Meet the District 2 Republican candidates vying for South Dakota House, Senate

·12 min read
South Dakota Legislative District 2 runs spans from eastern Sioux Falls to the Iowa and Minnesota borders.
South Dakota Legislative District 2 runs spans from eastern Sioux Falls to the Iowa and Minnesota borders.

Voting is underway in South Dakota ahead of the June 7 primary election to decide a host of political contests, from national offices to ballot measures that will shape the ballot in the 2020 general election later this year.

Registered voters in the Brandon area for the first-time ever will cast ballots in a brand new legislative district. And there's no shortage of Republican candidates hoping to come out victorious as the District 2 Republican nominees for state Senate and House of Representatives.

Here's a look at who Republican voters in District 2 will see on their ballots, and how where they stand on topics ranging from Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg's impeachment to vaccine mandates and sales tax cuts.

Because no Democrats or non-Republican candidates are seeking state legislative offices in District 2, the top Republican vote-getter in the GOP primary senate race and the top two vote-getters in the GOP primary for state House will be seated as Legislators.

More: Meet the District 9 Republicans candidates vying for South Dakota House, Senate

Editor's note: The Argus Leader submitted the following series of questions to all candidates who will appear on the primary ballots, with a request that responses be kept to 100 words or less for each answer. Responses have been edited for grammar, conciseness and clarity.

The questions:

For the Senate

  1. The Senate is scheduled to hold an impeachment trial for Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg in late June for allegedly committing acts of malfeasance while in office, charges that stem from a 2020 crash investigation into the death of Joe Boever.

    Given what you know about Ravnsborg’s conduct, which included lying to law enforcement about his cellphone usage the night of the crash and using members of his staff to glean information about how the investigation might be conducted, do you support the House’s decision to impeach, and would you vote to convict at trial?

  2. Gov. Noem this year successfully blocked an attempt to reduce the state sales tax rate by .5% and a separate effort to eliminate sales tax on groceries also failed to earn passage.

    How do you feel about the governor’s cautious approach to protecting existing government revenues amid record-setting surplus in state coffers in recent years?

  3. Legislators in 2022 spent hours debating whether state government should prohibit employers from mandating the COVID-19 vaccine.

    What is governments role in refereeing relationships between employers and employees with regard to vaccinations and individual rights?

For the House –

  1. Ravnsborg was impeached in the state House on April 12 after 20 months of controversy that followed the death of Joe Boever, killed in fatal car v. pedestrian crash in which Ravnsborg was driving.

    How would you have voted on impeachment and why?

  2. Gov. Noem this year successfully blocked an attempt to reduce the state sales tax rate by .5% and a separate effort to eliminate sales tax on groceries also failed to earn passage.

    How do you feel about the governor’s cautious approach to protecting existing government revenues amid record-setting surplus in state coffers in recent years?

  3. Legislators in 2022 spent hours debating whether state government should prohibit employers from mandating the COVID-19 vaccine.

    What is government's role in refereeing relationships between employers and employees with regard to vaccinations and individual rights?

Senate candidate responses:

Steve Kolbeck

Age: 51

Profession/place of employment: Principal Manager – Xcel Energy – South Dakota

Prior public/community service: Brandon City Council ’04-’06, SD PUC ’06-‘11

Family: Wife: Stacy (Teacher at Brandon Valley) Sons: Wilson 23, Alex 21, Joseph 21, Daughter: Mary, 17

Steve Kolbeck
Steve Kolbeck

No. 1: I would vote to impeach Attorney General Ravnsborg. I understand the incredibly hard position the Senate is in and that some worry about setting a precedent for impeachment proceedings due to a misdemeanor conviction.

However, I feel a worse precedent will be set if the Senate does not convict him. Saying no to impeachment in my opinion sends a message that elected officials in South Dakota cannot be impeached for almost anything or the litmus test to be convicted of impeachment is too high. As a former state-wide elected official, I can attest that once elected, you are always serving in your official position regardless of who, what or where you are. Representative Goodwin, Mortenson and others laid out very good arguments on this in the House while arguing for impeachment to proceed.

To support my vote, I would argue that a precedent is a specific set of events that would need to be duplicated. In my opinion, in this case, that would be the misdemeanors he was convicted of, injecting himself in the investigation, lying to law enforcement about his cell phone usage, and the loss of life.

So again, in my opinion, the precedent set if they impeach AG Ravnsberg would be: the Attorney General of the State of South Dakota specifically, lies to law enforcement, uses their state-wide elected Attorney General position to insert themselves into an active investigation; which they eventually plead guilty to misdemeanors that caused an accident, that resulted in a loss of life.

I believe that person should be impeached and removed from office.

No. 2: I believe the governor was correct to oppose any major tax shifts in this time of fiscal uncertainty. With the historic nature of the past few years, I think we can agree our state budget is not a “real” budget for the time being. The amount of federal stimulus in our state has skewed almost everything. Not long ago when I was chairman of the South Dakota PUC, and during the Daugaard administration, all agencies were asked to cut 10% from their budget. Those times could be right around the corner again.

That’s why the state of South Dakota has historically saved in times of plenty to be ready for times of not. Having been a former regulator, I learned one of the most important things for long term success is stability.

Making drastic revenue policy shifts due to short term changes can have negative effects. The best thing to do was what the governor suggested, and that is ride this thing out for a little while longer. If the current recession talk becomes a reality, we will be glad we did.

No. 3: The traditional conservative view is that employees have a right to find a different job if they do not like what an employer is asking of them. This is the basic premise for anti-union discussions and anything to the contrary could be considered a pro-labor stance.

The argument gets clouded because of our current lack of political discourse and distrust of the medical community. We also have to remember this is all centered around the political nature of COVID-19, which hopefully we are on the back end of. Having set the table with that, I do not believe the government should be telling employers what they can and cannot ask of their employees.

This is a slippery slope and could continue to other government regulations. In my opinion some confuse this with government control of health risks, like smoking in a restaurant. The difference in my mind is the employer is asking something of the employee, whereas in the case of a smoking ban, the government is asking something of the business owner.

I don’t see those as the same thing and feel they fall into different public health risk and private employment risk issues.

Spencer Wrightsman

Age: 32

Profession/place of employment: Diesel Machinery Incorporated (Warranty Administration)

Prior public/community service: Head High School Hockey Coach, Head Baseball Coach, Sioux Empire Baseball Board Secretary, Minnehaha County Republican Party Treasurer, South Dakota Young Republican National Committeeman

Family info: Two sons, Kaiden age 8 and Rylan age 6.

Spencer Wrightsman
Spencer Wrightsman

No. 1: First, my sympathy and condolences go out to the Boever family. The house had a stressful task in front of them. The House Select Committee voted and determined acts of malfeasance were not committed and ultimately decided to not recommend impeachment. This committee had former chiefs of police and current attorneys from all over the state on it. Based upon the work they did and what information I did read for myself, I would conclude to ultimately not impeach the Attorney General. I would encourage everyone to read the full report for themselves to understand it in more depth.

No. 2: I applaud the legislators working to find common sense solutions to ease some of the financial burden many South Dakotans have felt the last 36 month. The governor is doing a great job, but this is one area I will have to disagree with her on.

That being said, this is a recurring issue every year the legislature is in session. I have promised the residents in my district I will fight tirelessly for tax relief in any sustainable way without hurting other areas of our budgeting system and process.

No. 3: The governments roll must be limited whether enacting or removing mandates such as these. People must have the ability to decide whether they are to receive medications put into their body. An employee can require it yes, but exemptions and process’s must also be put in place to respect the wishes of the people. This is a no-win subject in my opinion. One group is going to be upset regardless of the outcome.

House candidate responses:

Jake Schoenbeck

Age: 26

Profession/place of employment: Internal Auditor, Plains Commerce Bank

Prior public/community service: Taste the Goodness Event – Board Member, Delegate to the republican state convention in 2014 & 2018

Jake Schoenbeck
Jake Schoenbeck

No. 1: I would have voted to impeach Mr. Ravnsborg. The decisions Mr. Ravnsborg made during and after the death of Joe Boever were unbecoming of an elected official. He abused his position, and in my opinion, the House made a correct decision to impeach.

No. 2: Changing the tax environment of our state is no small task. Most of these tax schemes are about trying to get an income tax in our state. I oppose an income tax. I will fight every effort to mess up our state’s finances. Alterations like this will try and force an income tax on hard working South Dakotans. I will fight that tax.

No. 3: I am a small government conservative. I believe government should stay out of the private sector’s choices when it comes to their work environment. At the same time, it is not the government’s job to tell individuals, or businesses, whether they or their workers should be vaccinated.

John Sjaarda

Age: 45

Profession/place of employment: Farmer

Prior public/community service: School board member, volunteer firefighter, bus driver

Family info: Wife of 25 years, four children (Samantha, 23; Ryan, 21; Allison, 18; Ross, 16, foster child - Little O, 16 months.

John Sjaarda
John Sjaarda

No. 1: I did not spend enough time researching and following this case to know exactly how I would have voted on it. If it was my duty to vote on this I would have put in the necessary work needed.

No. 2: The government's finances come from the taxpayers and if the government has plenty, the taxpayers should keep more of their hard earned money.

No. 3: I believe individuals have the right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. I do not believe employers have the right to discriminate against someone based on their private medical choices.

David Kull

Age: 66

Profession/place of employment: Retired Brandon Police Chief, 11 years of service, Retired Police Captain, Sioux Falls Police Department. 30 years of service

Prior public/community service: Current member of the Brandon City Council, Ward 2, Former Board Member, South Dakota Special Olympics, Former Board Member, The Banquet, Past President, South Dakota Police Chiefs’ Association, Founding member, Dakota District Pipes and Drums

Family info: Wife Ginnie of 45 years, two sons (Nathan and Jason), two granddaughters

David Kull
David Kull

No. 1: This was obviously a challenging issue given that it resulted a split vote on the part of the legislators in the House. The facts are that the AG did violate traffic laws, was cited for those violations and later entered into a plea agreement on a couple of misdemeanors. Given a death occurred as a result of those traffic violations, I do believe that fact would elevate those violations to an impeachable offense. Taking all that into consideration, I believe I would have voted for impeachment.

No. 2: When talking about public financing, I prefer a cautious approach. Coming out of Covid, we’re seeing supply chain issues, inflation rising dramatically, and workforce challenges that are driving wages higher to help retain staff and attract new employees. Given all that, surpluses can quickly evaporate. As such, I don’t think now is the time to reduce the sales tax by the proposed .5%. As for the state and local sales taxes on groceries, I believe that eliminating those taxes could have a serious impact on some of our smaller communities where, in some towns, one of the primary sales tax generating retail businesses is the local grocery store. Those sales tax revenues do help municipalities address the many needs of their residents to include road maintenance, parks and other desired services. Also, when a tax is reduced or eliminated, other taxes and fees need to be raised to support local government or services have to be cut. I don’t necessarily like paying taxes, but I also don’t like dodging pot holes, so I’ll pay the taxes.

No. 3. I believe that private businesses should be allowed to make their own decisions on what they feel is best for them, their employees and their customers. At the same time, people need to have the right to chose what they feel is best for them on whether or not to get vaccinated. If our individual choices are in conflict with a company policy, an employee will have a difficult decision to make; comply with policy or seek other employment. This may sound harsh but I don’t see where the government should play a role in this particular instance.

District 2 state House candidate Jeff Shawd did provide responses ahead of press deadline.

This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Meet the Republicans vying for South Dakota District 2 seats