He's made it official: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Scott Heidepriem officially kicked off his campaign Tuesday in Yankton.
The Sioux Falls lawyer, who currently serves as minority leader in the state Senate, has been on the campaign trail for approximately 10 months, and during a recent stop in Vermillion, he told the Plain Talk that opportunities to cut the state budget by reducing the bureaucracy in Pierre were rejected by the current administration of Gov. Mike Rounds, and by Republican leaders in the Legislature.
Instead of trimming government spending, he said, Republicans chose to balance the state budget by tapping into reserves and cutting higher and technical education in South Dakota, passing higher costs along to students.
Heidepriem is disappointed that Legislature failed to pass a bill he sponsored that would have cut state spending. The legislation he proposed would have limited increases in spending by state government to no more than 3 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.
"Our current administration has talked a lot about smaller government, but their actions have never matched their rhetoric," he said.
He doesn't see his decision to switch parties and run as a Democrat as an impediment in a state that's been in the habit of electing Republican governors in recent years.
"My attitude about the issues of the day has not changed," Heidepriem said. "The Republican Party's attitude about those issues has changed. I've always been a fiscally responsible person … but I also don't think the government shouldn't be meddling in our private lives as much as it does.
"The Republican Party really isn't expressing views that are consistent with mine," he said. "My views have always been in favor of small government, both in terms of taxing people and in terms of intruding on their lives."
Heidepriem won't be challenged in the upcoming June primary; he is the only Democrat seeking the governor's office, meanwhile five Republicans have been running a spirited campaign hoping to receive the gubernatorial nomination from Republican primary voters.
"Every time a Democrat has run for state-wide office, the message from the Republicans has been, 'oh, another tax-and-spend liberal.' That's clearly not true for me, and if I need to get my message out. That's why I have commercials on the air even those I don't have a primary race."
Heidepriem believes that South Dakota Republican leaders have begun to adopt a cavalier leadership style because they've been in power for so long.
"That's going to stop. There are 225,000 Republicans in South Dakota, and there are now 200,000 Democrats. The big surprise is the independent registration, which is now at 80,000," he said.
Heidepriem said South Dakota has had two types of governors in its history: presiders and activists. He places Rounds and Miller in the former category; Mickelson, Janklow and Kneip fall in the activist category.
He said he, too, when elected, would be leading the state as an activist.
"It is easy to be a popular governor," Heidepriem said. "It's hard to be a good one. Mike Rounds is a popular governor, but I don't think he's a particularly good one. Being a good governor requires taking risks. Every South Dakota businessman or businesswoman takes that same type of risk, and people are saying that we need that type of entrepreneurial spirit back in the leadership of South Dakota."
South Dakota, with its low wages, poor investment in education, and poverty in several counties, can no longer get by with leadership that simply tries to protect the status quo, he said.
"We are a better state than we think we are, and we just need to realize that and take a few chances," Heidepriem said.
He terms the state Legislature as weak when compared to the powers available to the state's chief executive.
"The governor has enormous power; the Legislature is a weak branch of government in comparison," Heidepriem said. "I think South Dakota suffers because the legislative branch is weak – even if it means strengthening the Republicans hand. We need to strengthen the legislative branch.
State government for years has functioned by following a model of conflict of the governor's office versus the Legislature, he said.
"How interesting it would be if the governor actually welcomed the Legislature's idea, and said he was going to replace this model of conflict with a model of collaboration?" Heidepriem said. "That's what I learned from Bill Farber, that's what I learned here at USD, and I think that's right. If that means that the Republicans end up with a stronger hand, so be it. I want their ideas.
"But I expect, in return, that they will be open to mine, too," he said. "That's how the process works best. That's how you actually get things done. That's the use of power in a positive way."