Aberdeen American News Spotlights Senate Race

The Aberdeen American News features the District 3 Senate race on today’s front page. Here’s Elisa Sand’s report:

Both candidates in the District 3 state Senate race want to be a strong voice for Aberdeen and the immediate area, but voters will get the ultimate say.

Democrat Cory Heidelberger and Republican Al Novstrup are vying for the two-year post.

Novstrup has represented District 3 in either the House of Representatives and Senate for the past 14 years, spending the last two years in the House. Ten of those years were spent with his son, David, who served as a representative for eight years before he was faced with term limits and pursued a seat in the Senate.

Al Novstrup first served as representative for six years, then challenged Democrat Alan Hoerth for a Senate post and won. After six years in the Senate, he said, he ran as a representative in 2014 to give his son an opportunity in the Senate. When David Novstrup chose not to seek re-election this year, Al Novstrup decided to again seek a Senate seat.

He said he continues to enjoy representing South Dakota in Pierre and thinks he’s been an effective voice for Brown County who is willing to give each issue a fair hearing.

Heidelberger said his decision to seek a seat in the Senate was made after discussion with the Democratic Party, but his interest in politics has developed since he started blogging in 2005. That’s when he started writing about South Dakota issues and hearing from other people across the state. They have only enhanced his interest.

Naturally, he said, writing and talking about South Dakota has led to taking a more active role in politics.

Heidelberger has previously run unsuccessfully in two Madison School Board races and spent six years on the Lake Herman Sanitary District.

District 3 is 44 percent Republican, 37 percent Democratic and 19 percent other or no party affiliation, according to voter registration numbers.

Heidelberger said there aren’t many counties where Democrats outnumber Republicans, but the disparity is close in Brown County.

“This is a county where a Democrat has a better chance of winning,” he said.

Heidelberger said he spent significant time circulating petitions for referred laws 19 and 20 even before he started his campaign. Referred Law 19 asks voters to consider provisions regarding elections and election petitions. Referred Law 20 asks voters to consider if there should be a youth minimum wage.

The youth minimum wage law came on the heels of voters approving a statewide increase in the minimum wage to $8.55 an hour in 2014. The Legislature rolled that back to $7.50 for people younger than 18. Referred Law 20 would bump the youth minimum wage back up to $8.55.

“People were mad about the Legislature undoing laws voters approved,” Heidelberger said.

One item of unfinished business from the 2016 legislative session concerns the possible expansion of Medicaid services. It was proposed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard during his budget address, but it was contingent on a federal decision to fully cover Indian Health Services. That federal decision came toward the end of the 2016 legislative session, but Novstrup said legislators didn’t debate the issue of Medicaid expansion.

“It never made it out of the shoots,” he said. “I think the governor is going to present us with facts and a request for Medicaid expansion (in 2017), then I think it will be interesting after that.”

Novstrup said there are three factors that will affect South Dakota’s decision about Medicaid — the presidential election, the outcome of the federal decision to fully cover Indian Health Services and the facts presented to the Legislature.

He did not say whether he’s in favor or opposed to expansion, but said each decision the Legislature makes to spend money ultimately takes money away from another part of state government.

Heidelberger’s perspective on Medicaid expansion is clearer.

“We need legislators to take the lead and pass it,” he said.

Heidelberger said South Dakota has had the option for three years to expand Medicaid services. This expansion would cover low-income adults who don’t meet the income qualifications for private insurance on the open market.

“The governor’s plan is really, really good,” Heidelberger said. “It’s the best a fiscal conservative could ask for.”

Heidelberger said South Dakota has assurances from the federal government about covering Indian Health Services. That means any further delay rests solely with state lawmakers. Novstrup said he’d like to see the follow through on that federal promise.

While legislators made strides in 2016 with a new funding package for South Dakota school districts, Novstrup said education funding will continue to be a talking point each year.

“We’ll continue to talk about ways to improve education,” he said.

Two innovative ways, he said, include e-learning and dual-credit opportunities for students.

Heidelberger said ensuring teacher pay is competitive is a priority he’s hearing from people in District 3. From the data he’s collected, Heidelberger said he’s not sure teacher salaries will hit the state’s annual salary target of $48,500. His data, he said, is showing salaries closer to $46,000.

“We might get to 43rd (in teacher pay nationally), but we’re going to still be behind,” he said.

Heidelberger is a local substitute teacher. One item that’s come up in this campaign is a video questioning Heidelberger as a candidate because he was fired from the Madison School District for unprofessional conduct in 2001.

Heidelberger said he was fired for handling a bullying situation poorly. He said knows he didn’t handle it right at the time and he’s learned from that experience.

“What nags me most, even beyond the errors I made in handling it, is ultimately I didn’t get results. That weighs on me every day and it weighs on me now even,” Heidelberger said.

Both Heidelberger and Novstrup admit the 2017 budget will be tight considering the fact that 2016 revenue collections are lower than anticipated. Heidelberger said those tight revenues mean new programs are unlikely.

“We’re just going to have to argue about what we’re going to do with the money we have,” he said.

Novstrup said the tight revenues mean legislators probably aren’t going to accomplish everything they want to do.

“At some point we have to make the inflow match the outflow,” he said.

But, he said, he sees these revenue declines as a hiccup.

“It’s a small issue, and we’ll find ways to make adjustments for it,” he said.

In the long run, he said, the projected revenue decline of 1 to 2 percent will mean minor adjustments, but it’s nothing like the 10 percent cuts legislators were faced with in 2011 when Daugaard presented his first annual budget [Elisa Sand, “Heidelberger, Novstrup Face off in District 3 Senate Battle,” Aberdeen American News, published online 2016.11.02].

Protect teachers and voters, and expand Medicaid—those are just some of the positive changes I’ll work on for you when you send me to the Senate!