Public Utilities Commissioner Dusty Johnson, who was a Boys State delegate 15 years ago, noted in his opening remarks to Girls State participants that back then, he never had an opportunity to send an e-mail, or surf the internet, or talk on a cell phone.
"That wasn't all that unusual, because 15 years ago, those things barely existed," he said, speaking Monday morning in the Muenster University Center. "Things move very quickly; they change very quickly, and I can't look you in the face and tell you that I know what your future is going to hold.
"Except, I can tell you that the influence of technology on our society is only going to grow," he said, introducing himself to the delegates by sharing information about some of the topics he and other commission members must address each day.
In Johnson's role as a member of the PUC, he must deal with issues pertaining not only to technology, but also energy. In terms of the latter, he said, extremists on both ends of the political spectrum are wrong. Ultra-conservatives tend to believe, he said, that the United States can simply continue its current energy policy, treating it as business as usual. Those on the far left, he said, sometimes tend to express a belief that the current energy policy can simply be immediately shifted in favor of other technologies.
"We need to reject the easy answers and the feel-good rhetoric that comes from folks on the fringes, and we need a common-sense, balanced energy approach," Johnson said. "There is no silver bullet. I'm a big proponent of wind, as is Sen. Thune, but wind can't do everything. Wind can't power this country alone. It's part of the answer, but it's not the answer."
The nation, he said, needs to tap into a diverse number of sources to meet its future energy needs.
"We need coal and nuclear and hydro and solar and wind," Johnson said, "and by putting those all together, I think we can craft a common sense smart energy policy that's going to be good for consumers, good for the economy, and good for energy security as well."
Johnson quickly shifted the focus of his message to talk not about himself, but rather about the roles awaiting the Girls State delegates.
"I think that politics is way too important for you to ignore," he told the assembly of young women. "I can tell you that apathy can be more fun, it's more interesting talking on the phone or playing on the computer. Politics can sometimes be downright boring. But it's very important, and it's far too important to leave to the politicians."
With the help of volunteers from his audience, Johnson drove home the ever-growing size of the federal deficit, which today exceeds $13 trillion.
"This is a number that will grow by $80 million while I'm here today," he said. "It grows by $30,000 every second."
The deficit, he said, affects mortgage payments, interest rates, unemployment and many other economic issues.
"Both political parties have crosses to bear on this issue," Johnson said. "Nobody's been willing to stand up and do the kind of things that you have to do to try and correct this. The government has bought stuff with this, but it's tough to take those things away."
The United States, he said, needs more good people who are dedicated to recognizing that the growth of the federal deficit is not sustainable.
"We need good leaders going to Washington to make the bad things good," Johnson said. "We also need good leaders in South Dakota keeping the good things going."
South Dakota is blessed to have common sense leadership on all levels of government, he said. "If you're interested in the quality of life; if you're interested in living a good life, South Dakota is as good as it gets."
South Dakota's state government has no debt. The state is, according to experts, the best place to start a small business. South Dakota has good health care, low unemployment, great student test scores and a low crime rate, Johnson said.
"This doesn't happen by accident, and it's not inevitable that it will always be this good in South Dakota," he said. "We need more people with courage, and conviction and common sense in South Dakota to keep this good story going, and I think you've got a role in helping to make that happen."
There are a myriad of ways, Johnson told the young people, to make a difference.
"Find somebody that you really believe in and help them get elected," he said. "But it's not just politics – it's donating blood at a blood bank, it's volunteering at church, it's donating food at a food bank – those are the types of things that help move our communities forward and continue to make our state great."
The young women attending Girls State must bear the burden being South Dakota's future leaders.
"If it's going to be anybody, it's more likely to be you," Johnson said.