There was a rare Mike Rounds sighting last Thursday in Aberdeen. He told the Brown County Republicans at their monthly Reagan lunch that if elected to the U.S. Senate, he'd do all he could to trim the size of government, taking particular aim at the Department of Education. From news reports, Rounds' promise was "well received" by the attendees, which comes as no surprise. Is there a more Pavlovian reaction to a Republican candidate promising to trim government than enthusiastic huzzahs from a GOP audience? It reminds me of that great old comedian Jack Benny, who would merely pause between lines, stare at the audience, and get a minute of uproarious laughter
The response was conditioned, the expectations fulfilled, and the same old Republican boilerplate was dished out. Though I'm supporting Rounds and probably will vote for him (barring a politically crippling connection to the "Slaughterhouse EB-Five" fiasco that has scandalous potential), I'm looking forward to hearing something a bit more dynamic and South Dakota-specific than a promise to put an end to the U.S. Department of Education. I mean, this is a real "c'mon, man" plea. Putting an end to that Cabinet department has been on the Republican political agenda since Ronald Reagan pushed it in 1980. George W. Bush even expanded its role in the country's educational establishment by foisting the utterly discredited "No Child Left Behind" program on virtually every public school student in this country. NCLB's successor "Common Core" will probably turn out to be just as useless (more on that in another post), the shame of it being that it does have the unfortunate promise of further entrenching the Dept. of Ed.'s position in millions of classrooms throughout this federal program-weary educational system of ours.
A freshman Senator from our podunk state isn't going to have much impact on the decades-long failure of a GOP promise that has long since been sucked into the black hole of rhetorical emptiness. I hope a more dynamic Rounds emerges as the campaign gets into gear, revealing a candidate who has South Dakota uppermost in his mind as opposed to the GOP apparatchik who gave 'em, not hell, but national party talking points last week in Aberdeen. Though yet a candidate, Rounds could nevertheless state some of his views on the much-debated and -delayed Farm Bill, particularly as it will have a lot to do with the corn acreage vs. pheasants population issue that is of much relevance to Aberdeen and everybody else in the James River valley. And then there's the Keystone XL pipeline. What's your deal on it, candidate Rounds? Then, getting back to education, how would a Senator Rounds allocate federal dollars to South Dakota schools if the Dept. of Ed. actually were eliminated or seriously cut back? And by the way, just how does the candidate feel about Common Core standards?
I could go on. Rounds has such a big lead in fund-raising and what little polling has emerged that he probably feels playing it safe and not taking many positions on South Dakota-relevant issues is the best political path to take right now. If so, he's dead wrong. Though I'm not particularly impressed by the GOP primary field, I know Rick Weiland the likely Democratic opponent has a dynamic style that might arouse potential Rounds voters from their somnolence. Then there's the Pressler factor. I've been pooh-poohing Pressler here, but I suspect that given Rounds' unenthusiastic--sure to be driven to catatonic if he doesn't start appealing to SD voters and what they need right here, right now--support, Larry Pressler will get some noticeable attention. If Rounds thinks he's a done deal, he should think otherwise. I'm behind the ex-governor now, but like many, many other supporters of his, my options are still open.