Gubernatorial forum helps undecided voter make up her mind

Registered independent thinks voters should be more informed
Published: Oct. 18, 2022 at 12:10 AM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Charisse Oland of Sioux Falls is a registered independent who has lived off-and-on in Sioux Falls for over 20 years.

She had not entirely made up her mind about who she’ll vote for governor before she walked into Monday’s Sioux Falls Downtown Rotary meeting to watch Democratic candidate Jamie Smith’s hour-long question-and-answer session.

”I think the gubernatorial debate is always important for the state of South Dakota,” Oland told Dakota News Now. “This is a wonderful state, and we want to keep it that way. If we don’t get out and hear what the candidates have to say, we’re not going to be able to make informed decisions.”

That there were any undecided voters in South Dakota three weeks before the Nov. 8 election might surprise those who are close followers of both candidates. They have almost nothing in common on their viewpoints of the state’s major issues.

But in a recent South Dakota State University poll of 565 registered voters, 14 percent said they were undecided about who they will cast their vote. If the poll is remotely accurate, those undecided voters could go a long way in decided who wins, considering how tight the poll says the race is, with Republican Gov. Kristi Noem leading Democratic candidate Smith by just four points at 45 percent to 41 percent.

With only one debate for voters to observe in the entire campaign, Monday’s session with Smith could conceivably be the kind of event that could swing a vote.

In Oland’s case, it did. More on that in a moment.

It helped Smith’s cause, Oland said, just by the candidate merely agreeing to appear and answer questions, something both Smith and Libertarian candidate Tracy Quint opted not to do.

The event was actually organized to be a debate, not a monologue.

“It’s a disappointment to me that our governor was not here today,” Oland said, “given the fact that she’s campaigning in other states, yet has not been campaigning in South Dakota, and not at this event, which has been an annual tradition for many years.”

Asked by Dakota News Now why he decided to show up for the event, Smith replied, “because that’s what you do as a leader. you show up, right? And, so i think it’s very important for the voters of South Dakota to know who they’re voting for, and in order to do that, you need to avail yourself to the public and answer questions.”

Dakota News Now reached out to Gov. Noem’s campaign to find out why she turned down the appearance at the rotary meeting. Her communications director Ian Fury responded by directing Dakota News Now to a campaign press release about Jamie Smith’s record on taxes.

Asked why he thought Noem didn’t appear, Smith said, “It wouldn’t be in her best interest to show up. I have a feeling she’d have to answer questions she doesn’t want to answer — the tough questions about why she’s doing some of the things she’s doing, where she gets some of the data she talks about in her speeches, and her lack of being present in the state of South Dakota, and why she spends so much time away.”

While Oland believes Noem has done well in some areas the last four years, the former health care executive does not like the way Noem has operated with her proposal to lift the sales tax on food in recent weeks. First, the proposal — which Smith has been quick to point out is something the legislature, including himself, has put forward for many years.

On Monday, Smith called this stance a “political stunt.”

“She knows she needs to have a tax cut somewhere that she hasn’t been able to do,” Smith said.

Smith criticized Noem for not calling a special session of the legislature to eliminate the food sales tax, citing her remarks at an appearance at a Sioux Falls grocery store last week.

“She looked at the camera kind of shocked and she was like, ‘well, I don’t have the votes for it,” Smith said. “Well, OK, my job would be to work to get the votes. We did get the votes in the House this year to pass it. We sent it over to the Senate, but it got a kill order, I’m sure of it, because the way it down was....”

Smith then mimicked with hand gestures and a whistling noise the sight and sound of a flying object crashing to the ground.

All of this spoke to Oland,

“What I heard today is that we really need to get beyond a lot of false statements made and get to facts and really look at the food tax,” Oland said. “That is a public policy matter that the Democratic party has supported for many years, and the Republican party has not supported it,” Oland said. “Now, to come up as a political ploy to gain votes is disappointing.”

And so, Oland will vote Democrat. As someone who lobbied for 18 years to state legislators in Pierre about child health care, Oland pines for the days when there is a much closer to 50-50 balance of both parties in both chambers. Currently, it is dominated by Republicans.

“How can we get a balanced conversation or dialogue about government leadership when approximately 50 percent of the population of the state are Democrats, approximately 50 percent are Republicans, yet 90 percent of the representatives in Pierre are Republicans?

“I find it hard to see where we can have balance in public policy.”

Oland’s advice to potential voters who are still undecided?

“I really think this is an opportunity for those who are undecided to bring some better equity to our conversations and voices for all people in South Dakota,” Oland said. “I would really encourage people to get out and vote. I’d encourage them to lean toward Democratic leadership to bring back that balance in numbers and really look at a state that represents all of its people.”