HURON, S.D. - Former state legislator Ron Volesky an enrolled member of the
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has announced his entrance into the race for
Volesky made the announcement in the midst of heated campaigning in the
state by Sen. Tom Daschle D.-S.D. and his opponent John Thune. The election
for governor will not take place until 2006.
Volesky was runner-up in the 2002 Democratic primary election for governor.
He said he announced early to start the groundwork that will establish a
Volesky spent 16 years in the state legislature which he said gives him the
experience to not just run a successful campaign, but to also lead the
state in a more positive and progressive direction.
"By making intentions known early I hope to avoid a primary if possible.
There is nothing so difficult as party primaries. Democrats can get behind
one candidate and unite, it's better for the party nominee," Volesky said.
"That's why I'm coming out early to make my intentions known."
Volesky said there were many important issues in the state that still
needed to be addressed.
The issues range from better funding for education, job development,
discounted prescription drugs for elders and an improved relationship
between the state and tribes.
He said he would propose to elevate the office of tribal government to a
cabinet level position. "It deserves that type of placement within state
"We need strong and active tribal affairs; a cabinet position that
advocates progressive ideas in the area of tribal-state government
relations. Within that scope we have to work hard with tribal governments
so that education is paramount in the whole scope of strategy."
Health issues are also on Volesky's agenda. He said tribal governments are
always dealing with health issues and the state and tribes together can
"We need jobs. It's hard to have much of a future with high rates of
unemployment, and we have always seen that on the reservations."
He said he proposed a state-tribal economic development commission several
years ago that could help bring private industry to South Dakota and the
"Private industry must play a role in that. We can not rely on federal
dollars and grants. Private investment has been very little and we need
more of that. With commission and tribal and state leaders working together
we can locate enterprises on the state's reservations."
Attempts to improve economic conditions on reservations have met with mixed
reviews over the years. The current governor has pledged to help with not
just economic development, but with reconciliation, health and education as
well. Rounds has opened the door to American Indian leadership and has
expanded the office of tribal relations. Through that office new tax
compacts with tribes have been written and from the legislature a
moratorium on nursing homes has been lifted - the first of its kind on a
reservation has now been funded with federal and tribal money.
However, other issues the tribal leadership has advocated for have fallen
flat. A change in the way the state deals with child issues, law
enforcement, prison reform and voting issues has been slow or non-existent.
South Dakota is a Republican-controlled state. Both houses of the
legislature are predominantly Republican, and there hasn't been a
Democratic governor in the state since 1974. When asked if it wouldn't be
difficult to get some of his ideas implemented with the opposing party's
legislative control, Volesky said is all comes down to leadership.
"You have to have an attitude that you are going to get something done. We
know what the issues are, it comes down to aggressive leadership and not
[being] afraid to get your hands dirty. There are going to be failures
before successes, but we have to work through the initial first steps,
before a better future."
Volesky said it was time for a change. Since the governor's office was
occupied by a Republican for 26 years some positive and progressive change
would be important to the government.
The Democratic party of South Dakota is strongly supporting a ballot
measure that would rid the state of sales tax on food. That would help
people who live in poverty on the reservations who buy food items in the
state, Volesky said.
"The sales tax on food is a terrible way to raise money for government it's
When Volesky talks about taxes he takes a risk in a state that only speaks
of lower taxes. A tax issue that has always been off the table, corporate
taxes, is central to Volesky's method of funding education. It will also
lower property taxes, he said.
"We need is a tax system based on a person's ability to pay, not based on a
"We spend far too much on corrections and far too little on education. Turn
around, put more into education, whether higher education or K - 12,"
He said that according to the Legislative Research Council calculations the
state would have $80 million dollars extra from a change in the corporate
"I think we have to analyze the whole structure of education for Indian
children in South Dakota. The government can't presume it knows what's best
for Indian education. We need to take an in-depth analysis and see where we
are and where we are going. We need to put in place what we need to do and
determine what it is going to take to improve the quality of education in
Indian school districts from facilities to teachers."
He said the parents need a wake up call as well. The home environment and
parental involvement are crucial for good education.
"It can't be left to administrators and it can't be solved with more
dollars. And it is not just Indian families."
To create a more substantial wage base in the state it will take some
commitment from the government and strong leadership. Volesky said he
introduced legislation when he was in the legislature that would require
state funds for economic development be tied to the payment of good wages.
That legislation was defeated.
"Once you get companies to pay a better wage it will put pressure on other
businesses to keep up, that is part of the answer. We need to get out of
the mindset that it costs less to live in South Dakota so we pay lower
wages. That's not true. We fool ourselves that we have a lower cost of
living, so we pay our employees less. I don't buy that argument."
No other democrats have come forward with an announcement for governor,
according to party chairwoman Judy Olson Duhamel. The party does not
endorse any candidate until after the primary, she said. The primary
election for governor will be held in June 2006.
Gov. Rounds, Volesky said, is a nice guy, "but it's not about who can be
the nicest guy. It is about who will have the leadership for the future. It
is about important issues we will face in the future. We need to elect
people who are capable of bold and strong leadership.
"I know Gov. Rounds, he appointed me to work on corrections. I get along
with Mike, I served with him for 10 years in the legislature. I think up to
this point he has had a honeymoon. People were so excited that a governor
can disagree and not put people down. Now we have to produce," Volesky
Volesky finished a distant second in the 2002 primary to Jim Abbott,
president of the University of South Dakota in the primary. He then ran a
close race for Attorney General.
Rounds, virtually an unknown was handed the Republican nomination when the
two front runners were eliminated for conducting a negative campaign.
Volesky now sits on the Huron City Commission. He has an undergraduate
degree from Harvard, a degree in Journalism from the State University of
South Dakota and a Law degree from the University of South Dakota.