SISSETON, SD (Dakota News Now) — Susan Wismer serves as an independent member of the South Dakota State Senate in District 1. District 1 is made up of part of Brown County, and includes Day, Marshall, and Roberts counties. Wizmer previously represented the district in the Senate, but was defeated by incumbent Senator Michael Roll (R-Aberdeen) in the 2020 general election. She will face Rohl again this year.
1. Who are you? Tell us about yourself in 100 words or less.
I grew up on a Jones/Bennerhouse farm south of Woods. My sister and I have run the tax and bookkeeping practice for over 30 years in Brighton. My three children have been blessed to grow up next to my two grandparents’ groups here. I am active at First Presbyterian Church, Britton Development Corp, and Britton Area Hospice. I was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2008. I ran for governor in 2014, and was elected to the Senate in 2018. I have served on appropriations committees, government operations, audits, judiciary, taxation, summer terms and redistricting during my time at Pierre.
2. What prompted you to run in the presidential elections?
I run because I love Northeast South Dakota: my home. As a District One resident and entrepreneur rooted in agriculture, I am an advocate for small towns and country schools. My opponent might technically qualify as a resident, but that doesn’t make him a good fit for us. He lives more than 100 miles from the city of Aberdeen, his life and his work. Often the fault line in important issues in Pierre is between the countryside and the cities. It is critical that our schools and small communities be represented with a rural voice.
3. What public policies are you passionate about? What will be your policy priorities at Pierre?
My main problems are funding and respect for public education, health care funding that would allow small town care facilities and hospitals in Sisseton, Rosholt, Roslyn, Webster, Bristol, Groton and Britton to thrive. Medicaid expansion will be a big part of that. It will help with our workforce issues: If you can’t see a doctor, you probably won’t be able to maintain a stable job either. Providing mental health and drug addiction services and improving working conditions in our care facilities across the state will also be priorities.
Corruption can thrive behind closed doors. The legislature does not conduct its business in open meetings, as all local governments are required to do so. Republican lawmakers make their decisions in conference rooms that are not open to the public. For example, I support protecting rural electricity cooperatives from government takeover, but Republican and governor lawmakers did not do so in 2020 in closed meetings. Who knows how it would have been different if the vote had taken place publicly? The way to a more open government is to have more party balance, that is, more Democrats and Independents, not less, in Pierre.
4. Cutting the grocery tax has become central to this election cycle. Do you think the legislature should cut the grocery tax in the next legislative session? Are there any taxes to be deducted instead of or added to?
I was as surprised as anyone else when Governor 180 did on this matter. As an accountant, budget hawk and education advocate, I worry that this action will make it difficult to balance our budget, and even threaten our bond rating. Billions of Biden’s federal dollars related to the COVID virus and rising agricultural commodity prices are supporting our government budget now, but neither of those two things will last forever, and so far we have to go to make up for the long-running funding shortfall.
Every time Pierre brags about “this well-managed state” that “lives within its means”, we brag about closed nursing homes, rugged roads and dangerous bridges, our failure to offer competitive salaries or the respect of teachers, and dangerous working conditions in state-stricken institutions. Staff shortages such as Sioux Falls Prison, Redfield, Yankton, Springfield, and disabled assisted living facilities.
5. The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade earlier in the year. South Dakota currently has a law that almost completely prohibits abortion. Are there any exceptions you would like the Legislative Council to enact? What other laws would you like to pass to support mothers and families?
I would personally have thought of abortion only under the most difficult of circumstances; But I will not vote for any measure that allows any politician to switch between family and doctor. I have voted and spoken against almost every law that has been passed in the past 10 years that makes abortions more difficult. I have watched several GOP lawmakers, who personally support limited abortion care, have their caucus forced to vote for extreme anti-abortion measures.
There were many initiatives that would have helped children and families, which our GOP legislature defeated: for example, addressing early learning and child care, and allowing a pregnant minor to give her informed consent to an abortion. I find Governor Noam’s pledges to “help” the mothers even more now that Roe has flipped out to be ironic, as she has consistently worked against such initiatives in the past.
6. Recreational marijuana on the ballot in November. If it passes, will you commit to legalizing it?
Yes, if recreational marijuana is successful, I will of course commit to creating the best legal environment possible. I remain concerned about the extent of opposition to legalization in our law enforcement community. Along with rationing, our correction system needs to do more than recycle prisoners with addiction issues. We need more addiction treatment to help more people overcome their addictions and become productive citizens.
7. What is the most important quality an elected official should possess?
I know it is my duty to represent all the citizens of my area, not just the rich and powerful. I offer an iota of partisan equilibrium for what is now perilously close to one-party control of state government. Not all legislative outcomes can be measured by the words added to the law books. My legislative results show in increasing budgets for schools, nursing homes, infrastructure, and public safety. My opponent claims to have “results” of the normal appropriation process and good luck for President Biden’s infrastructure money, which I find somewhat disingenuous. I could have done the same over the years, but I realized it was a process based on proven need across the state, not back-end deals.
Sometimes, as the only Democrat in the committee room, I’m the only one who can speak as “the little guy” without fear of backlash from the Republican Party machine. It is evident from the amount of money that the puppeteers spent on the campaign far from the first district, that the rich and powerful did not like to host me in Pierre. I think that’s a good reason to be there.
8. Who do you inspire and why?
I had many great examples of public servants in my family: rural electricity pioneer Art Jones and legislator Kurt Jones, my father Maurice Jones who worked in agriculture while his father and brother were out doing public work, and my aunt Carol Jones, the local Relay firm of event organizer and Life Extraordinary . But today I am also familiar with the late Harvey Wollman, whom I have always admired for his optimism and statesmanship. In his young life as a legislator, he brought us the state’s four-year state pension system and medical school. I was honored to hear him speak publicly on October 7.
The same poll was emailed to state legislative candidates in contested districts this election season to complete the Dakota News Now/Kota County News. Except for quick spelling and grammar, the answers have not been edited by the publisher. Those who answered the survey questions had their results published.
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