Wow. GOP senatorial candidate and former governor Mike Rounds took some lumps at Saturday's South Dakota Newspaper Association "debate" last Saturday, as I noted in my last post. One of the journalists on the panel of questioners, Jonathan Ellis of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader later posted on his site that Stace Nelson (the winner as I called it) used the occasion to "pound" Rounds. Ellis adds in his piece that Rounds' claim of balancing state budgets during his tenure as Governor has a major qualifier to it: Rounds sometimes had to draw on state reserve funds to bring the budget into balance, a practice that was abruptly put to an end by Rounds' successor, current Governor Dennis Daugaard. Daugaard's first budget was shorn of $127 million in spending in order to bring expenses into line with revenues, a gap that was routinely and blithely ignored by Rounds and his predilection to spend reserve funds to fill the hole.
As Ellis notes, in Nelson's view Daugaard's is a truly balanced budget, not the chimera that Rounds presented to South Dakotans. I think most business types like me would consider a fiscal year that was brought into balance by diving into reserves a bad one, just because it is. Bragging to our friends, as Rounds has done to his constituents, that our enterprises are in balance is plain old baloney. Nelson has that one right, so given that on this issue Nelson occupied both the real and rhetorical high ground, he had the confidence to do the "pounding" that Ellis describes.
I have no doubt that Rounds has some mitigating explanations as to how his self-declaration as a fiscal conservative squares with his inability to get revenues and expenses into line when he was governor. In fact, I was anxious to see how he dusted them off for presentation at tomorrow (4/15) night's gathering in Sioux Falls at the Siouxland Republican Women meeting, to which all the GOP senatorial aspirants had been invited. Per Cory Heidelberger over at the Madville Times blog, the meeting had been set up last Fall and Rounds had committed to attend last January. Heidelberger says that he was forwarded "an e-mail sent out by the SRW Saturday, at about a quarter to two in the afternoon [my note: that would be just after the debate in Pierre], announcing that a member of the Rounds campaign had just called and withdrawn from the forum. The SRW e-mail says Team Rounds had committed in January to attend, but "They will not be attending now due to a conflict."
And just what is that conflict? Sources tell me that Rounds will be attending an opening of a campaign office in Rapid City on Tuesday. I'm sure the Rounds team has plenty of explanations about how this sudden conflict materialized, and I'll take them at face value when offered. However, I think it looks bad, especially coming so soon after the drubbing that Rounds took last Saturday. If Rounds can't confront his field of underfinanced and little-known rivals face-to-face in South Dakota, how on earth will he be able to play political hardball in the United States Senate? Whole thing looks pretty milque-toasty to me.
More to the point, Rounds is cheating himself and the state's voters of a chance to explain the hows and the whys of many decisions that he made as governor that are at odds with the persona he's presenting as a candidate.
For example, I still want to know why state government had to grow by 1500 employees while Rounds was in charge. Then there's that EB-5/Northern Beef Processors fiasco that occurred during his watch. Apparently, Rounds would rather be surrounded by his supporters instead of facing his rivals tomorrow night. Is this the kind of fighter he'll be if elected to the Senate? I certainly hope not.