Rep. Dusty Johnson talks TikTok, pipelines, student debt


South Dakota’s US Rep. Dusty Johnson stopped by South Dakota State University to visit student labs and attend a Vietnam Veteran ceremony.

Jacob Boyko, News Editor

Rep. Dusty Johnson, South Dakota’s sole congressman in the US House of Representatives, visited SDSU last Friday for tours of the Structures and Asphalt Labs in Crothers Engineering Hall and the Nursing Simulation Laboratory in Wagner Hall and to attend a Vietnam Veteran Pinning Ceremony at the Brookings Public Library. 

The Collegian was invited to sit down with Johnson in Crothers Engineering Hall Friday afternoon for a Q & A. 

  1. Rep. Johnson, you were named the most effective House Republican for agricultural issues. What are your priorities for the upcoming farm bill?

Clearly, we’re in a very different input cost environment than we were five years ago. I think we’ve seen huge increases in energy and fertilizer and just all of the inputs that producers use to make their operation go. Some people want to make sure that we can input some reference prices, so that assistance would trigger at different levels or support would. The farm bill is really about making sure that producers have risk management tools that they need when things get rough. 

So really, I should have started there. The number one job is to protect crop insurance. It’s a very effective risk management tool. A lot of producers buy it, and it’s something that they wouldn’t want to try to do business without. Number two is probably to make sure that we’re analyzing whether or not the right risk management tools exist for livestock. We’ve added a few more of those in the last couple farm bills, but I don’t know that we’re hitting the center of the bullseye yet.

Number three, I think, would be looking at our conservation programs and just make sure that we’re doing even more to encourage Working Lands Conservation.

Thank you for mentioning (I’m) the number one most effective House Republican on agriculture, because I do think a lot of folks assume that you have to be in Washington D.C. for 10 or 15 years before you gain that level of influence or productivity, but I think we just put together a really good South Dakota team. People who understand the issues, people who work hard, and it does show that D.C. is still a place where things can get done. 

  1. The Summit and Navigator pipelines, two controversial carbon capture pipelines, are probably going to be built through South Dakota. What is your stance on those projects? 

My stance is you have to know what the facts (and) evidence is before you come up with a conclusion. I used to be on the State Public Utilities Commission, and they’re responsible for providing the permit for pipelines to build in this state. And it would always frustrate me a little bit when people would make up their minds about a project before the actual court proceeding. In this country, we don’t decide if somebody’s guilty of burglary before we go through the court proceeding, right? I know that pipelines can be built safely in the state; we have thousands of miles of pipelines in the state. But I also know that there are some pipeline projects that aren’t appropriate. And I think we should ask a lot of very tough questions over projects like Summit and make sure that it’s a smart plan before they get their permit. If the summit pipeline meets all of its burdens of proof under the law, they should get a permit. If they don’t meet all of their burden of proof under the law, they shouldn’t get a permit.

  1. South Dakota recently lost an institution for higher education—Presentation College in Aberdeen. Is there anything on the horizon that can help other private institutions avoid that fate?

Well, I don’t think it’s the federal government’s job to save every college, right? I mean, if you’re going to have a free market for education, that market is going to have some institutions who succeed and some who fail, and Presentation College did a great job for a lot of years. I was very sad to hear about their closure. I know it’s very disruptive for a lot of students. But it’s not the government’s job to make sure that every private college succeeds. It is the government’s job to help make sure students have educational opportunities. And the good news is that in South Dakota, we still have robust educational opportunities for students.

  1. If Biden’s student debt relief executive order gets struck down in the courts, are Republicans going to put forward an alternative?

No—well, I guess it means what you mean by alternative, so I’ll answer it this way. We should care about the affordability of higher education. We should care about needy families in this county … The president’s loan forgiveness plan was a terrible way to address either of those problems. It was a terrible policy. Eighty percent of the value went to the richest half of Amercians, and every economic study that I’m aware of showed that it would make, over time, college more expensive, not less expensive. I know giving away $600 billion can seem fun, but it is terrible policy. What we should do more of is what we know works, and that is restoring more of the purchasing power of something like the Pell Grant. That has been a very effective way to help lower-income Americans access higher education. 

  1. You helped lead the charge on restricting TikTok in some federal government settings like military bases. Does Congress need to go further?

I’m a freedom guy, so I think we want to be really careful before we start to tell private citizens they can’t download private apps on their private phones. My bill, which was a Senate version of my bill, was passed at the time. That took TikTok off of all federal government devices, so I was very proud to be a pretty big part of that major legislative victory. But before we start telling private citizens what to do, I think we want to do some more analysis. I would say TikTok is nothing more than Chinese spyware. It’s just Chinese malware. Anybody who has it on their phone is making a big mistake. That being said, it’s a free country. … Our default assumption should be that people still have the opportunity to make bad decisions. Freedom isn’t getting you to decide what I want you to do. Freedom is getting you what you want to do. I think the best case scenario for all of America would be for the Chinese parent company, ByteDance, to spin TikTok off into its own company, because we know that there have been massive data releases to the Chinese Communist Party. Americans are being actively surveilled and they should not have TikTok on their phones.  

  1. Last question: Are you running for governor in 2026? 

Well, I mean, we’re a long ways away from that. I love service. I work hard. I do a good job. But it’s way too early for anybody to announce their interest in a job that’s not open for three more years.