Billion shares his thoughts, plans with College Democrats

Jesse Batson

Jesse Batson

Gubernatorial candidate Jack Billion spoke to nearly 30 people last week in a meeting arranged by the College Democrats, in the Union’s Waldorf Room.

Billion, a retired surgeon from Sioux Falls, is the chairman of the Minnehaha Democrats and was a member of the South Dakota State Legislature, serving two terms from 1993 to 1996.

Items on his agenda are: increasing education funding, increasing small businesses, increasing the minimum wage and dealing with the number of uninsured persons in South Dakota.

He first shared his platform and then answered questions from the audience.

“I’m a retired old guy and I don’t need a job and I don’t need to find a place to work in this state or anything else, but you do,” Billion said.

The current situation isn’t one of promise, he said.

“In the state of South Dakota today, 14 percent of our kids live in poverty. We have five of the 10 poorest counties in the nation right in our own state,” Billion said. “We have 3,395 people incarcerated. We have about another 2,500 out on parole.”

A total of 60,000 people in South Dakota don’t have health insurance, Billion said. The largest percentage of those people without insurance is from the 18- to 35-age group.

“That should be a concern to many of you,” Billion said.

Despite the current situation, Billion said the future isn’t all gloom and doom.

“When we talk about what we want to do with this state, I think we have to be mindful of the fact that this state does have some assets. This state does have some ability. This state can do things,” Billion said.

Billion then answered the obvious question: How can he accomplish his goals?

The first step, Billion said, is to encourage and establish a program that produces productive, well-paying jobs.

So how do you go about doing that?

“You need healthy, vibrant small businesses that can afford to pay for health insurance and provide fringe benefits,” Billion said.

South Dakota must promote itself better in order to attract businesses, Billion said.

He said he talked to business owners in Minnesota and they told him that South Dakota doesn’t invest in itself.

They said: “You don’t want to invest in education, you don’t want to invest in the arts, you don’t want to invest in your infrastructure. We look at your energy policies and your wind policies and everything else and we don’t see you taking positive steps to say you can get the job done, so we think we’ll stay in Minnesota.”

Billion suggested looking for the person who will invest and buy in South Dakota.

“When they do that, they tend to stay here,” he said.

Energy is another key, Billion said. South Dakota has done a pretty good job with bio-diesel, soy and ethanol, but not with wind energy.

South Dakota now has four wind turbines, Billion said.

“Every state around us – every single state – has more wind energy than South Dakota and the reason is we just haven’t planned ahead and I’d like to see that change,” he said.

“I’d like to build a small-business model. I’d like to see us change and really become energy-conscious,” he said.

“It’s been shown now over and over again that those states that invest in education also have the highest rate of economic growth,” Billion said. “Not only do we want to grow the economy, but we also want to invest in education.”

It’s not just one area of education, either. Focus must be placed on K-12 education, technical schools and colleges and universities.

“After we get the whole mix done, we’ve got to have the economy that provides jobs so that people can come back and live here and be successful,” he said.

Health care is another topic on Billion’s agenda. “It was my profession for 30 years,” he said.

County government, tourism and the environment are other topics Billion would like to focus on.

“I think the last thing that really is a challenge for me … is (cooperating) with the tribes of the great Sioux nation,” he said. “When we have 60,000 people or 75,000 people who are not doing as well as the average population, what does that do to the economy?”

Billion has talked to people from Pine Ridge, Lower Brule and Eagle Butte.

“What they would like is … the ability to set their cultural, educational and economical goals, but what they would like from the state is … respect for their individuality and their sovereignty,” Billion said.

They would also like the state to facilitate what could be done, he said.

The primary election is scheduled for June 6.