U.S. Senators Tim Johnson and John ThuneOur 2002 Senate race was certainly one of the most contentious in our state’s history, as most folks reading this will remember. However, we both have come to the conclusion that – in order to effectively represent the state that we both deeply love and care about – we need to leave the 2002 Senate race in the past, where it belongs. We need to restore the civility and mutual respect that should characterize politics in our small state.
Of course that doesn’t mean we’re going to see everything the same way; we probably disagree as much on some national issues in 2005 as we did in 2002. Because we come from different political perspectives, we undoubtedly will continue to disagree on several fundamental issues. However, when it comes to South Dakota, we are committed to advancing an agenda that will move our state forward, and we’re eager to work together to do just that.
So, instead of concentrating on our differences – which we did fairly exhaustively in 2002 – we thought most South Dakotans would find it a breath of fresh air if, for once, two elected officials of different parties would write about the issues and projects on which they agree, rather than those about which they disagree. And we are in agreement about many South Dakota-oriented issues and projects, including the following:
Ellsworth Air Force Base – We were both devastated when we learned that the Pentagon had placed EAFB on the list of bases it proposes to close. While being on the list isn’t necessarily a death-blow to Ellsworth, it certainly is a matter of grave concern to our state and to the two of us. We’ve worked together to obtain the Department of Defense data that was used to make the decision to put EAFB on the list. Further, we’ve worked together to strongly make the case for keeping Ellsworth open and to delay the current round of base closures until the overseas base realignment is completed. We believe that putting EAFB on the closure list was an error – using the Defense Department’s own criteria – and, if it is not changed, will put South Dakota in a very difficult position economically and make our nation more vulnerable militarily.
COOL – We both strongly support mandatory country-of-origin labeling of meat, or “COOL.” We believe that American consumers are willing to pay a premium for American-raised livestock products, and also that if it’s important to label the origin of our T-shirts, then it’s even more important to label the origin of our T-bones.
Veterans Health Care – We both believe that, in order for America to honor its commitment to our veterans, it should be mandatory that our government provide the VA with funding increases necessary to provide our vets with quality heath care. Doing anything less is breaking our word to our vets, something neither of us will tolerate. We are also working to provide rural vets with new benefits, including a new pilot program for improved medical access in rural areas, and better reimbursement for travel expenses related to VA medical care.
Higher Renewable Fuel Standard for Ethanol – We’ve both worked hard on our respective committees to pass the largest support level for mandated ethanol use in Senate history – 8 billion gallons. Negotiations with the House of Representatives produced a 7.5 billion gallon renewable fuel standard (RFS) in the final version of the Energy Bill, which is a huge victory for South Dakota farmers and ethanol producers.
Small Ethanol Producers Tax Credit –We’ve introduced legislation together to encourage production of ethanol and biodiesel, both of which will increase the role South Dakota plays in reducing American dependence on foreign oil while also creating jobs at home. This tax credit was included in the final comprehensive Energy Bill.
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Drinking Water – We’ve worked together with the Army Corps of Engineers to try to address the shortage of clean drinking water on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe’s reservation. Recently, the Army Corps of Engineers began construction on this important project and work is underway to ensure that 14,000 residents of our State continue to have drinking water.
Higher Level of Highway Construction Funding – We both worked as Senate/House conference negotiators to secure a federal transportation formula that is more favorable to South Dakota and other rural states. We coordinated our special project allocations in a way that maximized benefits for our state. The final bill was a grand slam for South Dakota that will bring our state roughly $1.3 billion in highway funding over the next 5 years. The bill includes $250 million in funding for special projects that we were able to jointly secure, such as $40 million for the Phillips-to-the-Falls project and $63 million for the Heartland Expressway. Without a doubt, our joint effort will stimulate economic development across the state and improve the quality and safety of South Dakota’s transportation system.
Rural Water Projects – We’ve worked closely together to ensure adequate funding for the Lewis and Clark Rural Water System.
We both strongly believe that the time for emphasizing partisan differences and partisan attacks is long over and that South Dakotans are eager that both of us work as closely together as possible – which we are committed to doing.