In the District 17 race for the state House of Representatives, voters may expect a mix of familiar and new faces.
Democrats Ray Ring and Marion Sorlien, and Republicans Sheri Kaufman and Nancy Rasmussen are running for two seats in the South Dakota House of Representatives. Ring and Rasmussen are the incumbent candidates.
Candidates are listed below in alphabetical order.
Sheri Kaufman, Republican
Sheri Kaufman said she wants to be the best representative she may be.
“I’m not really running on issues,” Kaufman said. “I’m running because I think it’s the right thing to do.”
Kaufman, a stay-at-home mom who runs a small business from her home, said she believes in conservative values and small government.
“It’s kind of a balancing act between keeping the government cost effect enough for the people to provide the services they want and going too far,” Kaufman said.
Although she said she’s not running on specific platforms, Kaufman said she opposes the government raising the minimum wage, illegal immigration and the Common Core.
“People shouldn’t use the government to get a wage increase from the government,” Kaufman said. “If you feel you aren’t getting a deal with your employer, you are free under our system to find a new job. The more we grow government, the more it will interfere with our lives, the more costly it will be.”
Kaufman also said there needs to be respect for the immigration system.
“If we start to pick and choose what law we’re going to enforce, that begins chaos,” Kaufman said. “You’re going to have citizens with special rights and citizens with their rights violated.”
When it comes to the Common Core, Kaufman said the state hasn’t seen the entire program yet, and she is afraid of politics interfering with testing.
“If the federal government is going to create the tests, the teachers locally will have to teach that test,” she said. “You run the risk of politicians deciding what your curriculum will be.”
Kaufman would like to see local school systems have more of a hand in setting curriculums.
“I don’t think it’s a good system,” Kaufman said. “There (is) a reason it’s never been done before.”
Nancy Rasmussen, Incumbent Republican
Nancy Rasmussen is eyeing a return to Pierre after her first term in South Dakota’s House of Representatives.
“I’m pleased with the work we did — with what I learned,” Rasmussen said. “I was so pleased, I decided to run again.”
Rasmussen currently works as a resource aid, but has spent time working as a nurse, a clinic coordinator for a mobile cancer unit, in a farm business and ran a daycare out of her home, among other occupations.
Although Rasmussen said she is not focusing her campaign on a specific issue, she does have a theme uniting her values.
“Children are and should be our main focus,” Rasmussen said. “Protecting our children is hopefully providing a world that is stable for them as we grow up.”
From her focus on children, Rasmussen said she sees education, agriculture and human trafficking as issues going into the election. She said she heard about human trafficking six years ago when she was working on a friend’s campaign, but learned more about the topic during her term.
“Being a mother and a woman, I think being able to protect the citizen is really important,” Rasmussen said.
Her focus also includes looking into legislation regarding changes to education.
“As a conservative, I want to make sure what is good and safe before it happens,” Rasmussen said.
She also said an initiative to keep younger generations in the state is important.
“It’s hard for our young people who want to be farmers,” Rasmussen said. “I think that is part of economic development — to try to keep our children to want to farm — to keep them in South Dakota. It’s just as important as trying to keep the students who want to be teachers in the state.”
Last year, Rasmussen was not the prime sponsor of any bills, but was the co-sponsor on multiple.
“Last year, we had an awful lot of resolutions,” Rasmussen said. “Any bill of mine would have been muddled in the big issues.”
Those issues included legislation on human trafficking, the Common Core and a possible repeal of the death penalty.
“I thought we had enough on our plate last year,” Rasmussen said.
Ray Ring, Incumbent Democrat
After his first legislative term in Pierre, incumbent candidate Ray Ring is ready for more.
“Early in the first session, somebody asked me if I’m having fun in Pierre,” Ring said. “I said I wouldn’t call it fun, but I’m enjoying it. I still enjoy it, so I’m asking to go back again.”
Ring is a retired economics professor who has consulted for all three branches of state government, also having done work with Congress in Washington, D.C.
In the time he’s been in office, Ring is most proud of the criminal justice reform the legislature passed in an attempt to keep incarcerations and costs low.
For his reelection campaign, Ring is focusing on funding for education, Medicaid expansion and government transparency, accountability and corruption. He said he supports improving transparency, especially in the wake of the controversial EB-5, a program where immigrants can receive green cards for investing $500,000 in U.S. projects.
“There were clearly were some questionable decisions made,” Ring said.
Although the legislature passed a resolution to have hearings, Ring said Republicans have been dragging their feet on releasing information.
“As far as I’m concerned, we have not gotten to the bottom of this, and it’s time we do that,” Ring said.
When it comes to education, Ring would like to see the per student allocation increase, along with an increase in teacher salaries and state funded need-based scholarships.
“I feel like we have to do something more significant than what we’ve done to get more need-based scholarships through the state,” Ring said.
He’s also expressed interest in studying the state’s current tax system, which Ring said is one of the most regressive tax structures in the country, placing a high burden on lower income individuals.
“Our taxes are low — there’s no question about that on taxes per person,” Ring said. “Where I think we have a problem is that we put a disproportionately high tax burden on business.”
Ring was a consultant on the last major tax study which was completed near 1990, and said it’s time for a more extensive study with outside experts.
Marion Sorlien, Democrat
For her second time running for South Dakota’s House of Representatives, Marion Sorlien said she feels more comfortable speaking to voters.
“I feel like I am able to say what I think, and I’m not so worried about if somebody is going to be mad at me,” Sorlien said. “It doesn’t pay to not put it out there.”
The retired teacher has been outspoken about wanting increases in funding for education. She initially ran in 2012 after the legislature cut education funding, seeing how it impacted schools in Sioux Falls and Viborg.
“We have decided in the state that education isn’t that important, and it is the most important thing we have,” Sorlien said. “Children are the future, and I don’t care if they’re going to be custodians or engineers or teachers. They need a really good education, and that starts with good teachers.”
Sorlien said by not having teacher salaries keep up with inflation, South Dakota could be losing teachers to other states.
During her time as a teacher, Sorlien taught art in Sioux Falls, where she was also the department chair for the fine arts department, in which she handled budgets and had to make cuts.
Sorlien also supports expanding Medicaid and finding ways to increase county revenues.
“We’re starting to see a problem,” Sorlien said. “You go to every county, there are bridges closed and no money to fix them. Every year there is more and more of those and we have to find a way to raise revenue.”
Sorlien said a possible solution could include a state-wide tax study which looks into the state’s regressive tax structure and how the state underestimates tax revenues each year. Another solution Sorlien proposed included a gas tax where the revenues would go toward road repairs.
“Everything needs to be on the table,” Sorlien said. “We need to be able to talk about everything.”