The three candidates running for the two vacancies in the District 17 House of Representatives revealed that they differ little in political philosophy in such areas as the economy and job creation. All three are in favor of seeing growth in both of those areas.
Differences arose, however, when candidates were asked a question relating to marijuana.
The three House candidates, Rebecca “Bekki” Engquist-Schroeder, a Democrat from Vermillion and Republicans Chris Kassin, Vermillion, and William Shorma, Dakota Dunes, appeared at a candidates’ forum held in Vermillion City Hall Tuesday night.
The top two vote-getters of these three candidates in the November general election will represent the district in the South Dakota House in Pierre beginning in 2023.
The Vermillion Chamber and Development Company (VCDC) sponsored the forum. Moderator Craig Thompson began the event with a set of prepared questions and eventually candidates fielded inquiries from members of the audience.
Also taking part in the forum was District 17 Rep. Sydney Davis, a Republican from Burbank. Davis is wrapping up her first term in the South Dakota House this year and is running unopposed for the District 17 Senate seat held by Art Rusch of Vermillion.
Rusch chose not to seek re-election and Davis will automatically move across the aisle to the state Senate next year.
A member of the audience noted that Shorma’s political literature states that, if elected, he will work to protect South Dakotans right to personal choices. He was asked if that means he will promote a woman’s right to make a choice to terminate a pregnancy.
“That’s a real solid, debatable issue,” he replied. “I’ve done some research … and I feel the media and the left have not been forthcoming as to what the decision by the (U.S.) Supreme Court means.”
His understanding, he said, is the Supreme Court’s decision “throws the decision back to each state” to decide among three options or variations of those options.
Those three options, Shorma said, are 1) to make abortion legal under all circumstances, 2) to make abortion legal only under certain circumstances or 3) make abortion illegal under all circumstances.
“I’m not in favor of legal in all circumstances and I’m not in favor of not legal in any circumstances,” he said. “A variation between one and two can be debated.”
Shorma said that he believes in rare circumstances, prior to 15 weeks of gestation, abortion should be a medical consideration in South Dakota.
The question was directed only at Shorma. Engquist-Schroeder and Kassin chose not to field it.
Shorma and his wife, Marcie, have lived in South Dakota since 1992, and they have resided in Dakota Dunes since 2011. He served in the South Dakota Senate from 2015 to 2016.
Over the past 50 years, his campaign literature states, he has had a successful personal and business career and has helped create over 600 jobs in the state.
He currently serves as chair of the SD Lottery Commission Board.
The candidates were asked their views concerning Initiated Measure 27, which will appear on the November ballot in South Dakota. If approved by voters, the measure would legalize the use, distribution and growing, with some regulations, of recreational marijuana use in South Dakota.
Engquist-Schroeder noted that the initiative, if approved, would decriminalize the adult use of cannabis in the state.
“I think when the voters voted it in through Amendment A and then it was overturned on the single subject rule, that was not fantastic,” she said, “and it broke it down to the most basic level that it could. Luckily for us, I do support IM 27 and we already have medical cannabis regulations in place.”
That means regulations for recreational marijuana will not be hard to put into place and all of South Dakota will financially benefit, she said.
“Slap on a nice tax and enjoy this new form of income and revenue source for South Dakota,” Engquist-Schroeder said. “I think making sure it’s regulated is important and making sure it’s taxed is important.”
Much thought, she added, should go into determining who the beneficiaries of those tax dollars should be. She supports using the funds for the well-being of children in South Dakota and as a revenue source for education and teacher pay.
“Drug dealers don’t pay sales tax and it exists in South Dakota,” Engquist-Schroeder said. “Let’s take the power away from the illicit market and put it in the hands of local people … We can have traceable, tested, safe, accountable, taxed and regulated cannabis for people in South Dakota versus who knows what they are getting currently.”
Engquist-Schroeder grew up near Oakes, North Dakota and worked for the University of South Dakota before opening Wynie Mae’s Aveda Salon and Spa in 2010 in Vermillion. She is also a founding member of Dakota Natural Growers, Inc., a licensed medical cannabis facility in Vermillion.
She lives in rural Clay County with her husband, Travis. She has owned and operated three businesses in Vermillion and was recipient of the Vermillion Area Chamber and Development Company’s Spirit of Entrepreneurship Award in 2021. She has served on both the Vermillion Business Improvement District Board and the Vermillion NOW! Economic Development Campaign.
Shorma said he grew up in the 1970s and saw the negative health effects of long-term marijuana use among his friends.
“However, in the past six years, I’ve done a 180 on medical marijuana,” he said, “and the use of its byproducts, including highly refined CBD oil” which will work wonders on individuals who suffer from certain types of seizures.
His 88-year-old mother has MS and is confined to a wheelchair.
“She’s enlightened me that CBD oil is a benefit to her,” Shorma said.
When it comes to recreational marijuana, he said, he’s not focused on the money or the tax revenues it may generate.
“I won’t overturn the will of the voters. If they vote to pass this and that’s what South Dakotans want, then I guess it’s my job to legislatively regulate it to protect our children,” Shorma said. “It’s going to be more accessible. The black market grows when legalizing marijuana passes, it doesn’t shrink. Every state is proof of that.”
Taxing recreational marijuana to pay for things that we need is not a reason to approve the initiative, he said. “You’ve got to think of the moral aspects of what it can do and what effects it can have. I would encourage voters to resist making recreational marijuana available in South Dakota.”
Kassin said it’s the duty of citizens to be well-informed before voting in November and he encouraged citizens to do their research on Initiated Measure 27.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people and I wouldn’t say this is an overwhelming topic of support – it’s not brought up the most among the people I talk to,” he said. “Some people have opinions, but I would say it’s varied.”
Kassin is currently the Vice President for External and Corporate Affairs at the University of South Dakota Foundation. In this capacity, he helps secure resources to provide scholarships and enhance the student experience.
His campaign bio notes that he decided to run for the legislature to advocate for the health, well-being, and prosperity of future generations of South Dakotans.
Kassin and his wife, Katie, have two children, Collins and Kellen. Collins was born with cystic fibrosis and the Kassins are committed to raising money and advocating for finding a cure. He describes himself as a pro-business, fiscal conservative who will work to provide economic development in South Dakota communities.
“Some of the citizens I have talked to have concerns about substance abuse and seeing that increase in our communities,” he said. “In any event, it will be on the ballot in November and it will be up to voters to decide. If the vote is ‘yes,’ as a legislator, I’ll work to respect the will of the policy and work to implement safe and effective policy.”