We asked candidates for major offices in North and South Dakota to respond to this question:
“Many rural communities in the Dakotas are under strain, facing problems of declining school enrollment, crumbling infrastructure, and in general fewer resources to address their needs because of declining population trends. How will you, as a public servant, address these problems?”
We received these responses:
U.S. Representative from South Dakota
Kristi Noem, Republican, Castlewood, S.D.
I grew up in rural South Dakota and have farmed my whole life. I realize that agriculture is critical to our rural communities and middle class families. Unfortunately, too few young people are staying on the farm. I want to ensure our government is working for agriculture, not against it. For example, I helped lead the fight to stop proposed Labor Department regulations that would have banned kids from working on farms. We have to give the next generation certainty that they have a future on the farm. That means stable farm and tax policies. I’m supporting a Farm Bill that would ensure a strong safety net and continue the beginner farmer program. I’m also fighting for the elimination of the death tax, which threatens our family farms. Additionally, as a mother whose children attend rural schools, I’m committed to making sure our rural schools have the resources they need.
Matt Varilek, Democrat, Sioux Falls, S.D.
As a native of Yankton and Tabor, I am passionate about the need to promote economic opportunity in South Dakota’s rural communities. For almost seven years I worked as an economic development specialist on the staff of Senator Tim Johnson, working with local leaders on projects in every corner of our state. We must pass a Farm Bill, strengthening the ag sector that is the foundation of our rural economy. We should promote private industries that specifically create opportunities in rural areas – biofuels, other value-added ag, and wind energy, among others. We must invest in rural infrastructure such as broadband, water and wastewater, and electricity transmission, which allow private businesses to thrive. And we must not sacrifice these investments to finance new tax breaks for Big Oil companies or other wealthy interests. Finally, I agree strongly with those who have called education our best economic development policy.
U.S. Senator from North Dakota
Heidi Heitkamp, Democrat-NPL, Mandan, N.D.
There are programs in existence that help address the needs of rural communities in North Dakota. I’ll fight to protect these programs like the USDA Rural Development program and the Department of Education Rural Education Achievement Program, which offer assistance for housing, infrastructure, business development, utilities, and education. I will work to ensure we provide the conditions necessary to keep our rural communities thriving.
What’s more, I’ll fight burdensome government regulations that impede the ability of small banks and credit unions to serve rural communities. And I’ll push for a fair regulatory environment for our rural electric cooperatives that provide affordable energy and good jobs to rural North Dakotans. The Senate version of the Farm Bill, which supports 16 million jobs, must be passed in order to provide certainty and crucial crop insurance to our farmers and ranchers. Alternative forms of energy like wind and biofuels provide jobs in rural communities, and I’ll fight to support domestic forms of energy so we can reduce our dependence on Mideast Oil.
We did not receive a response from Rick Berg.
U.S. Representative from North Dakota
Kevin Cramer, Republican, Bismarck, N.D.
Our state is experiencing the largest economic boom in the country right now, and while infrastructure development lags behind, it is starting to catch up. The population is declining in some areas, but rapidly expanding in others. Both energy and agriculture industries are growing, but we need to ensure that continues on a long-term basis, and in doing so produce more wealth in our rural counties. On a federal level that means rolling back the mountains of red tape and regulations that President Obama has piled onto ag and energy producers and small businesses, unnecessarily pushing up the costs and complexities of doing business. We need a predictable regulatory environment along with a stable tax structure that attracts investments. We also need to promote the development of all our energy resources, creating energy security and driving down the high fuel costs that can cripple agricultural producers and rural residents.
Pam Gulleson, Democrat-NPL, Fargo, N.D.
Due in part to the recent oil boom in North Dakota, we have low unemployment and a large state surplus. But that boom has impacted these rural communities greatly. Our state government should reinvest more of its surplus into infrastructure improvements in rural housing, roads, emergency services and schools. In order to keep jobs here in North Dakota and reverse the declining population trends, we need to do more to develop our workforce in rural areas, and we should build more refineries for our oil to keep jobs right here.
The federal government can assist with roads and housing by directing more federal transportation funds, HUD and USDA Rural Development. Agriculture is still the backbone of North Dakota’s economy and it is essential that we pass a Farm Bill to provide an important safety net for farmers and support for rural development.
We did not receive a reply from Eric Olson.
North Dakota Governor
Jack Dalrymple, Republican, Bismarck, N.D.
As a public servant I’ve had unique opportunities to be involved in North Dakota’s forward movement. Reworking the K-12 school formula for equitable, adequate funding for schools was just one important step. As North Dakota’s population grows for the first time in decades, we are now able to create the future we want. We are investing surplus funds in our state, county and township roads, our sewer systems, and our water infrastructure, and incentivizing affordable housing construction. This includes non-oil producing counties and townships. We have worked hard to cover a larger share of K-12 education costs, including low-interest loans to build schools. At the same time, we continue offering meaningful tax relief for North Dakotans. A growing economy is the best way to support a growing community and vice versa. These are exciting times. As your Governor, I will work with you to create the future we want.
Ryan M. Taylor, Democrat-NPL, Towner, N.D.
We’re blessed in North Dakota with abundant resources, but while lots of attention is being paid to the development of oil, we must not forget our rural roots. Agriculture is a big part of our state’s current bounty. It is our obligation to invest a part of our $2 billion surplus to ensure rural funding for safe roads, quality schools and emergency services. I’m a rancher raising my family in rural North Dakota, and I spent 10 years representing one of our state’s most rural senate districts. I know, first-hand, how important these investments are. Our campaign for governor has laid out plans at taylorfornd.com for these investments to make sure our rural communities remain vital today and in our next economy after our “one-time harvest” of oil and gas. We must invest in our young people and their education whether they come from Wishek or Williston. A budget surplus is only as good as our ability as leaders to keep what makes our state special.