U.S. Senate candidate Jason Ravnsborg looks good in the KELOLAND office.
Respect is a two-way street that typically must be constructed over time by those who share it.
But Jason Ravnsborg earned a shortcut with me when he stopped at the KELOLAND TV office here in Rapid City this morning for a chat about his U.S. Senate race.
Three tours of duty overseas, including one each in Afghanistan and Iraq, are plenty good to earn my immediate respect, at least on a personal level.
On a political one, well, I couldn’t help but be frank:
“What makes you think anybody, including you, is going to beat Mike Rounds?” I asked, with just a hint of the bug-eyes of astonishment.
Nobody ever accused me of taking a Dale Carnegie approach to interviews. And Ravnsborg (which I believe is pronounced ROUNDSBERG, ironically enough) could have been put out by my initial delineation of all the reasons Rounds was the clear-and-present favorite to win the Republican primary and go on to win the general election. He was patient, however, and waited for his chance for the resurrect the win by Rounds in the 2002 Republican gubernatorial primary as affirmation of the old surprises-do-happen-in-South-Dakota-politics line.
Well, sure, except that Rounds was a five-term state senator and Republican Senate leader when he, uh, came out of somewhere to defeat favorites Steve Kirby and Mark Barnett. So it was a surprise (OK, I might have been shocked), it was a miracle of somewhat minor proportions, if such a thing exists, when compared to what Ravnsborg is attempting to do this year.
Rounds has money, name ID, an undefeated campaign record that includes two wins in the governor’s race and the support — officially acknowledged or not — of the machinery of the state GOP and its statewide network of loyalists. Ravnsborg has a USD law degree, an admirable history of military service and a desire to help bring change and order and fiscal sense to a Congress that could use all three. Of those campaing assets, the military service is the most impressive, and something that should translate into votes in the GOP primary.
Not enough, almost certainly, but finding out for certain is why we have those regular election days.
Meanwhile, Ravnsborg is trying to set up a campaign structure built so far primarily on volunteerism and good will. He’s trying to separate himself from that group of other Rounds challengers in the primary, including state Sen. Larry Rhoden of Union Center, state Rep. Stace Nelson of Fulton and Dr. Annette Bosworth of Sioux Falls.
It’s a little crowded in the Upset Camp these days, particularly since all four wanna-be upsetters are trying to set themselves up as the conservative alterative to Rounds, who’s not all that liberal himself.
Each must gather just short of 2,000 valid signatures by late March to make the primary ballot in June. Ravnsborg is in that process now. He notes that it isn’t easy, and wonders if everybody who’s trying will actually get there. That’s about as close as he came to criticizing the other campaigners in the Upset Camp during an hour or so in my office. During that time he did proclaim himself “a conservative all my life,” which had me picturing him in the third grade educating classmates about the dangers of runaway federal spending.
But you know what he meant.
And while, like most candidates, he really couldn’t identify areas of the federal budget that can be cut to make a real difference in the deficit, he noted that something like a 1-percent across the board reduction might be a good place to start. Despite his standing as a major in the U.S. Army Reserve (he smiled when I suggested colonel status someday), Ravnsborg believes the military should be on the cutting block, just like social programs.
“Those are our biggest pots,” he said.
The imposed sequestration process was a testament to failures of congressional leadership and the questionable benefits of compromise, he said.
“It was a compromise that brought a hatchet to something that needs a scalpel.”
A Catholic and avowed pro-lifer, Ravnsborg stopped short of saying the abortion issue would be his litmus test for a U.S. Supreme Court nomineee.
“I’d want ot look at their entire record.”
Ravnsborg is comfortable with the campaign-funding world created by the January, 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, which gives unions and corporations unlimited spending options in candidate campaigns.
“I believe in free speech.”
But he also is uncomfortable with the situation in today’s political world, saying “it’s kind of sad that money and special intersts have gotten such a hold on them.”
Although a conservative suspicious of compromise, Ravnsborg says he would not be a builder of stalemate. He says his military service helped him build team-centered skills that seek long-lasting solutions rather than weak compromises assembled in desperation late in thee legislative process.
I suppose the anti-Carnegie of news interviews could suggest that Ravnsborg’s campaign is being assembled in somewhat the same manner, compared to, say, the Rounds campaign, which has been in the works for years.
But I’d hate to suggest that about the son of a Vietnam vet who served us in multiple deployments overseas. Nor will I completely write off a Republican who shows up in Rapid City with plans to meet, first, with Mayor Sam Kooiker (be patient, it gets better) and then head for Pine Ridge. Ravnsborg has a meeting set up with President Bryan Brewer and other tribal leaders, for pretty simple reasons.
“I believe that Republicans in the past have not done as much as we could to understand the issues on the reservation,” he said. “They are citizens of the state. I want to hear from them.”
I can respect him for that, too.