Issues discussed at town hall at MUC
By David Lias
Rick Weiland has been on the road.
Last Thursday, Feb. 13, the Sioux Falls small businessman and Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate made a sweep through Clay County and beyond, making stops at Viborg, Wakonda, Westreville, Richland and Jefferson.
His goal is to visit every one of South Dakota’s 311 incorporated towns. So far, he’s made a stop in 287 of those towns.
Two of the bigger communities on his itinerary included Vermillion and Dakota Dunes. While in Vermillion, he held a town hall meeting in the Muenster University Center (MUC) on the University of South Dakota campus.
“We’ve had over 90 public meetings like this,” Weiland told a small audience that gathered in the MUC. “I am listening and learning … I’m trying to earn the privilege of representing our state in the United States Senate.
“You shouldn’t be able to buy these elections, and so often in today’s politics, I think that’s what happens,” he said. “It’s the big money that wins at the end of the day. I’d like to believe that’s going to be no longer the case.”
Weiland’s travels in the past 10 months have given him the opportunity, he said, to walk down small town sidewalks, to sit at café counters and in people’s living rooms, to talk about the future of South Dakota.
“We’ve talked about our country, our state, our kids, our economy,” he said. “We’ve talked about wars and our energy policy, or lack thereof. We’ve had thousands of conversations over the course of the last several months.”
The one-on-one conversations he is having with South Dakotans, he said, make him better equipped to serve in the U.S. Senate.
“I really do believe that the world doesn’t revolve around Sioux Falls or Rapid City or Watertown or even the good ol’ town of Vermillion and USD, of which I’m a graduate,” Weiland said. “There is a lot going on out there in towns like Wakonda and Viborg … I’m taking the page out of the book of one of my political mentors, George McGovern, who built the Democratic Party in South Dakota by going town to town back in the ‘50s.”
He noted that he is also following the campaign playbook of one of his formers bosses – Tom Daschle – who went door-to-door during his first campaign for the U.S. Congress and won.
Weiland ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1996, and was the first Democrat to enter the U.S. Senate race last year. His Republican opponents include former Gov. Mike Rounds, Annette Bosworth, state Rep. Stace Nelson, state Sen. Larry Rhoden and Jason Ravnsborg.
Weiland ran for South Dakota’s lone seat in the U.S. House in 1996, when then-Rep. Tim Johnson ran and won a Senate race. Republican John Thune, who now is in the Senate, defeated Weiland in that House race by a wide margin.
Weiland then was appointed regional director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Denver.
He ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for U.S. House in 2002.
He joined the International Code Council, a nonprofit organization that develops construction codes for commercial and residential buildings, in 2003, serving as chief operating officer and then chief executive officer before leaving in September.
He and his wife now own and operate a family restaurant in Sioux Falls.
Weiland said he based his decision to throw his hat in the political ring once again in reaction to the dysfunction currently going on in Washington.
“We would get better public policy if the big money and their big lobbyists weren’t at the table writing the tax code, writing health care reform, writing our energy policy,” he said. “But that’s what happens every day in Washington, DC.”
Weiland noted that he doesn’t fully agree with the way the Affordable Care Act is structured, in part because much of it is influenced by health insurance, pharmaceutical, and health care industries.
He finds favor with the way the act is helping to expand health care availability to individuals across the country. “And, no longer can you be denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition. That’s a big deal.”
He would like to see the Affordable Care Act amended to include a Medicare buy-in system.
“Everybody in this room who is under 65 years of age – you should be able to buy in to Medicare,” Weiland said, adding that he’s authored a Medicare Choice Act. “It is what is missing in Obamacare. I believe it would bring down the cost of insurance. With the Medicare option, it’s (health insurance) is going to be more affordable because it’s going to create some public/private competition that does not exist in our health care system today.
“The problem with Obamacare is it still has the insurance companies in the driver’s seat,” Weiland said.
He added that the nation needs to work on developing an energy policy with an added focus on conservation and alternative energy sources.
“We continue to dump carbon into our atmosphere, our planet is changing and warming, and if you’re concerned about climate change, you need to be concerned about energy policy,” Weiland said. “The reason we don’t have a good energy policy is the big oil companies are calling the shots. We give them subsidies from our tax dollars, and they convince our Congress that we shouldn’t be investing in all of these things that would make us more energy-independent.”
The federal government, he said, must promote further investment and development of energy from wind, solar, and ethanol.
Currently, Weiland said, the nation is making billions of dollars of the student loan program.
“I don’t believe that we should be profiting off the backs of college students and their families,” he said. He noted that he has children who have attended college. “I know how hard it is on families, and I’ve been blessed to come up with that money.”
Government loans and grants in the form of reinvestment to education have been lagging in recent years, Weiland said, shifting the burden of education costs onto students.
“If we could bring some more money into the system, I think that would be a good thing,” he said. “We’re making money as a government. We should re-invest that for our kids … We need to encourage people to go to school, we need to incentivize people to further their education, and not discourage them by making it so unaffordable or saddling them with a heavy debt.
“I believe that investing in education is investing in our economy,” Weiland said. “If we really want to grow the middle class, we need to be making these kinds of investments.”