Heidepriem talks issues during Vermillion visit By David Lias
Plain Talk When Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin announced this summer that she intends to see another term in the U.S. House, it cleared the way for Scott Heidepriem, to jump into South Dakota's gubernatorial race. "I made it clear before her announcement that the only office I was interested in running for was governor, but I also made it clear that if she wanted to run for governor, I would support her wholeheartedly," Heidepriem, a Sioux Falls attorney, told the Plain Talk during a visit to Vermillion last Thursday. "In fact, I encouraged her to consider running for governor; I think she would be a great governor, and I think someday she will be a great governor." Heidepriem, who began his political career as a Republican, switched parties and became a Democrat in 2003. "To be honest with you, I didn't intend to run for office again, but 2006 came around, and that was a legislative session in which, I felt, that an institution that I care highly about – the Legislature – was essentially hijacked by wedge issues, such as abortion and gay rights," he said. "I didn't hear the Legislature debating education or corrections or economic development. All I heard was a 'Roger Hunt' agenda, and I don't think that's what the people of South Dakota care about." Roger Hunt is a Republican state legislator from Brandon who, in the fall of 2006, set up a corporation that received $750,000 from an anonymous donor in a failed to pass a ballot measure that would have banned most abortions in South Dakota. State officials who insist that state law requires the person's identity to be made public in a campaign filing with the secretary of state have taken the Brandon legislator to court over this issue. Hunt, a staunch abortion foe, has said the person is a South Dakota resident and wants to remain anonymous out of fear of possible violence. Heidepriem, an attorney from Sioux Falls, had previously served in the Legislature, leaving office in 1992. He returned to the legislative chambers in Pierre in 2007, serving as a Democrat. "I was perfectly content in the private sector, and then found myself back in the Legislature," he said. State budget challenges Heidepriem said South Dakota was ill-prepared for the economic downturn experienced nationwide in late 2008. "The Rounds/Daugaard administration had six out of seven straight structural deficit budgets," he said. "That is, we spent more than we took in." At one point, the Legislature was dealing with two budgets – a "pre-stimulus" budget and a "post-stimulus" budget. "The pre-stimulus budget had all of the slashes made necessary not by the recession, but by the accumulating structural deficit," Heidepriem said. "Barack Obama never got any credit from this administration, but the fact is, his stimulus package bailed out (Gov.) Mike Rounds and (Lt. Gov.) Denny Daugaard in terms of the structural deficits they had run up, and will again next year, because it's over three years. "I think that the structural deficit that we repaired with stimulus money was $71 million, and then next year, I think it will be $91 million projected," he said. Heidepriem said he is optimistic that the nation is beginning to pull out the recession. Fiscal restraint needed "I think people will expect the next governor to make a difference, economically, and I've got a lot of plans," he said. "One is that we need to show some fiscal restraint." Heidepriem said he finds it ironic that the governor and Legislature tell local government officials on school boards and county commissions that, by law, their budget growth will be confined to 3 percent or the rate of inflation, which ever is less. "At the same time, state government has swelled its budget by 5.6 percent, on average, over the last seven years," he said. "That's almost twice, probably more than twice some years than what we impose on county commissions and school boards." Heidepriem said the growing state budget is spent on such items as "service contracts between the state of South Dakota and some vendor that don't see the light of day. "I believe that we can save a lot of money if we subject those contracts to the bid process, or at a minimum, to a request for proposal process," he said. "I honestly think that by greater transparency, we save money." Heidepriem notes that when Mike Rounds took office as governor nearly eight years ago, there were 12,800 state employees. "There are now 14,500 employees." William Janklow, during his two tenures as governor, stopped the trend of growing state employee numbers, trimming them back to the 12,800 number. "We can do it; I would bet that most South Dakotans would say, 'You know what, I didn't notice a decrease in the level of services.' Why is it that we need to have a fluctuation of about 1,600 employees? That's the population of my hometown of Miller. "In addition, why, in a state with the population of Toledo, OH, a state where the population remains relatively static, would we need to do that? It's another area where I think we can save a lot of money and rechannel those funds." Public/private partnerships In Heidepriem's view, South Dakota, with its REDI Fund, Futures Fund and tax breaks, has a "very fragmented" approach to economic development. "What we need is an integrated approach," he said. "We need to stop trying to entice people solely across state lines, because that's a zero-sum game that doesn't increase economic development. "What we need to do is grow from the inside," Heidepriem said. "We need to promote South Dakota entrepreneurs. I know it seems glitzier to get a Minnesota company to come over. I'd really love to see us track the progress of those companies and find out how many took the (state) incentives and then went back to Minnesota or went to the next state that offered them some deal. I think we need to step back and try to grow existing South Dakota businesses and start-ups." Value of higher education After graduating from Miller High School in 1974, Heidepriem continued his education at USD, an experience, he said, that changed his life. "I think it was being around educators that made me think that I was worth being taken seriously," Heidepriem said. "Here were these people, these well-educated, articulate people, who took me seriously – Bill Farber, John Fremstad, Steve Ward, Calvin Kent. "I loved this place, and I got a bachelor's and a master's in history and a law degree in a period of six years," he said. "To me, it's an emotional connection as well as a practical one; I think the university is critical to South Dakota's future. In fact, the one area where I would defend the (Rounds') administration's growth in state employees are those Ph.D. programs that we've started, and really serious research that often times is federally funded. I also think that when we add someone in state government, we need to look if there is somewhere else in state government where we can take one away."