House candidates talk trade, health care at public forum

October 4, 2018

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Democrat Tim Bjorkman and Republican Dusty Johnson largely avoided taking political swipes at each other during a South Dakota congressional candidate forum, instead laying out their ideas on policy issues including trade, health care and criminal justice.

Bjorkman, a former judge, and Johnson, a past public utilities commissioner, faced off Wednesday at the event in Sioux Falls hosted by Americans for Prosperity-South Dakota. Libertarian George Hendrickson and independent Ron Wieczorek also participated.

Here’s a look at key issues discussed at the forum:



Johnson called himself a “free-trade guy,” saying he doesn’t think the current trade disputes with other nations should have been started. He said he urged President Donald Trump during a recent visit to get trade deals negotiated quickly because South Dakota shouldn’t feel “any more pain than it has to,” but did praise the revamped North American trade agreement with Canada and Mexico that gives U.S. farmers greater access to the Canadian dairy market.

Bjorkman said South Dakota and its agriculture community have been put at the front lines of a trade war that’s going to cause repercussions across the state and region.



Bjorkman called health care the most pressing problem facing the nation, saying it costs too much in part because of big pharmaceutical and insurance companies that donate heavily to political candidates. He said former President Barack Obama’s health care law was a “very imperfect first step” that needs to be stabilized and said he supports allowing people who don’t qualify for Affordable Care Act subsidies to buy into Medicare.

Johnson said that giving more flexibility to the states, which he referred to as the “50 laboratories of democracy,” would improve health care outcomes.



Johnson said drug treatment is a “woefully underutilized” component of the criminal justice system that needs to be a much more significant part of it. He said the scourge of methamphetamine and opioids isn’t going to be improved by locking up all drug offenders.

Bjorkman said that “crime’s biggest enemy is a stable home, an education and a job skill.” He said criminal justice needs “real reform,” starting with treatment. Hendrickson, a former police officer, said the number of nonviolent offenders in state and federal prisons needs to be reduced and that lawmakers should stop legislating mandatory minimum sentences.



Bjorkman said it’s crucial the state has a strong advocate for family farmers and ranchers, adding that he would push to serve on the House Committee on Agriculture. Johnson said rural development has always been a major part of his career. He said it’s important for South Dakota’s representative to look at complex pieces of legislation and educate colleagues on how the measures will affect rural areas.



Johnson had roughly $151,000 in the bank at the end of June after winning his Republican primary race, while Bjorkman — who didn’t have a primary challenger — had about $217,000 in his campaign account. The candidates are set to report new fundraising numbers later in October.

Bjorkman and Johnson are set to debate again Oct. 18 on South Dakota Public Broadcasting.