Just as SDSU students were packing up and heading out of town in May, South Dakota was gearing up for an election to fill its U.S. House seat vacated by former Rep. Bill Janklow.
Janklow resigned the seat after he was convicted of manslaughter in a traffic accident that occurred last August.
Stephanie Herseth, who taught political science at SDSU for a year, won the June 2 special election against challenger Larry Diedrich, an Elkton farmer and former state legislator.
The two are set to face off again in the Nov. 2 election.
Diedrich, who started campaigning immediately after the election in June, said he has been out meeting people he didn’t have a chance to visit with during the first campaign.
On his way to the Brown County Fair in Aberdeen, Diedrich said one of the biggest issues for South Dakotans is affordable health care.
“Everyone asks, ‘how do we pay for it,'” he said. “Some small businesses and farms can’t afford to offer insurance or are struggling to find an affordable policy.”
Diedrich suffered a minor set-back early in the summer when he had to have heart surgery to replace an aortic valve, but he says it’s been a conversation starter for a lot of people.
“Folks will come up to me and starting telling about their heart surgery experience,” he said. “I guess we’re known as the zipper club.”
Herseth, who defeated Diedrich by 3,005 votes, has spent her weekends and now the month of August making campaign stops all over the state at pow wows, festivals and county fairs.
Her hope is that people will re-elect her based on her job performance. Herseth introduced her first bill in Congress on July 23, which limits the cost of living adjustments on Medicare premiums to 25 percent.
One of the student issues Herseth is focusing on is ensuring that financial aid dollars stay even with tuition increases.
“Pell grants haven’t kept up with the raising pace of tuition,” Herseth said from her office in Washington. “College students need to start having an appreciation for how issues are going to affect them in five years, especially on the job front and how they’re going to pay back student loans.”
Diedrich, who has two children attending SDSU, said he likes to remind young people that voting is more than just a privilege.
“When I was in India, I saw the people there stand in line all day just to vote,” he said. “You either live with what you’re given or try to make a difference.”
Diedrich spent 17 days in India on a legislative exchange when he was a state senator.
South Dakota will get to see and hear a lot more from the candidates as they debate in forums and on television throughout September and October.