Weiland aims to take experience to Congress by Randy Dockendorf Given the current emphasis on homeland security, Democrat Rick Weiland said Feb. 13 his work with a federal disaster agency makes him the best candidate for U.S. House.
Weiland, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD), lost the 1996 House race to Republican John Thune. After three terms, Thune will give up his House seat to challenge Democratic incumbent Tim Johnson in the U.S. Senate race.
Weiland has worked the last four years as regional director for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). While based in Denver, Weiland said he maintained his South Dakota ties.
"I have worked with the lives and property of South Dakotans. I dealt with the Spencer and Pine Ridge tornados, the floods in northeast South Dakota and the wildfires in the Black Hills," he said.
"I was in a position where I brought $70 million to South Dakota so people were back on the road to recovery. Disaster doesn't know political party, race or religion."
Weiland said his disaster experiences reaffirmed his desire to make another run for office. "With FEMA, I came away seeing the worst of times brings out the best in people," he said.
His work with economic development included restructuring for business owners affected by disasters.
"Studies show that 40 percent of the businesses never re-open again once they have closed down," Weiland said. "That's not only lost business but a lost livelihood for those people."
Weiland also worked with Project Impact, where selected communities drew up a disaster plan.
Weiland said his FEMA training, including a simulated detonation of chemical weapons, has prepared him for dealing with homeland security. His real-life experiences include the Columbine High School shootings and Y2K preparations.
"I dealt with those events on my watch," he said.
Besides his federal connections, Weiland said he has worked with state government. "I have also worked with other state and tribal leaders, and I have interfaced with the private sector," he said.
Turning his attention to agriculture, Weiland stressed the need for value-added efforts such as ethanol to boost farm income and keep jobs in the state.
The upcoming farm bill will play a crucial role for producers, he said.
"I said in 1996 that we needed country-of-origin meat labeling, and that hasn't been done," he said. "I also supported mandatory price reporting for meat packers, and we finally got that done."
Weiland said he opposes vertical integration in the livestock industry. He supports Sen. Tim Johnson's (D-SD) legislation limiting packer ownership of livestock.
Weiland said he doesn't think Smithfield Foods will pull the Morrell packing plant out of Sioux Falls despite its full-page ad placed in the state's daily newspapers. Many producers saw the ad as pressure on Johnson.
"We're not going to cooperate with that kind of blackmail," Weiland said. "We can't allow corporate giants to gobble up our producers."
Besides farm concerns, South Dakotans are also coping with health-care needs, including prescription drug costs, Weiland said. "And we have 40
million people in this nation without health insurance," he said.
With the nation facing a variety of issues, the current recession and war on terrorism have created federal budget challenges, Weiland said.
"We are going through an austere time, returning to the days of deficits," he said. "Our second largest budget item is the interest on our debt."
As a cost-cutting measure, Weiland called for limiting global military efforts.
"I favor doing the job in Afghanistan," he said, "but now they are referring to Iraq, Iran and North Korea as the 'axis of evil' and going after those countries."
Weiland also renewed his commitment to a stimulus package which benefits the middle and lower class. He criticized tax cuts geared to the upper class "and then believing it will trickle down."
Weiland also criticized proposed budget cuts for community policing, low-income energy assistance and the Veterans Administration.
"It's a challenge to balance the war on terrorism, a stimulus package and programs for those in need, but it's something we need to do," he said.
As he gears up his fund-raising, Weiland said he supports campaign finance reform. "We have the opportunity to stop the way that soft money influences politics, and I hope we get it done," he said.
While Thune is leaving the House because of a self-imposed term limit, Weiland said he prefers to let voters decide when an elected official should step down.
"South Dakota needs a member of Congress who will build up seniority to become even more effective," Weiland said.
Pointing to his recent endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police, Weiland said he has gained support from other groups as well.
"I am at the perfect time in my life. I am 43 years old, raising five kids, and bringing 20 years of experience to the race," he said. "I am ready to hit the ground running for South Dakota."