Dems are facing a tough enough hurdle in their bid to wrest the Governorship of South Dakota away from Dennis Daugaard without having to fritter away a fair amount of time, energy and party resources on a primary race. If there ever were a cycle that could have used a unified candidacy from the get-go, this one would be it. But no, pro-forma demands must be met, so now we have this: Joe Lowe is contending for the nomination against Democratic Party insider Susan Wismer. I say "insider" because the lavish rollout her announcement got from the state's Dem party leadership, with Lowe's participation mentioned with all the fanfare of an afterthought, smacked of an endorsement. The dynamic, decisive Lowe, with decades of experience as an exec--both as an elected official when he was mayor of a medium-sized city in Orange County, California, and as an appointed official when he was in charge of South Dakota's statewide firefighting apparatus under successive Republican administrations--deserved better. All due respect to Ms. Wismer, who I'm sure is a very nice person of impeccable character, I just don't think a CPA with some state rep experience behind her can do the job as Governor. Nothing against accountants, but by training and probably by nature, their professional strengths are more suited to analytical, not executive, tasks. They necessarily hedge all the time, needing lots of study and research before coming to conclusions. This is a great and necessary skillset, but I just don't think it works for an executive. In this primary chase it contrasts unfavorably with Lowe's nature and professional experience.
It couldn't have been more clearly laid out than it was a couple of days ago at a meet-up of the two candidates in Brookings. Reviewing an excellent and detailed, point-by-point recap by Toby Uecker in South Dakota's best political blog The Madville Times, the stylistic and substantial differences between Lowe and Wismer on some major and contentious points came into sharp relief. On education funding, Lowe had a clear plan for raising more money. Wismer's reaction: "I can't work wonders, but the narrative does have to change out there." My thoughts? "Working wonders" is not a job requirement, but having a plan more concrete than trying to "change the narrative" is. When it comes to uranium mining in the Black Hills, Lowe unequivocally stated, "this is just wrong." Wismer's measured response: "No, I'm not going to stand here and say I'm absolutely opposed to it, because I don't know enough about it." Wismer's ambivalence does not become an elected official whose duties in the legislature required her to study this issue with some due diligence before voting for Senate Bill 158 in 2011, which removed state oversight of uranium mining and handed the authority over to the EPA. Now all of a sudden Wismer doesn't know enough about it to offer a position? Please.
You can review my link to Uecker's recap for a more detailed look at the contrasts I note. In general you'll get a sense of Lowe's specificity and Wismer's reticence. Some would argue that Wismer's taciturn style befits an executive who has to make important decisions that demand a great deal of study and analysis. No argument from me there. However, at a point in a campaign when voters are being asked to judge on the basis of policy and platform positions, candidates have to bring something concrete to meeting rooms with voters. Education and uranium mining are not trivial issues. Lowe gives them the respect they merit by addressing them head-on. Wismer doesn't. Should Lowe get the Dem nod, he'll take it right to Republican incumbent Dennis Daugaard . Wismer? No way. She's too much of a shrinking violet.