teachers in South Dakota has worsened this year, with reports from education officials showing that schools are having more trouble than ever hiring qualified instructors. South Dakota ranks last in the nation for teacher pay, according to the National Education Association.

Wismer said a fix to the state’s teacher shortage is simple.

“Respect them and pay them,” she said. “The tone of the conversation coming out of Pierre needs to change and it needs to start at the very top with the governor’s office.”

Daugaard said the state’s last-place ranking in teacher spending doesn’t tell the whole story, noting that South Dakota is 39th in education funding but local school boards determine teacher salaries. He said the fact that other states put more money toward it doesn’t mean those students get a better education.

That’s like saying, ‘If I go to the grocery store and I spend twice as much money for a given food item, I’m getting food that’s twice as good,” he said. “And that may or may not be true.”

Wismer and Daugaard have also split on expanding Medicaid in the state. Wismer has said she sees it as a critical issue and that broadening the program would help at-risk residents with minimal costs to the state.

Daugaard said a Medicaid expansion would be relatively inexpensive at first but would eventually cost South Dakota millions of dollars.



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