S.D. House minority leader urges a more balanced legislature
Unless South Dakota voters send more Democrats to the state House and Senate – creating a more politically balanced Legislature – they will continue to see problems like the Gear Up and EB-5 scandals, a Democratic leader said Thursday.
Of the 70 House members, 12 are Democrats. In the Senate, the split is 27-8 in favor of the Republicans.
“What South Dakota should be concerned about is the lack of discussion that happens,” House Minority Leader Spencer Hawley of Brookings said at the District 22 Democratic Forum.
Conflict of interest and a lack of oversight are issues that will keep occurring until the balance of power changes, he said.
“And it’s not because there’s bad people controlling it,” Hawley said. “It’s because they’re not questioned.
“Even good systems need to have someone out there looking at it and saying, ‘here, what’s wrong with this, what’s going on here?’” he said.
A Brookings native who graduated from South Dakota State University and spent 30 years in the South Dakota Army National Guard, Hawley owns an insurance business. He was first elected to the House in 2010, his first stab at public office, after deciding he needed to get politically involved.
He and other Democrats were happy to see legislators support Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s proposal to raise the state sales tax by one-half cent to boost K-12 teacher pay.
But he said they would have preferred a one-cent increase in the sales tax – which he said had support – to move South Dakota higher in the wage scale to better compete with surrounding states.
“We didn’t get traction with that; we didn’t expect to. But we got a discussion,” he said.
Education and Medicaid expansion have been two major issues Democrats have been pushing for.
“And we were in a unique situation where we were the governor’s biggest cheerleader out there,” Hawley said.
Democrats are discussing ways the education bill can be tweaked when legislators return to Pierre in January, he said.
“Our argument was if we’re going to fix it, let’s do it right, so we’re not going to have this discussion again on it,” he said.
Expanding Medicaid seemed to be on track with backing from the governor in the last session, but by the time an agreement was finalized with the federal government, time was running out.
Democrats were hoping the governor would call a special session, but that hasn’t happened.
Expansion would mean 50,000 more South Dakotans would have health care. One-third of them would be Native Americans.
The proposal would call for the federal government to pay 100 percent of the bill for Native Americans whether they get care on or off the reservation.
South Dakota has the four poorest counties in the nation.
“The numbers that they just kept rolling off to us just was astounding,” Hawley said. “And, to me, if nobody else benefits from Medicaid expansion … just to get them (Native Americans) qualified would be a huge benefit.”
Without health insurance, people go untreated until they can’t stand the pain any longer and go to the emergency room. But there the treatment is last-minute, and expensive, he said.
“It comes down to the discussion across the aisle – there is that ultraconservative group that says if you can’t afford health insurance you aren’t working, you’re not working hard enough, you need to get a better job,” Hawley said.
“And, oh, by the way, we’re going to fund our education system at a lower level so don’t worry about getting a better job because we’re not going to prepare you for it in the first place,” he said.
- South Dakota
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