Since this campaign began, I’ve told you my priorities as your next Senator are supporting education, defending voters, and fighting corruption.

Recognizing my seven-term incumbent opponent’s weakness on those priorities, the South Dakota Republican Party is spending thousands of dollars on negative ads attacking not just my policies and public statements but me personally and professionally.

I’ve learned not to let negative people set my agenda. South Dakota has real problems to solve, and I’m ready to work with you to solve them.

But I’m not afraid to answer questions you may have about these negative attacks. So here are responses to the attacks my friends across the aisle have lobbed at District 3 in postcards, newspaper ads, and other channels.

Second Amendment

On October 29, the SDGOP sent postcards claiming that I “refused to answer” questions about my stance on the Second Amendment.

I did decline to answer a survey from some out-of-state PAC seeking my position on gun issues. As a general rule, I answer questions from South Dakota constituents but not from out-of-state groups meddling in South Dakota politics.

However, I have publicly and unashamedly stated my position on the Second Amendment many times. I support the Constitution. I have no desire to take away South Dakotans’ guns. But I also recognize that guns aren’t the solution to the vast majority of the problems facing South Dakota. Guns don’t teach our kids. Guns don’t patch our roads. Guns don’t stop corruption in Pierre. The GOP tries to distract us from their failure to deal with those issues effectively by hollering about guns.

Freedom of Religion

In that same October 29 postcard, the SDGOP suggested that I do not support the free exercise of religion. Their exact statement under that heading was, “Cory Heidelberger is an avowed atheist who once attacked an expression of faith as ‘disgusting.'” This attack is wrong on several counts:

  1. I passionately defend all First Amendment rights, including the freedom of religion.
  2. As an atheist married to a Lutheran pastor, and as a non-believer living in a majority Christian culture, I am keenly sensitive to the importance of making sure that the state does not use its power to oppress anyone’s freedom to worship or not worship as he or she wishes.
  3. In the December 2013 blog post the SDGOP cites, I did use the word “disgusting.” However, what I called disgusting was not an expression of faith, but the fact that a politician used an expression of faith to deflect hard questions about her failure to get work done on important policies. The politician claimed that God put her in office to minister to people, but the truth in a nation that practices freedom of religion is that the people put her in office to do practical work for all citizens, not promote her religion. Read the full blog post here for context and sources.

Abortion and Reproductive Rights

The October 29 SDGOP postcard claims that I “support all forms of abortion.” That statement is false. I do not support all forms of abortion. I do not support coerced or unsafe abortions.

When South Dakota Right to Life asked for my position on abortion in fifty words or less in August, I provided this statement.

I’m pro-life. I deeply value human life and dignity, as does every sane South Dakotan.

My respect for life and dignity also makes me pro-choice. It’s not my place as a man or a legislator to impose reproductive choices on any woman or on all women by force of law.

I stand by those words.

Black Lives Matter vs. Blue Lives Matter

On October 24, the SDGOP launched postacards claiming that I don’t respect cops. They based this false claim on a blog post that I wrote in July 2016 on the political and philosophical import of the slogans “Black Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter.”

Like all South Dakotans, I respect our law enforcement officers and the hard, dangerous work we charge them to do to keep our communities safe. No police officer should die in the line of duty, and I will do whatever I can as a legislator—reliable funding for training and equipment, clear and enforceable laws, background checks and other sensible gun rules—to keep police safe.

At the same time, I recognize that police have power and popular support that many members of racial and ethnic minorities do not. Everyone agrees that “Blue Lives Matter”—we say so every time we pay taxes and every time our elected officials use those taxes to protect police. America, especially post-9/11 America, has no problem giving police the power they need and deserve. Many South Dakotans have taken up the cry of “Black Lives Matter” because they recognize that our state and our nation still struggle to give blacks (and Indians, Hispanics, Karen, Somalis, and other minorities in South Dakota) equal opportunity and equal treatment under the law. “Black Lives Matter” calls Americans to discuss and fix institutional racism; “Blue Lives Matter,” while an equally true statement, is too often used as a way to shout down and shut out that discussion of racism.

But that’s a far deeper discussion of political philosophy than the Republican dirty-tricksters want to have. They just want votes, so they just want to shout the patent lie that their opponents don’t like cops.

Taxes, Taxes

On October 17, the SDGOP issued postcards and newspaper ads claiming that I will tax South Dakotans to death. Yes, I have had many honest conversations about the hard realities of fiscal policy in South Dakota, and I’m not afraid to say that if South Dakota needs public goods and services, and if current revenues aren’t keeping up with those needs, we have three policy options: cut other programs, raise taxes, or do without vital public services.

I don’t like paying higher taxes any more than you do. But I recognize that we have to have adult conversations about what we need (schools, roads, cops, parks…) and how we need to pay for those needs.

I’ll also note that it is the height of hypocrisy for Republicans to complain that I’ll have honest discussions about taxes and tax fairness while they ignore the fact that their supposedly low-tax candidate voted for two of the biggest tax increases in South Dakota history in the last two Legislative sessions.

Read my full blog response on the tax attack here.

My Teaching Career

On October 10, the SDGOP issued postcards and newspaper ads calling me a danger to children. Their claim revolves around an incident in 2000 when I lost a teaching job due to unprofessional conduct.

I’ve taught high school and college classes, coached speech activities, and served as a State Interp and Debate judge since the 1990s. I’ve had countless great experiences helping students gain knowledge and skills and become better people.

I’ve also had a few rotten moments as a teacher. The worst was when I got fired from Madison High School. I intervened in a bullying situation. I read the bully the riot act, telling the bully, “You’re acting like an a——.” When the bully tried walking away mid-scolding, I tried to detain him by grabbing his collar.

That was the end of that interaction, and the end of my job. I handled that situation all wrong. When I found I was not getting through to the bully, instead of trying to play cowboy, I should have called for assistance and escorted the bully to the principal’s office for proper punishment.

I paid for that professional failure with my job, and every principal I have worked for since has asked me about that incident and what I learned from it. I tell them what I’m telling you. Several principals have given me the chance to work for them since Madison. Thanks to those opportunities, I have grown and matured as a professional, and I have had the privilege of making a positive difference in the lives of countless more students.

But don’t take my word for it. Talk to my supervisors and fellow teachers in the schools I’ve worked at since (Montrose, Spearfish, Aberdeen…) and ask them about my performance as a teacher.