Taking inspiration from the late Sen. George McGovern, South Dakota Senate candidate Rick Weiland believes the single most important thing to getting America back on the right track is to take the money out of political campaigns.
“We have a Congress that wants to invest more in billionaires and corporations than they do in our kids, seniors, and crumbling roads and bridges,” he said. “I think that’s a fight worth making.”
Weiland, a Democrat, spoke and even played guitar and sang a song for the crowd at a Yankton County Democrat picnic in Yankton’s Riverside Park Sunday. He is the only Democrat who has announced a candidacy for the seat being vacated by Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) in 2014. Meanwhile, former Gov. Mike Rounds is the only Republican candidate.
Weiland has worked as an aide to former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), as the Region VIII director of Federal Emergency Management Agency, as the state director of the AARP and as the CEO of the International Code Council.
He attempted to win South Dakota’s lone House seat in 1996 and 2002.
Weiland said one of his first acts in the Senate would be to support a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision. It extended First Amendment rights to corporations, allowing those entities and unions to spend unlimited sums of money on political campaigns so long as they remain independent from candidates and political parties.
Several such pieces of legislation are currently being considered by Congress.
“I think Big Money and all that it represents is the reason the rich are getting richer, the middle class is falling behind and the poor are barely getting by,” Weiland said, citing the well-funded corporate agriculture, insurance, oil and pharmaceutical lobbies as part of the Big Money problem. “We have 100,000 people in South Dakota who go hungry every day. One out of nine people you meet in this state are hungry.”
Meanwhile, many of the nation’s most profitable corporations are sheltering money overseas to avoid America’s taxes, he added.
“We’re talking hundreds of billions of dollars. If we could close those tax loopholes, we wouldn’t be kicking kids off of Head Start,” Weiland said. “When CEOs can make 300 times more than the average worker in their factory and we’re asking our seniors to give up some Medicare or Social Security benefits, I just don’t think it’s right. When we’re asking our kids to pay more for the loans they’re taking out to go to college to try to get a decent job, I just don’t think it’s right.”
Prior to the 2014 general election, Weiland said he plans to visit 311 South Dakota communities as part of his “Take It Back” tour. During those stops, he aims to visit with residents and talk about how to “get government back” to the people.
“I think that’s the kind of campaign that will be embraced by reasonable Republicans, independents and Democrats,” Weiland said. “I think so many times, these modern campaigns end up being all about raising as much money as you can, attacking your opponent and having all the TV ads you can buy, as well as radio and news print. It’s all about Big Money. You distort your opponent’s record, and you don’t talk to the voters.”
In an effort to limit campaign fundraising, Weiland sent a letter to the Rounds campaign last week asking it to join him in a pledge to limit all contributions to $100. The Rounds campaign declined such an agreement.
Rounds has said he aims to raise $9 million for his Senate run.
“I’ve challenged Mike Rounds to run a campaign based on $100 contributions, but he turned me down flat,” Weiland said. “I’m asking South Dakotans to give me $9, because I’m running against $9 million campaigns. They represent everything that is wrong with our political system. They’ve gotten control of our government, and they’re ruining our country. That’s why I’m running, and that’s why I’m fired up.”
Acknowledging his previous losses for state-wide office and the uphill battle he will face as a Democrat in a Republican-dominated state, Weiland said there are precedents for success.
“Look at who South Dakota has sent to Washington during my lifetime: George McGovern, Jim Abourezk, Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson,” he said. “I think the people of South Dakota want someone who is fair, authentic and who will look them in the eye and tell them what is in their heart.”
Weiland closed the event by playing “This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie on guitar and harmonica.
Also during Sunday’s event, Yankton County Democrats Chairman Jay Williams announced that Yankton will host the 2014 McGovern Day Dinner.
You can follow Nathan Johnson on Twitter at twitter.com/AnInlandVoyage