SD Legislative Candidate Survey: Gary Leighton

The South Dakota State Capitol Building in Pierre.
The South Dakota State Capitol Building in Pierre.(Austin Goss DNN/KOTA)
Published: Oct. 31, 2022 at 3:56 PM CDT
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BRANDON, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Gary Leighton is running for election as a Democrat to the South Dakota State House in District 2. District 2 includes the communities of Brandon, Valley Springs, and Corson. Leighton faces two Republicans in the general election, David Kull and John Sjaarda.

Gary Leighton is running for election to the South Dakota State House in District 2.
Gary Leighton is running for election to the South Dakota State House in District 2.(Submitted)

1. Who are you? Tell us about yourself in 100 words or less.

My name is Gary Leighton. I’m a retired school superintendent (Florence School District) who relocated to east Sioux Falls along with my wife so we could be closer to our children and grandchildren. I’ve had a lifelong interest in public affairs and enjoyed a long career as a social studies teacher and school administrator. I want to continue my work in public service as a legislator in Pierre representing the people of District 2.

2. What prompted you to run for office?

While I have long been interested in serving in public office, the growing frustrations the people of this state have experienced with our legislature in the last few years have only increased the urgency of running for public office. We have seen elected officials continually ignore important issues, such as K-12 education, nursing home closures, mental health care needs, and suicide prevention programs. I will listen to voter concerns and then work with other legislators from both parties to develop effective public policy that addresses the most pressing needs of the people of our state.

3. What public policies are you passionate about? What would your policy priorities be in Pierre?

After a 43-year career in public education in South Dakota, education at all levels — pre-K, K-12, and post-secondary — is still my greatest passion as well as my area of expertise. Other issues I continue to feel strongly about include nursing homes and assisted living center closures, mental health care, suicide prevention, and basic democratic protections, especially protecting initiative and referendum rights for the citizens of South Dakota. These issues would be my public policy priorities in Pierre.

4. Cutting the grocery tax has become central to this election cycle. Do you think that the legislature should cut the grocery tax next legislative session? Are there any taxes you would cut instead, or in addition to?

As a moral issue, I feel the tax on groceries is wrong and should not be subject to the sales tax. A broader discussion needs to take place on whether food should be taxed in this state. I also believe it would be irresponsible to cut a major amount of funding from the state budget without corresponding increases in state revenue. An examination of the items not currently subject to sales taxes should be opened for study and debate.

5. The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade earlier in the year. South Dakota currently has a law that prevents abortion almost completely outright. Are there any exceptions you would like to see the legislature enact? What other laws would you like to see passed to support mothers and families?

The outright banning of abortion care in South Dakota was a mistake. Women do have rights concerning their own reproductive health care. Ectopic pregnancies do occur, and miscarriage management services are a necessary part of reproductive care. I also feel it is morally wrong to force women who have been victims of rape and incest to carry a resulting pregnancy to term, to say nothing about 10- to 12-year-old rape victims not even being physically able to carry pregnancies to term. Legislation that supposedly bans “most abortions” ends up preventing all abortions as physicians fear the harsh legal repercussions and how these vague laws will be interpreted.

6. Recreational marijuana is on the ballot in November. If it passes, would you commit to legalizing it?

If elected to represent District 2, I will support the legalization of marijuana. Criminalizing the use of marijuana has only succeeded in inflating the number of people unnecessarily forced into the criminal justice system and directing the efforts of law enforcement away from more pressing issues.

7. What is the most important quality for an elected official to possess?

I feel every elected official needs the quality of humility — to remember that they are the representative of the citizens of their district, no matter what their political party may be. In practice, humility also means that each representative is willing to listen respectfully to differing views on the major issues brought before the legislature prior to casting their vote.

8. Who do you take inspiration from, and why?

My major source of inspiration comes from my family — my wife, children, and grandchildren — and I hope that they will always feel I will do what is best for everyone, not just what may be popular at any particular time.

State legislative candidates in contested districts this election season were emailed the same survey to complete for Dakota News Now/KOTA Territory News. With the exception of a quick spelling and grammar check, answers were not edited by the poster. Those who responded to the survey questions had their results posted.