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

Republican voters in South Dakota's Legislative District 9 will see a full ballot when they head to the polls to participate in the June 7 primary.
Republican voters in South Dakota's Legislative District 9 will see a full ballot when they head to the polls to participate in the June 7 primary.

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.

And registered Republicans in the newly formed Legislative District 9, which encompasses the city of Hartford, portions of northwest Sioux Falls and the rural areas of Minnehaha County in between have no shortage of candidates seeking party nominations for state Senate and House of Representatives.

Here's a look at the candidates Republican voters in District 9 will see on their ballots, and where they stand on topics ranging from Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg's impeachment to vaccine mandates and sales tax cuts.

More: Here's a look at who's running for South Dakota Senate, House in Sioux-Falls area races

Because no Democrats or non-Republican candidates are seeking state legislative offices in the District 9 senate election, the top Republican vote-getter in the GOP primary senate race will be seated as a Legislator next year. The top two vote-getters in the GOP primary for state House will advance to the general ballot.

The Argus Leader submitted a 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 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.

    Where did you fall in that policy debate and why?

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

Senate candidate responses:

Mark Willadsen

Age: 67

Profession/place of employment: Retired Insurance agent

Prior public/community service: State legislator

Family info: Wife Suzanne for 45 years, 3 grown children, 12 grandchildren

No. 1: I voted for impeachment because I believe the people of South Dakota should be able to access the information that comes out in the trial and make their own conclusions. It would be inappropriate for me to answer the second half of your question, or anyone else for that matter, as we have not heard the testimony of the trial.

No. 2: I believe that the Governor and the Legislature acted appropriately by taking the conservative road in defeating these two measures again. I was there in 2011 when we had to vote to cut funding of programs by 10% because the funds were not there. Being conservative is a much better approach in my opinion.

Mark Willadsen
Mark Willadsen

No. 3: I certainly did not spend hours and hours on this debate. I think our Governor lead us in the right direction by keeping the state open for business, and trying to stay out of the way of business, and let business make their own decisions about what is right for them.

Brent "B.R." Hoffman

Age: 58

Profession/place of employment: Retired Military, Writer, Contractor Prior public/community service: Military, Volunteer, City Council, School Board, CASA

Family info: Widower, two children

No. 1: In short, I support the decision to impeach and remove Mr. Ravnsborg from office, not because of the charges or the politics, but because I believe character matters. Our elected officials should set a positive example of integrity, honor and trustworthiness, regardless of whether we agree on issues.

In my opinion, his actions were not what we should expect of our state’s highest law enforcement official and reflect poorly on the office. I’m sorry for Mr. Boever’s family, and they have my prayers. Mr. Ravnsborg also has my prayers, but he does not have my vote.

Brent 'B.R' Hoffman
Brent 'B.R' Hoffman

No. 2: Whether our great state is faced with surpluses or shortfalls, it’s always a good time to promote fiscal responsibility. I strongly support our constitutional requirement for a balanced budget, and I believe we should work together to eliminate wasteful spending while prioritizing infrastructure and education.

South Dakota already has a good tax climate (ranking 9th of the 50 states), but we can always do better. With that in mind, I respectfully disagree with my opponent’s votes to increase taxes, and I support returning tax dollars to the citizens who earned it.

No. 3: In my experience in business, and even as a military officer or volunteer, government has not proven itself an effective referee and problem-solver. As Ronald Reagan once said, “Government doesn’t solve problems, it subsidizes them.”

These are not easy problems to solve, and we should treat each other with respect and acknowledge we each have opinions as to what is right and fair. That said, where the rights of governments, organizations and individuals conflict, I believe we must champion the rights of the individual, consistent with the U.S. Constitution.

House candidates

Ken Teunissen

Age: 73

Profession/place of employment: Retired

Prior public/community service: Military

Family info: wife, six children, 17 grandchildren, and four great grandchildren

No. 1: The State’s Attorney should be held to higher standards than most South Dakotans. I would have voted with the majority of the house to impeach the Attorney General. We need to show the citizens of South Dakota that all elected officials are held to the same standards as everyone else.

Ken Teunissen
Ken Teunissen

No. 2: One of the key issues of my platform is limited government and government overreach. We need to be good stewards of the taxpayers money, which includes looking for ways to reduce government spending. At the same time, we have a responsibility to plan for future potential shortfalls to avoid having to ask the voters for future tax increases. I would work closely with the governor on striking a balance of working with the state’s budget and providing the services that the citizens expect and require.

No. 3: Neither the state not federal government should tell any business how to operate. Private business owners should be allowed to run their own business without additional government overreach. Employees then have the choice whether they want to work within the set guidelines in the same manner the consumers have the choice if they want to do business with these employers. No business is allowed to break federal employment laws, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Act that protects employees.

Bethany Soye (incumbent)

Age: 30

Profession/place of employment: Attorney/Banking, mother

Prior public/community service: Youth sports coach, reading tutor

Family: Husband Ryan, son Edison - 9 months old

No. 1: As an attorney, I agree with the clear and convincing standard of proof the committee determined was necessary for articles of impeachment to issue. I do not believe the facts that were presented meet this standard. Despite over a year of investigation, there was insufficient evidence to charge more than two traffic misdemeanors. Neither of these offenses was committed “in office or by virtue of the office."

When I was elected I took an oath to support the Constitution of the United States including the Right to Due Process. This right was violated from the very beginning of the investigation. The Legislature is setting a very dangerous precedent if this is the way that investigations are allowed to proceed.

Bethany Soye
Bethany Soye

No. 2: If we aren’t willing to cut taxes when we have a record-setting surplus, we will never cut taxes. The legislature made a promise to the people in 2016 when they raised the state sales tax .5%. The conditions for the repeal have been met and yet we refuse to reduce the tax. One of my colleagues stated it quite well: government doesn’t stop eating when it’s full; it stops when there is nothing left to eat. 2022 gave the Republican majority a great opportunity to put our money where our mouth is, but instead we pumped more money into the government machine. I will continue to advocate for true fiscal conservatism and keeping our promise to lower taxes.

No. 3: I supported codifying individual exemptions because our American Republic was founded to protect individual rights. Large companies have essentially become an arm of the bureaucratic state and are used to enforce rules the federal government has no authority to issue on its own. Certainly business owners have individual rights, but their rights must be balanced with the rights of their employees. We already have protections for employees regarding discrimination, workplace safety, etc. How is it proper for the government to protect individual liberties in these areas but not when it comes to the freedom of conscience and bodily integrity? That makes no sense to me.

Jesse Fonkert

Age: 29

Profession/place of employment: Economic Development, President & CEO, Sioux Metro Growth Alliance

Prior public/community service: Downtown Rotary, Sioux 52 Mentoring Initiative, Furniture Mission of South Dakota, Sioux Empire United Way Emerging Leaders, and Downtown Hartford Committee, West Central Education Foundation, West Central Junior Achievement, Hartford Jamboree Days Committee and Augustana University Young Alumni.

Family info: Wife Kelsey are expecting first child in May

Jesse Fonkert
Jesse Fonkert

No. 1: Based on the information, I would have voted to impeach Jason Ravnsborg. While I understand some believe he did not commit an impeachable offense, the evidence is clear. While under interrogation, the Attorney General misrepresented his cell phone usage while driving. The Attorney General was negligent while operating a vehicle, which resulted in the death of Jason Boever. In South Dakota, we expect the best from our public servants and we deserve better.

No. 2: Good governance requires an even hand in both years of surplus and deficit. South Dakota’s economic situation is a product of such governance. While it might seem warranted to eliminate these revenues during years like 2022, we need to take time to understand the unintended consequences of eliminating taxes that help fund

education and other services so we don’t have to raise taxes in the future. I fully support the Governor’s position on both.

No. 3: The government’s role should be minimal in refereeing the relationship between employers and employees regarding vaccinations. If an employer wants to either mandate or not mandate, that is their choice. We live in a free-market economy and we need to keep it that way. Thankfully, we have a strong economy with record-low unemployment, which allows employees to be selective in where they work and forces employers to be competitive.

This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Meet the District 9 Republicans candidates vying for SD House, Senate