A comprehensive solution to immigration issues

A comprehensive solution to immigration issues

Immigration is an issue that has torn this nation apart for far too long.
We need to reach a comprehensive solution that resolves the issues relating to those here illegally, strengthens our borders, ensures a strong vetting process and monitoring of those who seek to enter the country on a visa, and respects the rights of lawful immigrants.
As a nation of immigrants, America has always been a beacon of hope for those who seek
freedom and justice. That must never change. Immigrants are an essential and vibrant part of the American saga.
The vast majority of those who come to America leave everything they know behind to give their children a better life. Most, naturally want to cling to their own traditions, but their children want to learn the ways of their American friends.
We must also address the reality that we have millions here illegally, yet be mindful that for years we did not enforce our laws, largely because of businesses’ desire for a ready, cheap labor force.
Something else has happened over the past 50 years: legal immigration rates have significantly increased our immigrant population from around 5 percent in 1970 to 14 percent today.
The immigrant workforce – legal and otherwise – while supplying businesses with reliable labor, has allowed us to ignore deep problems that have developed in American culture among those who lack more than a high school diploma. This additional workforce also tends to suppress wages of working Americans, which have remained stagnant over the last 40 years, despite enormous gains in worker productivity.
Today in America, there are an estimated 10 to 12 million Americans of working age who are neither working nor looking for work. Some key reasons are: untreated mental illness, addiction, lack of a work ethic or a felony record that makes it hard to find a job.
We are supporting them and their children through our government aid programs, and their absence from the workforce hampers economic expansion. Worse yet, their children often struggle academically and themselves fail to learn a work ethic, and, importantly, personal
Unless we address their plight, those of the generations who follow us will not be able to afford the monetary or the societal costs they will bear.
All this means that we must address the pressing and divisive issues of immigration in a way that is humanitarian and also respects our laws and its borders. I support these tough but sensible measures:
1. A grace period of 12 months for every adult in the nation illegally to apply for permission to remain working in the country, without a path to citizenship – the price of illegal entry – so long as they hold jobs and have no felony record.
2. Strengthening border security with continued development of the decade-long border fencing program, smart walls and increased numbers of border agents.
3. Institution of federal laws making it a crime to hire an illegal alien, imposed against a company’s CEO, with the first offense constituting a misdemeanor-level offense, but the second a felony level crime, with a defense for any company that used E-Verify showing lawful status.
4. Enacting laws that allow those who came here as children of those here illegally to remain in this country and apply for citizenship if they meet basic requirements and have no felony record.
5. Reducing the number of legal immigrants over the next decade and at the same time focusing on efforts to restore adult Americans not in the workforce to working status, so that they are supporting themselves and their children.
If we’re serious about ending illegal immigration, let’s show it by enacting and enforcing stronger laws that honor legal immigration but safeguard our borders and nation.

Tim: All Americans deserve equal rights

Tim: All Americans deserve equal rights

All Americans deserve equal rights and a seat at the table of opportunity in America, regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual  orientation.

Those are the very rights promised to every one of us in the Declaration of Independence and made law in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. I support those same rights and that same opportunity for members of the LGBTQ community.

It’s a bipartisan position. President Obama initiated, and President Trump has maintained, workplace protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity for federal employees and contractors.

In addition, I’ll be a consistent voice against anti-LGBTQ violence, bullying and discrimination. Recognizing my commitment to Justice for All, Equality South Dakota endorsed my candidacy.

I will always work to protect the right of every American to be treated with dignity and respect in their communities, their workplaces and their schools.

Tim: Medicinal Marijuana Has Value

Tim: Medicinal Marijuana Has Value

I view federal oversight of marijuana laws by the government to be overreach and an encroachment on states rights.

I believe the federal law prohibiting marijuana and limiting research on its medicinal value are wrong. Men, women, many children, war veterans and others appear to receive real help from marijuana in medicinal doses. It is wrong that they are kept from its benefits by antiquated drug laws.

So I support marijuana for medicinal purposes, in a form that doesn’t strip it of its medicinal benefits. I oppose marijuana prescriptions that simply allow an individual to buy a bag of grass or a joint.

I’m not a proponent of recreational marijuana legalization, but I believe the laboratory of the state should work its course on this issue.

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Interview: barriers to running for Congress

Kay and Tim Bjorkman sat down recently for interviews on a broad array of topics.  In this video, Tim discusses their personal decision process in entering a congressional race.  The challenge for candidates who refuse to be “bought” by special interests is simple:  How do you raise the necessary money to mount a campaign without accepting PAC money?

Tim presents his strategy, embodied in his campaign, for defeating special interest “swamp” influence.  The strategy relies on voter recognition of the huge threat PACs and Super PACs represent to our political system.  Tim’s vision is a template for how candidates across the country might succeed, while still remaining beholden only to the voters they represent.

As always, Tim holds hard to his outright refusal to take a single dime from special interests, and all those that use political donations as leverage to attain specific legislative goals.  Tim remains committed and beholden only to the people of South Dakota.,

Keep dark money ads out of South Dakota

Keep dark money ads out of South Dakota

Everyone knows that our Congress is a mess, and one of the main reasons is the overwhelming power of special interest PAC money.

It’s mainly responsible for the Congress we have: one filled with people who place their own election and re-election above their duty to America, beholden to special interests and under the thumb of Big Business, which buys senators and congressmen.

And, as great an impact as PAC money has on our campaigns, another type of PAC known as Super PACs has had an even greater negative impact. Super PACs came about in 2010, as the result of the Citizens United court ruling. Instead of making contributions directly to candidates or political parties, these groups may spend unlimited amounts on ads for or against a candidate, so long as they don’t coordinate with a candidate. It can be hard even to know who’s behind an ad; that’s why they’re called dark money ads.

They have negatively changed American elections, as we witnessed in the June Republican primary in South Dakota. During the late stages, a moderate Super PAC funded by wealthy donors spent more than $310,000 on mailers and other dark ads in an effort to defeat conservative, pro-Trump Shantel Krebs. That expenditure was the second-most spent against any candidate in America this year. A Super PAC of Krebs supporters responded with some $55,000 of their own dark ads, but it was apparently too little, too late.

This is swamp behavior at its worst.

I was more disheartened when I read in the Rapid City Journal that Dusty Johnson admitted to having met months earlier with the special interest group behind the dark money ads against Krebs.

What transpired in that meeting?

According to a Federal Election Commission report, Dusty Johnson has already taken large sums from a PAC for the coal, sugar cane and bankers’ lobbies, among others. His most powerful donors, though, are the wealthy Koch Brothers, whose Super PACs, including Americans for Prosperity, are the most gigantic of swamp creatures, having spent more on dark money ads — by far — than any other Super PACs. They plan to spend some $400 million nationally to influence this election.

In South Dakota, their candidate is Dusty Johnson.

I realize the swamp will likely attack me with negative ads in the same way they blitzed Krebs. Is this the kind of congressional race we want in our state?

Here’s the good news: we can overcome the swamp and its power: they have the money, but together ordinary citizens have the votes, and united, we are stronger than all the special interests combined.

In order to overcome the power of Super PAC influence, we must commit ourselves to vote against the candidate who stands to benefit from any dark money ads we see. All this is one key reason I’ve refused to accept any PAC money. Period.

I reject it because you can’t fight the special interests if you take their money.

And I promise South Dakotans this: if someone tries to run dark ads against any candidate in the race, I’ll immediately do three things: publicly condemn the ads; call on the sponsors to stop running them; and urge voters to ignore them.

I invite Dusty Johnson to join me in this pledge. This election is a simple test: who governs America, the special interests and their PACs and Super PACs, or We the People?

Family farms at heart of Tim’s ag policies

Family farms at heart of Tim’s ag policies

My family has roots in the South Dakota soil. That’s why family farms are so especially important to me in this campaign, and will be a focus for me in Congress.

I grew up in a series of small towns, but we had numerous relatives and friends who owned and worked on farms. I spent time on them, doing multiple chores, including shoveling manure. That experience will come in handy in Washington, D.C.

When I study agriculture issues, I always look at how it impacts family farmers. They’re the ones who need a friend in Congress, a voice and a vote for them. Believe me, the wealthy have plenty of allies bought and paid for already.

Family farms make up the vast majority of our producers, with 98 percent of our farms family owned, according to the South Dakota Department of Agriculture.

There are 31,800 farms, most of which have been owned by the same family for more than a century. They’re good, productive operations, with an average size of 1,374 acres, and 46,000 people work on them.

They do great work, which each farmer feeding 155 people across the world. They deserve someone in Congress who looks out for them and speaks up on their behalf.

The most glaring example is the multi-billion-dollar Farm Bill that is slowly making its way through Congress. It’s loaded with billions of dollars in subsidies for corporations and the rich, and all efforts to clean those up have been blocked by congressional leaders of both parties.

According to a Politico report, a bipartisan effort that included conservatives and liberals, with input from outside groups, proposed 10 amendments to the Farm Bill that would have capped two commodity support programs — known as Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage — at 110 percent of their projected cost. 

Among the ideas was to prohibit farmers with an adjusted gross income of $500,000 or more from being eligible for crop insurance premiums partially paid for by you, the taxpayer.

A means test for commodity and conservation assistance was also proposed. In addition, the subsidies for the sugar industry, which have been in place for more than 80 years and need to be reformed, were proposed for study.

We also need to raise the cap on conservation reserve program (CRP) acres. It’s at 25 million acres now, and it’s worth a look to see if placing more land in CRP would reduce our excess production and boost commodity prices.

They also would likely help the pheasant population in South Dakota, which would be good news for hunters, small towns where people flock to pursue our colorful state bird, and the South Dakota economy. 

But the people who run in Congress prevented these interesting ideas from receiving serious consideration.

We need a Farm Bill that’s design to help the farm, not the corporation.

I also favor a restoration of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). We should not allow imported beef and pork to be passed off as a product of the United States of America. They are not.

COOL for beef and pork was lifted in 2016 and that has, once again, benefited Big Ag while putting consumers at risk and penalizing the men and women who produce and market locally grown meat.

We need to restore COOL, and Congress has the ability to do so. I will work on that from the day I am elected.

Another concern is the trade war sparked by tariffs President Trump imposed this year.

That has been a serious mistake. It’s a result of Congress ceding ins authority on international trade. I favor restoring that congressional authority, and it would benefit our farmers and ranchers.

I made that clear in an interview with Black Hills Fox this summer.

“The trade war that is now burgeoning in which our American farmers, and cattleman, and hog producers, are being shoved onto the front lines of against their will. We’ve got a terribly soft farm economy right now. This is making it far worse. In my view, we need a congressman who will be willing to stand up and say that international trade under the Constitution, belongs to Congress under Article 1, Section 8.”

The trade war has lowered commodity prices, especially soybeans. A new report says farmers are once again producing a bumper crop, but many will hold onto it, hoping for better prices.

The problem is there not sufficient storage capabilities. Soybeans will be damaged if left on the ground, making a bad situation even worse. These are some of the byproducts of poor trade policies.

One solution is build more storage facilities, and once again, the tariffs come back to bite us, as steel and aluminum prices have risen sharply with tariffs put in place by longtime trading partners.

We must prepare for difficult days next spring, when farmers seek new contracts for their crops and also talk to bankers about operating loans. Congressmen, like farmers, must consider the long term impact of choices.

I’m also interested in helping younger farmers get started. As the average age of a farmer nears 60, we need to assist the next generation of stewards of our land. They face a daunting challenge with the price of land, livestock and equipment, and I promise to be in their corner.

These are all issues that South Dakota’s sole member of the U.S. House of Representatives must devote himself to in 2019 and beyond. One way to work on them is being being appointed to the House Agriculture Committee

We don’t have someone on that committee now and that has been a mistake. I will correct that next year.

It’s about planting an idea to work for our farmers and I plan to nurture that into a healthy crop of support for family farms. 
Tim: Native American issues important to all

Tim: Native American issues important to all

I agree with The Native Sun News editorial about the need for candidates “running for the House of Representatives and for the Governor of South Dakota [to] know the demographics of this State and to understand that “Native Americans will turn out in the largest numbers ever because they are just plain sick and tired of politics as usual by the entrenched bureaucrats now running our government.”
I disagree, though, with The Native Sun News editorial that equated me with Dusty Johnson and other candidates whom your editorial stated know “little or nothing about the power of the Native American vote.”
I know and have had relationships with Native American friends and clients my entire life, and as a lawyer and judge developed a knowledge and appreciation of and for the Lakota culture. As a lawyer I know what it’s like to defend Native Americans in court, including for first-degree murder – and secure an acquittal. I’ve met and learned to know thousands of other Natives across the state as a lawyer, judge, and now a candidate for office.
So I made it a point when I announced for Congress as someone with no political experience or connections to reach out to Native Americans across the state as I’ve tried to do with other South Dakotans. I traveled to the Pine Ridge and Rosebud on multiple occasions and have met with members of the Rosebud Sioux, Oglala Sioux, Yankton Sioux, Cheyenne River Sioux, Standing Rock Sioux, Flandreau Santee Sioux, and Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribes so far. I also have trips in the works to the Lower Brule Sioux and Crow Creek Sioux.
I have conducted town halls in Mission on the Rosebud (Jan. 13), in Eagle Butte on the Cheyenne for that community and Standing Rock (May 18), and on the Pine Ridge (May 25) and offered to come to other reservations and conduct them also.
In those town hall sessions I listened carefully to what each person who attended had to say, and answered every question asked until the questions stopped coming, then met individually and listened to stories until people were done.
I have heard seemingly unending accounts from those who have fallen through the cracks of IHS healthcare, something I saw on the bench for over a decade as well. I’ve heard their stories of failure to get basic healthcare even though our government has a federal treaty obligation to provide it. I’ve spoken across the state, not just on reservations, about the need to hold the government accountable for this travesty that is harming so many of our fellow citizens and spoken of the need to treat the meth and opioid epidemics as the national health crises they are rather than a ticket to prison.
I’ve listened to the many aspects of tribal jurisdiction issues, criminal justice issues, sovereignty problems, and a host of others.
In addition to the town halls we’ve held, I’ve met with Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribal Council members and toured their remarkable new healthcare clinic, and just this week met with tribal council members of Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate. We will continue to hold meet and greets and other events across the tribal lands in South Dakota and will continue to listen to tribal members who live off the reservations in our communities across the state. Next Thursday, Aug. 2, we will be taping an appearance on “Oyate Today” and doing an interview with your newspaper in Rapid City.
Finally, I’ve fielded a large number of questions from Natives across the state on Facebook and on the campaign trail at fairs like Central States, the Sioux Empire and others.
While it’s important to sound the clarion about how Natives are crying out for a strong voice willing to stand up for them, it’s worth noting those who have already made their support clear. I’ve worked hard to be that voice and will continue to do that.
So please reconsider the accuracy of lumping me with any other candidates who haven’t shown the interest or dedicated the time to learning about issues important to Native Americans in our state.
I welcome your input and ideas. You can learn more about me and what I stand for by going to timbjorkman.com or our Facebook page @timbjorkmanforcongress to learn more, and send me your thoughts through both.

Pro-Life for the Whole of Life  

Pro-Life for the Whole of Life  

To my fellow South Dakotans, here is my position on abortion.

I am pro-life. When I use those words it means that I believe in supporting and ensuring a dignified life for the whole of life, from the womb to the grave.

As a former judge, I also respect the rule of law and I recognize that today, based upon constitutional rulings, the right to an abortion is allowed by the law and that it will remain the law until either the Supreme Court changes it or a constitutional amendment is passed. And despite all the talk from politicians, no member of South Dakota’s current congressional delegation has offered such an amendment on the floor of Congress, nor has any such amendment reached the floor of Congress in over 30 years.

The competing rights involved and the vast divergence of how reasonable people see this topic are what make it an achingly difficult and highly divisive issue.  Yet, the sad reality is that the abortion debate is only one of several issues that have polarized us as Americans.

And we’ve allowed our differences to keep us from working together on problems we can agree exist and can address.

We need to apply generous doses of tolerance and respect for the differences in one another’s views, which often spring from deeply personal life experiences. Then we must put our heads together seeking ways we can move forward together.

We have not done a good job of caring for vulnerable young lives on either side of the birth process. Abortion and our failure to care for vulnerable children in dysfunctional homes all across America are twin problems that represent different sides of the same coin. Think of this: there were around 900,000 abortions in 2014. In addition, an estimated 2,000,000 more children last year suffered from abuse or other maltreatment that will have a profound impact on their lives.

Re-establishing a respect for vulnerable, young life only begins by outlawing abortion, because ending legal abortion without adding protections for pregnant women will not only result in other harms; it also won’t resolve this deeper cultural disrespect that fails to protect our most vulnerable children after birth.

That’s why we should think not just about laws that outlaw abortion but about laws that protect life and ensure its dignity.

To do that we must develop meaningful measures to help women — especially those who are poor and abandoned — who find themselves pregnant, including protection from workplace and educational discrimination.  And it means confronting some of the factors underlying the decision to abort by ensuring access to prenatal care and quality childcare, encouraging family leave; eliminating discrimination against pregnant workers; improving the adoption process, and ensuring that all Americans, including children and their caregivers, have affordable healthcare.

This is the path to a life of dignity for each vulnerable child.

An approach that simply outlaws abortion but fails to address our troubling infant mortality rates, food insecurity, abuse and neglect, and poor academic outcomes among poor children isn’t worthy of the label ‘pro-life.’  The person who is truly pro-life actively works to protect vulnerable children born into highly dysfunctional homes, to ensure our collective responsibility to protect and educate them so that they have a fair shot at a decent life, because that person realizes this: they are ALL our children.

It is the right thing morally, but it is also the fiscally responsible thing to do, because it’s the surest way to narrow the road to school failure and prison, and to widen the path for those children to become responsible citizens.

Only this sort of whole life approach can make a movement authentically pro-life.

There is more. While both sides have debated the abortion issue for over 40 years, each side has too often taken its collective eyes off the underlying problem in the abortion debate — unintended pregnancy — which has, ironically, mushroomed since 1973. Consider these numbers: among adults with no more than a diploma — who are mostly low income - the unintended birth rate is startlingly higher than that of all other Americans, and is now stunningly more than twice that of the emerging world average!

Those numbers help explain why today in South Dakota, 47 percent of births are paid for by Medicaid. And why about 2 in 3 mothers with a high school diploma or less raise children in single-parent homes. And why 70 percent of children born to never-married parents grow up in poverty, at high risk for academic failure.

Fiscal responsibility alone should cause us to ensure that every adult – including those who cannot afford them – have access to contraceptives that will prevent pregnancy when not trying to conceive.  

This is particularly important among those struggling with addiction. As a judge, I witnessed the unspeakably tragic pattern of unintended pregnancies for children entering the world from the womb of a mother addicted to meth, after the state government had ended the mother’s Medicaid eligibility because she no longer had a minor child in the home.

How can we say to the child born to a meth-addicted mom that she has been given a fair shot at life?

Regardless of one’s views on abortion, we should be able to join forces to actually confront the root of the problem: unintended pregnancy, a condition that has reached epidemic proportions among impoverished women in this state and nation, and that profoundly impacts our economy, our families, and our most precious resource: our children. No less than the preservation of the American Dream for millions of our children is at stake in how we respond to this challenge.

The path forward for our state and nation is to ensure a life with dignity to every child.

Thanks for reading.

Congress must take back authority on international trade

Congress must take back authority on international trade

​South Dakota’s number one industry is agriculture, and its success is vital to our small towns and our state’s future. The ag economy was already soft going into planting season, so the timing of the president’s tariffs on steel and aluminum, imposed under a law authorizing him to act where our nation’s security is at risk, only made matters worse.
Our trading partners responded predictably — by placing retaliatory tariffs on our commodities like corn, soybeans, beef, pork, wheat, and sorghum — almost all of the ag products that we raise here in South Dakota.
While it’s important that we combat trade violations, we must also do it right: in a deliberate, thorough, and methodical manner. And keep this in mind: the Constitution grants only Congress — not the president — the authority to impose tariffs.
For months now, I have called on our congressional delegation to support legislation restoring the Constitution’s requirement that ANY president must obtain congressional approval before imposing tariffs.
Our state’s delegation now agree with me that these tariffs are harming our economy and costing South Dakota farmers and ranchers “hundreds of millions of dollars that they could not afford to lose.”
So what did they do about it? They wrote the president a mildly worded letter warning him of the danger of imposing tariffs and asking him to reevaluate them.
That’s weak.
​Think about it: our producers have lost hundreds of millions of dollars, and our congressional delegation’s response is … a letter.
But the response from Dusty Johnson, the Republican nominee for South Dakota’s lone House seat, was even more passive. Dusty also agrees that tariffs are bad for South Dakota. He’s just not willing to stand up for us to oppose them.
He says that while “it’s important for Congress to have oversight over the executive branch’s actions,” he thinks the president should maintain authority over trade negotiations: “Injecting more congressional involvement, at least at this time, is going to inject more politics into it,” Johnson said.
It’s hard to know what oversight Dusty envisions Congress could have over a president who can impose tariffs on his own. And does Dusty really believe that when Congress exercises a constitutionally granted power it’s playing politics.
This is no time for passivity, hollow words, or hand-wringing politicians. The framers established Congress as the people’s branch of government, and it’s time for leaders of conviction to restore the constitutional checks and balances they intended. If a candidate for Congress is not willing to act on the constitutional authority the framers granted to Congress, he likely won’t be the strong independent voice South Dakota needs and deserves.
South Dakota’s rural communities may soon be in crisis if we don’t act now. Our congressional delegation — and anyone who seeks to join it — need to act as if real people’s economic lives are at stake.
Congressional Reform

Congressional Reform

Congress is dysfunctional.  The House of Representatives averages 138 “legislative days” a year – less than one in three days each week.  They usually begin on Tuesday and adjourn on Thursday afternoon, and spend less than a third of that time actually drafting bills, attending hearings, or voting; in fact, as much as half that time is spent fundraising, beginning their first week in office.

It is a money-dominated system destined to produce the kind of Congress we now have: members who place their re-election above their duty to America. Instead of campaigning face to face with regular citizens, they are elected in the first place by courting wealthy donors. When you ask a person to give thousands of dollars to your campaign, they want something in return, as Donald Trump repeatedly reminded us.  If you play the game, you become owned by your donors, having assured many that you will support their legislation – legislation that all too often protects the wealthy class and works against average Americans.

All this keeps most solid citizens from seeking political office: few willingly subject themselves to the sordid efforts to raise such money. But we implicitly agree to this process when we keep electing them anyway: although Congress has an approval rating around 15%, incumbents have a re-election rate of over 90%.

I reject that kind of campaign. I have committed to running a different kind of race. I’ve spent the past 7 months conducting town halls, and meeting South Dakotans in cafes, homes and places of business. I listen to their concerns, and answer their questions about what I believe and want to accomplish as our next congressman.

I’ve spoken and written repeatedly of the damage wrought by corporate and special interest control of Congress. The recent tax law perfectly demonstrates the power of those forces. In the aftermath of an election that was supposed to “drain the swamp,” this tax law is a gift that will keep on giving for years to come, to the rich and politically connected.

If power is to be restored to the people of this nation, this must change; but change requires leaders of conviction who will risk defeat to bring it about.

So, I have decided I will not take money from any PAC whatsoever.  I have put some of my own money into the campaign and I am relying on regular South Dakotans who will support a candidate who won’t be owned by anyone, and every day will do the business of the people.  I solemnly promise that I will not bow to the big money that controls Washington. If I had to raise money that way in order to win, I’d rather stay home because  I wouldn’t be any more effective for the people than those we now send.

For these reasons I will fight for these fundamental reforms:

1.      Enacting a Congressional Term Limits Amendment;

2.      Ending the deeply troubling Congressional Dues System, in which members pay dues to their parties to serve on committees of their choice;

3.      Prohibiting members from raising money while Congress is in session;

4.      Requiring Congress to live by the same insurance coverage as the average American, eliminating low cost Capitol Hill medical services that the rest of America lacks; and

5.      Prohibiting a member of Congress from employment in firms that employ lobbyists for five years after leaving office.

Dusty has declined to tell the voters whether they intend to participate in the congressional dues system if they are elected.  Neither has rejected it, nor have they signed the term limit pledge that I signed months ago. I invite them to share with us their stances on that and each reform issue I have set out.

South Dakota can send a ripple across America by electing a person who refuses to participate in the big money campaign process. That is the way to restore government of, by, and for the People. If we continue to venerate and elect the candidate who raises the largest war chest, let’s stop decrying big money in politics.

Common Sense Gun Law Reforms

Common Sense Gun Law Reforms

I grew up around guns in rural South Dakota. I am a gun owner, an occasional hunter, and a 2nd Amendment supporter. Three of our sons served in the military and are gun enthusiasts. If anyone tried to take away a gun of mine they would have to fight me for it. As a judge I saw the effects of society’s propensity toward violence, sometimes but not always involving guns. The moment calls for honest discussion about how to prevent more senseless killings, and that discussion should take place with as little rancor and partisanship as possible.

First some facts: more people have died from gun violence since 1970 than in all American wars combined. We have far more guns and gun deaths than any other nation in the world: nearly six times the per capita rate of Canada, and nearly 16 times that of Germany.

Almost 2 in 3 of the 33,500 annual gun deaths are by suicide. Of the roughly 11,000 homicides, about half the victims are young males, and some 1,700 women are killed as the result of domestic violence. The horrendous mass shootings we have experienced have totaled about 320 deaths annually over the past 5 years – around 2% of all homicides; as an aside, about six Americans die annually at the hands of Islamic terrorists. Handguns are by far the most common weapon used in killings.

While about 90% of those who take their own lives suffer from a mental disorder, it is a much less common factor in homicides. As a judge, it became clear to me that the vast percentage of our overall crime problem, including violent crime, involved people who struggle with untreated addiction, often after experiencing a dysfunctional childhood.

Just as the types and causes of gun deaths vary, so the solutions will also be different. One thing is clear: we must learn to take better care of each other and seek to adopt policies that work for the wellbeing of ordinary Americans.

Our own congressional delegation seems to agree, pointing to the role of mental illness; yet instead of promoting better mental healthcare, the majority in Congress has employed its efforts to reduce mental health funding, and to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which, importantly, provides coverage for mental health and addiction treatment in every policy.

So, what measures are most calculated to reduce gun violence? Sadly, we have far less data on this than we should because Congress has effectively banned the Centers for Disease Control [CDC] from funding research on gun violence.

I advocate these first steps:

1.      A law mandating uniform background checks on all gun sales, with free service at sheriffs’ offices for private transfers and estate transfer exemptions; and improved sharing of information among reporting sources;
2.      Prohibiting any device, such as bump stocks, that converts a semi-automatic into an automatic weapon;
3.      Prohibiting individuals on the government’s terrorist watch list from buying firearms, but no person should be on the list in the first place unless the government first proves it is warranted at a due-process hearing;
4.     Encouraging states to adopt red flag laws that allow a court to temporarily remove guns from a person who poses a danger to himself or others, with mandatory database reporting and removal upon clearance by a medical specialist;
5.      Promoting interventions like the Sandy Hook Promise that identify and reach out to at-risk individuals, including restorative justice and anti-bullying programs;
6.      Committing our nation to a War on Mental Illness and to ensuring every American has affordable health coverage to treat it; and
7.      Importantly, removing the ban on the CDC studying firearm violence;

I will become a target of the NRA and its enormous political action committee.  That’s okay.  The NRA, like many other special interests, tends to bully politicians, which helps explain the absence of sound reform. This is one reason I refuse to take any PAC money.

I suspect that most South Dakotans are just as sickened as I am by the endless slaughter of Americans, and also tired of special interests controlling our Congress.

Two questions lie before us: do we have the courage as a nation to defeat the powerful special interests that have thwarted reform on this and so many other issues; and what kind of America will we leave behind for our children and grandchildren?

Healthcare: The Defining Issue of our Day

Healthcare: The Defining Issue of our Day

The first American president to promote national health insurance was Republican President Theodore Roosevelt, who believed that no country could prosper if its people were sick and poor.

Today not everyone accepts that view.  Yet, a recent study by the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, notes that the U.S. ranks 12th in the world in measures of economic freedom and 10 of the 11 nations ahead of us have achieved universal coverage.  This isn’t a coincidence—our lack of universal coverage is holding us back economically.

The fact is, universal healthcare is the best way – along with education - to ensure a level playing field for all Americans to fulfill their highest potential and live a productive life. Today, middle and low-income workers and their employers struggle to pay for healthcare, and millions more of our poor are shut out of the system altogether, saddling too many with staggering debt or forcing them to live with debilitating pain that keeps them from working or being the parent their children need.

And the sad fact is, many who lack coverage end up falling out of the middle class, due either to massive debt or untreated conditions. Health insurance costs, subsidies, and coverage are extremely uneven in America. Seventy-five percent of Americans receive some form of subsidized healthcare, but, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 50,000 South Dakotans remain uninsured, or with very expensive, insurance, about half who are middle income employees and employers. These individuals get NO premium tax credit and also must pay the exorbitant premiums and high deductibles for insurance purchased on the ACA health insurance marketplaces.

The other half are low income individuals – often workers who do not qualify for Medicaid and who earn too little to qualify for premium tax credits under the ACA, so lack any access to coverage, because South Dakota state government elected not to expand Medicaid to include them.  Imagine the devastating effect of a major illness on those families making between $11,880-$24,300 with no insurance! Nearly all of us get healthcare eventually; it’s often neither timely, nor affordable.   To paraphrase what Almanzo told Laura about ice, as she later recounted in the Little House books: everyone gets their ice. It’s just that the rich get their ice in the summer, and the poor get theirs in the winter.

That is true of healthcare in America. The poor get their healthcare in our emergency rooms, our jails and our prisons, often erratically, at extremely high costs we all end up paying, and often, when it is too late to easily treat.   During my time as a judge, those who appeared before me in felony court and those I sent to prison often were beset by addiction and mental illness that led to crime, and nearly all lacked access to mental health and addiction treatment on the outside.

Our Native American neighbors and friends face a crisis of a different sort – people there are dying because their facilities are some of the worst in America, and no one in government seems to care. The high cost of healthcare also hinders our manufacturers’ ability to compete internationally; Warren Buffet calls it “the tapeworm of American competitiveness.”  And he’s right.

Let’s debate the best fit for us as South Dakotans, but to work, any plan must provide timely, affordable healthcare for all Americans.  Everyone who is able to work should pay for their care, but no one should pay too much. It’s the right thing, both morally and economically.  And while we address the best way to ensure affordable care for all, let’s allow those who currently lack access to employer or other coverage the option to enroll in Medicare. The conservative business magazine, Forbes, has shown that if we enact sensible universal healthcare we not only will save  money, we can actually balance our budget!  The reason is that we already pay for universal care, just not in obvious ways: in county care for the poor, jail inmate and prison care, and in higher healthcare costs and
increased crime.

We’re entitled to know how the candidates for our sole seat in Congress would have voted on the morally and economically disastrous bill the House passed six months ago; so far, none of the announced candidates have told us.  That’s not leadership. They owe it to South Dakotans to let us how they would have voted on this monumental legislation.

Access to healthcare is a solvable problem, and it’s one every other developed nation has already solved.  America is economically stronger and wealthier than them all.

We need  members of Congress willing to set aside partisan politics in order to reach a broad agreement and common sense plan that reflects who we are as Americans, and that covers everyone. That is the only way we will achieve what every other developed nation has already accomplished: affordable healthcare for each of our citizens.

Responsible, Fair Tax Law and the Republican-passed Legislation

Responsible, Fair Tax Law and the Republican-passed Legislation

Republican House leaders portray their $5.5 trillion tax cut as middle-class tax relief. Nonpartisan tax experts, including Congress’s own Joint Committee on Taxation, conclude though that the greatest share of the tax cuts go to corporations, the ultra-wealthy and their heirs, while many in the middle class will see taxes rise over time.

The majority party in Congress plans to pay for some of this by cutting hundreds of billions from Medicaid, which provides health care to poor children and their caretakers, as well as nursing home care for our elderly who have spent their resources, from Medicare, and by cuts to other domestic programs, including the USDA.

All this will heavily impact South Dakotans, leave millions nationally without health coverage, and shift costs the federal government now bears to state and local taxpayers.

But these painful measures still won’t be enough to pay for the massive tax cuts for corporations and the very well-off. So these cuts will also cause our national debt to soar another $1.5 trillion to $2.3 trillion and likely slow rather than spur economic growth.

This is trickle-down economics, which as one economist said “is like loading a horse with oats in order to feed the sparrows.”

Proponents justify this by claiming that corporate tax rates are too high, but the truth is that corporate taxes have declined by half as a percentage of our economy over the past 50 years. While the sticker price is 35 percent, the average rate corporations pay is closer to 20 percent.

The best evidence that large corporations are prospering is that their profits and the stock market have been hitting all-time highs for years now.

And as for our highest income earners, they already enjoy relatively low taxes by historic measures and over time have gained a bevy of tax loopholes only they can access. This is why we routinely hear stories of billionaires who pay effective tax rates lower than secretaries or farmers.

Meanwhile, wages among the middle and lower middle class have stagnated despite massive worker productivity gains. These facts help explain why 1 percent percent of Americans control 90 percent of our wealth, and why one in three American children grows up poor.

The truth is that ultra-wealthy and giant corporations don’t need a tax break, and we can’t afford to give them one. America has a national debt of $20 trillion and counting. Just as a family cannot continue to spend more than it takes in, neither can a nation do so without finally reaching a day of reckoning.

So, how should we approach tax reform? First, we should enact revenue-neutral corporate tax reform that lowers rates and closes loopholes, allowing repatriation of money held overseas.

Second, we should close loopholes only the well-off can access and apply the savings to a tax cut for those who need it and will actually spend it to stimulate the economy: the middle class and small business families who create about two in three American jobs.

We can also help low- and middle-income families by converting the mortgage interest deduction to a credit, so a homeowner receives back 15 percent of mortgage interest paid, allowing those who don’t itemize to also benefit. And instead of eliminating the personal exemption for each family member, as the bills propose, we should restore the exemption to its former value by increasing it from the current $4,050 to $6,000, and we should help low-income working moms and dads by increasing the child-care credit. These are each pro-family measures that will help the middle class and spur the economy.

Finally, we can help small businesses and farmers level out their taxes by instituting my proposed “Rainy Day IRA” plan, which would allow them to set aside up to $50,000 annually from taxable income to be invested tax-deferred until needed in a low-income year.

This bill is less about sound policy than it is about giving the party in office and their major donors a legislative victory. The last tax overhaul — enacted during the Reagan administration — passed with bipartisan support. That kind of bipartisan approach is missing so far and it is sorely needed to enact the sort of sound tax policy that will stand the test of time.

Congressional Dues

Congressional Dues

Washington is broken. We wonder why, when we send decent people to Washington, nothing ever gets fixed, why our national debt keeps growing no matter which party is in the majority and why well-off people get lavish tax breaks and pay a smaller percentage of their income in taxes than a waitress, or a farmer, or a small business owner.

I believe the biggest problem is that Congress has fallen under the control of politicians beholden to the ultra-wealthy, large corporations and other special interests. Here’s one way it happens: we send people to Washington who promise to drain the swamp, but they soon find that it’s more like a comfortable hot tub.

During orientation for new House members, their party leaders see to it that they are pampered, wined and dined, but soon those party leaders explain a practice most of us know nothing about. Today, both parties’ leaders levy dues based on the congressman’s committee choice: the more lucrative the committee for fundraising, the higher the dues.

Yes, astoundingly, our representatives are expected to pay to do the work we elected them to do. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., likens the practice to extortion: “They told us right off the bat as soon as we [got] here, ‘These committees all have prices and don’t pick an expensive one if you can’t make the payments.’”

We aren’t talking about token sums. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., explained in his recent book, “Drain the Swamp,” that to serve on a mid-level congressional committee, a first-term Republican congressman is expected to pay $220,000 in dues to the Republican National Congressional Committee – a second-termer – $450,000. The higher that one rises in party leadership, the higher the dues: a top Republican committee chair is expected to pay $1.2 million, higher-up party leaders from $2.5 million to $10 million, and the Speaker, a whopping $20 million, which was no problem for Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who, according to Buck, raised $50 million.

Who provides them these extraordinary amounts? Wealthy corporate and special interest donors, introduced to the new members by leadership. These donors are more than happy to give big contributions in exchange for the control they wield. This is how party leaders use our congressmen as conduits to funnel enormous sums of money to the parties against the people’s interests.

If you don’t pay your dues, you’ve got a big problem. The leadership can get nasty. Democratic leaders have maintained a wall of shame listing those who owe dues; they have also sent collection letters and even made phone calls to “delinquent” House members.

It gets worse. Leadership promises to route dues back into key races the incumbents are at risk of losing, but if the congressman opposes the party’s leadership on a key issue – say, the recent health care bill – the party may not just withhold campaign money in the next election; they may use the war chest to fund a primary challenger.

It takes a strong person to withstand such pressure, and many don’t.

I am convinced this system is not only morally corrupt, but that it also polarizes and serves the large corporate and special interests.

The only way to change a corrupt system is to fight against it.

I am willing to stand – alone if necessary – to oppose it. But I don’t believe I will be alone. There are others in both parties who bitterly oppose this system and hate how it shackles many from doing what is right. They need help to end it.

That’s why I call on the other House candidates in South Dakota and House candidates across America to state on the record that, if elected, they will refuse to support the dues system and will vote against any party leader who does not repudiate it. And to every voter in both parties: if you really want meaningful change in Washington, vote against any candidate who declines to publicly reject the dues system.

Ending this practice won’t eliminate corporate influence in Washington, but it’s an important step. This is about a simple question: whose interests are being served in Washington? How we choose to answer it will determine the kind of America we leave for our children and grandchildren.

Published in the Argus Leader: http://www.argusleader.com/story/opinion/voices/2017/08/30/voice-corporate-money-controls-congress/105122298/

Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality

The Loss of Net Neutrality is Devastating for Rural South Dakota.

I spent time in December meeting with the CEO of a South Dakota telecommunications cooperative, discussing our shared vision for how rural broadband can lead the way to enhanced economic development in rural South Dakota. Broadband holds incredible potential for rural South Dakota development, allowing local entrepreneurs to market worldwide, creating new opportunities for rural South Dakota communities to serve as the sites of businesses that transact around the world, enhancing telemedicine, and allowing telecommuting in all sorts of industries as never before.

But there is at least one emerging roadblock. I have spoken at length about how Washington seems to be conducting, intentionally or otherwise, what amounts to a War on Rural America. Another chilling example of this is its efforts to eliminate Net Neutrality, the principle that internet service providers treat all content equally and not give preference to internet giants which provide digital content. Under this principle, a user can load every web site or video equally, regardless of where the content is hosted.

In December, the Federal Communications Commission [FCC] voted 3-2 to dismantle the Net Neutrality rules that were established in 2015 after widespread organizing and protests by those who advocate for a free internet. These rules required internet service providers to treat all web content equally and neither block nor prioritize some content over other content in exchange for payment. The FCC decision to repeal that rule means that the federal government will no longer regulate high-speed internet as a public utility, like phone service. The effort to eliminate net neutrality, sadly supported by our congressional delegation, is a blow to rural South Dakota, particularly because rural residents have fewer choices of internet service providers. Less competition equals higher prices.

The FCC decision was widely unpopular - more than 20 million Americans had submitted comments to the FCC opposing the change. The reason there are so few service providers is that government has essentially granted those that exist monopolies in exchange for providing universal service. But the FCC vote removes their duty to provide universal service. It treats a provider like an information provider rather than a communications provider, a characterization that inaccurately captures how we think about and treat the internet today.

Dismantling Net Neutrality will have far-reaching impacts across America, but the FCC action is a particularly powerful blow to rural America. After a decade of public investment in broadband – as rural America stands on the brink of unleashing the potential of the digital age for its citizens – this action threatens to undermine that investment. It is another example of Washington – and our own congressional delegation – turning their backs to us.

Places like South Dakota already face tough challenges concerning broadband infrastructure. Unlike urban areas, which have, because of population density seen robust investment in infrastructure and growth, the opposite has been true in states like ours. In 2016, 39 percent of rural communities lacked access to true broadband — defined as a minimum download speed of 25 Mbps — even though it is present throughout urban America. In fact, nearly 11 million American households lack any access at all to broadband, and over 45 million non-urban households have a single provider offering wired 25 Mbps speeds.

South Dakota has not shared the economic growth so much of the rest of America has experienced over the past eight years. The data shows that poor broadband equals lower population growth, weaker economic development, fewer education opportunities, lower property values, and declining home sales. Good broadband, on the other hand, is a conduit to the rest of the American economy and a shield against economic isolation that too often comes with geographic isolation.

With good broadband, people can telecommute; they can practice telemedicine, connecting patients with specialists across the nation; they can develop micro companies on the Dakota plains, use the best technological resources in agribusiness, and generally compete on a much more level playing field with the rest of the international market in a host of innovative ways. Not surprisingly, entrepreneurship soars with it. Fast broadband removes much of the impediment of geographical remoteness in rural areas.

Broadband’s potential is limitless. Except for this: ending net neutrality will also likely end the promise of rural South Dakota overcoming  its geographic and economic isolation and destroy the hope of the economic promise  broadband technology holds.

This issue is not over. Congress has the power to undo what the FCC just did under the Congressional Review Act. It should exercise that authority to pass what’s known as a “resolution of disapproval” to overturn the FCC’s regulatory vote. You can be heard by calling our congressional delegation and urge them to reverse the FCC’s Net Neutrality-killing vote. While new legislation statutorily imposing Net Neutrality is also a possibility, the likelihood is that any new legislation fail to include the favorable rules of the Net Neutrality policy the FCC just repealed.

We need an advocate for South Dakota. I will fight in Washington to restore the principles of Net Neutrality.

The Dreamer’s Act

The Dreamer’s Act

I support federal legislation to place into statutory law Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals [DACA]. Congress needs to lead by reaching a common sense and humanitarian solution for DACA.

There are several bills to choose from. The right thing to do is to provide these children the stability all children long for and deserve. Let’s protect the children!

Term Limits

Term Limits

Congress has an approval rating that hovers around 9%, but here’s the problem: Incumbents have re-election rates of around 90%. This suggests we have a hard time firing people who we think are doing a lousy job for us. A major reason for this is that corporate and special interests and other big donors party interests supply those they control with massive amounts of money to keep them in office. One key way to combat this is to enact a term limits amendment.

Today we have members of Congress from both parties who have served for 30, 40, and even 50 years there. I don’t believe this is what the founding fathers had in mind. Instead, the Constitution’s framers envisioned public servants who would “lay down their plows for a season of service” and then return to their communities to again live as one of the governed.

The reality of human nature is that the longer people spend time in Washington the less responsive they tend to be to the people who sent them there. Worse yet, those in Congress now who have been there for such a long time are taking seats in Washington that could go to new faces and a younger generation of public servants with new ideas. It’s time for change in Washington.

That’s why, in addition to other Congressional reforms I have recommended, I support a constitutional amendment that establishes congressional term limits, to include years of service prior to the amendment’s enactment. This amendment would, if adopted, bring about a massive, immediate change in Congress.

I want to end the thinking that suggests that only a select few Americans can serve in Congress, and that it is a place to go to advance a career rather than to serve. Such a change will open Congress to more youthful Americans and people from outside the political arena who are willing to serve for a time and then return to their communities.

If a politician is truly a great public servant and wants to continue to serve, it doesn’t hurt our nation to allow that individual sit out a few years, watching from the bench, for awhile to regain the people’s perspective, and then seeking re-election without the benefit of incumbency.

Recapturing the American Dream for our Children, Part VI

Recapturing the American Dream for our Children, Part VI

People don’t end up in prison because they wanted to land there. Something impacts their lives for them to wind up behind bars.

Crime’s greatest enemies are: a stable upbringing, an education, and a job skill. We must do far more to ensure each of these ingredients in the life of a child. If we don’t, these children and our own will bear the financial costs of this monumental dysfunction. In the end, they are all our children.

Access to affordable health coverage is a key factor. Many people struggle physically simply because they can’t afford the cost of treatment. And timely treatment for addiction and underlying illnesses that lead to dysfunction and absence from the workforce is the only way to bring this exploding underclass into productive, contributing citizenship.

We pay for universal healthcare in America today. It’s just not delivered timely for millions of Americans, costing us untold billions of dollars in higher costs, lower productivity, and a stunted workforce, in addition to staggeringly higher prison populations, poverty, and dysfunction. Those without coverage get their care in our emergency rooms, jails, and prisons, erratically and ineffectively.

We can also ensure that each adult who works a full time job earns enough to care for a child, without relying on government support. This is rooted in a simple Old Testament principle that each person should receive the fruits of his or her labor. While it’s the right thing morally, it’s also the right thing economically for our nation. If the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation over the past 50 years it would be around $11.00/hr, and a parent earning that much would not qualify for food stamps and much other government assistance. We should always promote a work ethic and ensure that the gap between surviving on government assistance and earning an income through work is as wide as possible. Work is ennobling, and it shows the next generation how to care for themselves as well.

The response of the majority in Congress and the administration to these realities was to cut taxes for corporations - during a period of record corporate profits and a soaring stock market. Sadly, 83% of the tax cuts went to the ultra-wealthy who already enjoy a smorgasbord of tax loopholes not available to the rest of America, while causing our national debt to skyrocket even further. Meanwhile, the middle class families didn’t fare well from the cuts. Families lost the important individual exemptions that account for some of the cost of raising children. With that gone, the doubling of the standard deduction is partly or completely offset. At the same time, the tax law removed an estimated 13M more Americans from health coverage. We didn’t save a dime with this. Instead, we have simply passed the costs of their healthcare onto us at the state and local level and in increased insurance premiums and medical costs.

The cuts are counter-productive to the economy in the long run. The reality is no tax cut will help the 10-12M Americans of working age who aren’t working or looking for work to get and keep a job.

The majority in Congress and the Administration, who call themselves fiscal hawks, have caused the national debt to soar during a time when the overall economy is strong. The only explanation for their actions - and one some candid legislators have actually acknowledged - is that they rewarded their wealthy donors. We need new leadership in Washington, from outside the political class, who will stand for the people and who won’t be beholden to Washington’s big money politics. That’s why I want to serve us there. We need fundamental reform in healthcare that allows every American affordable, timely access to it, and we need to elect leaders who won’t play the D.C. money game and who will be a voice for every South Dakotan, not just those wealthy enough to write the big checks.

And we need to invest again in infrastructure and in getting and keeping those not in the workforce back to work again through job training, and my Job Corps for Felons proposal, in which we treat the needs of the nonviolent offenders and get them the education and job skills they need to be productive members of society.

We need to increase efforts to close the graduation gap between poor kids and well-off kids. It’s greater in South Dakota than in any other state. And it’s costly. For every child who doesn’t graduate from high school, taxpayers pay $388,000 over that person’s lifetime.

I dream of an America that works for all of us again, in which every child has the opportunity to feast at the table of American opportunity once again, because America works best when it works for all of us.

You can find more about my proposals on these and other topics attimbjorkman.com. If you like this post please share and invite others to like our page!