AT ISSUE: First, let me explain. I’m not straddling the fence, but pointing out a difficult problem facing South Dakotans. The November General Election is a lot closer than a lot of South Dakota voters realize. One of the toughest jobs that lies ahead for us is to elect a United States Senator.
Will it be the incumbent, Tim Johnson, a Democrat, or his challenger, Joel Dykstra? The senator has every good reason to retire because of his health and speech problems. Instead he has chosen to seek another six-year term. If he would have retired he would have become another godfather in the South Dakota Democratic Party. By running for reelection he is taking a chance of going down the road that Tom Daschle did.
AS SOUTH DAKOTANS ponder as to who they should vote for in the U.S. Senate race, the question is also asked if reelecting Senator Tim Johnson is the best thing for the senator as well as for the state. Senator Johnson has had a long and distinguished career representing our state in our nation’s capital. Should we force his retirement or give him another six years as our delegate in Washington, D.C. South Dakota voters have a tough decision to make–to elect or reelect a senator.
Supporters of the senator feel that if the forced retirement through the ballot box takes place in November South Dakota will be sacrificing several years of his senate seniority to a man from Canton who has been a good legislator in Pierre, but who would go to Washington without that valuable credential, just as Johnson did way back in 1987 when he first won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Needless to say, seniority in the Washington game of politics is about as important as is catnip tea to Fluffy.
Senator Johnson has been good for South Dakota, as evidenced by notable members of the state GOP who are showing their support for his reelection.
For example, as Republican David Munson, mayor of that city near Harrisburg and former Republican legislator, admits, the senator has been a Godsend for his city. We have seen Munson’s TV ad several times praising Johnson’s help.
We understand there are others willing to take a similar stand of support.
HOWEVER, WE CAN’T forget another famous South Dakotan who went to Washington in 1938 and served in the House until 1948, then was appointed to the Senate to fill a vacancy and was reelected three times. He also was a congressional leader. Tragically, he, too, suffered a severe stroke. It was two years into his final term. He was unable to return to the Senate sessions for his last four years in office. Senator Mundt was later stripped of his committee assignments. Those four years our state was virtually short one senator.
Remembering, Republican leaders back home pleaded with Karl E. Mundt’s wife, Mary, for the crippled senator to resign in the hope that our Republican governor would appoint someone of his political party to his job. She steadfastly refused. And in the next election Democrat House member James Abourezk then ran for and was elected to the senate seat held so long by Republican Mundt.
Should such a remembrance play a role in this election? Those who remember the Mundt tragedy can’t help but put at least some thought of it into this election campaign. Whether or not that thought would be enough to influence the election result is hard to say. Nevertheless, the thought is there. We can’t deny that.
AT THE SAME TIME, medicine and health care in general has come a long way since Mundt’s stroke and Senator Johnson’s recovery is proof of the pudding, although his walking is impaired and his speech is such that he has decided not to enter any debates this campaign with his opponent, Dykstra.
There are those who feel that by denying an opportunity for Dykstra to meet him in campaign debates has hurt the senator. According to columnist Bob Mercer, in effect, Johnson has given Dykstra two things he didn’t have at the start of the campaign: “…refusal to debate–which almost anybody can understand; and a way to put the questions about the biggest issue in the election Johnson’s health front and center.
“Debates do matter. The willingness to debate reflects a candidate’s confidence in his or her own abilities and positions, and a belief of superiority over an opponent. Second, a debate serves as a job interview, giving voters the chance to see for themselves how a candidate thinks and acts and speaks and looks.”
HOW DOES THE REFUSAL to debate now stand up to the senator’s service to the state and nation and his seniority that he has acquired through several previous successful elections? That’s the tough decision South Dakota voters have make come November…
Gordon Garnos was long-time editor of the Watertown Public Opinion and recently retired after 39 years with that newspaper. Garnos, a lifelong resident of South Dakota except for his military service in the U.S. Air Force, was born and raised in Presho.