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Former SD Lawmakers Take Sides on Walmart Debate

February 18, 2014, 6:09 PM by Brady Mallory

Former SD Lawmakers Take Sides on Walmart Debate

Two former KELOLAND politicians are taking opposite sides in the great Walmart debate in Sioux Falls. A pro-Walmart group called Building a Better Sioux Falls mailed letters to city residents encouraging them to vote 'yes' for the store in April. The letter had five signatures of support, including former South Dakota Representative Gene Abdallah. 

"I won't get anything out of it, other than I think it's good for Sioux Falls," Abdallah said.

Abdallah who lives in the southern Sioux Falls, said the new store means progress in our growing city.

"Since my name has appeared on that letter, I've been contacted by at least 50 people, and only one is opposed to it," Abdallah said. 

As we reported, according to a public finance record, Walmart made a $250,000 contribution to Building a Better Sioux Falls, which gives the group a far bigger budget than Save Our Neighborhood, the group opposing the Walmart at the site in question. KELOLAND News found a similar effort in California where, according to a finance report, Walmart put more than $515,000 behind a group called Apple Valley Consumers for Choice in Sacramento.  

"It's like any other campaign. You know, we're talking about a campaign for the U.S. senate. Mike Rounds has got a whole pile of money.  Other people don't.  More power to him if he can raise the money," Abdallah said.

Not everyone agrees.

"They're bullies, basically," Jim Abourezk, former U.S. Senator, said. "They have a lot of money. They can throw it around and they bully other people who might resist what they are trying to do. It's just not fair. It not fair. It's un-American."

Abourezk does not see a new Walmart as progress for Sioux Falls.

"I was shocked at the duplicity that Walmart engaged in. In trying to get this campaign going and I'll do what I can to put a stop to that," Abourezk said.

Though he is not formally part of the Save Our Neighborhood group, and he does not live near the proposed site, he said wanted to put his name behind the citizen-led organization. 

"If you run a good campaign, you can win without a lot of money.  In fact, I won my first Congressional race with very little money.  I just out worked the other side.  I think we can do that in this issue, too," Abourezk said.

Dana Palmer, the spokesperson for Save Our Neighborhood, issued a statement to KELOLAND News about Building a Better Sioux Falls:

We understand that the organization formed by Walmart representatives is sending campaign letters to Sioux Falls citizens.  These letters include the same Walmart-prepared materials that Walmart previously utilized in its informational meetings and subsequently used when it sent fliers to the citizens of Sioux Falls prior to city council meetings. The information Walmart prepared was done so in a manner to avoid the critical issues that have and continue to be a concern, namely, the impact to existing homeowners in the area, the lack of a buffer between the proposed development, and inadequate access that will cause increasing traffic congestion for years to come as Sioux Falls and Harrisburg continue to grow.

Everyday citizens, such as those living in southern Sioux Falls, cannot afford to run an expensive campaign like Walmart has been doing since the March 2013 announcement for the two new stores. However, we are confident voters will recognize that safety and proper planning should not be sacrificed for any business - no matter whose name is on the project. Zoning in Sioux Falls should not be for sale to the highest bidder.  That is why we are asking all voters to stand up and vote no in April.

Walmart spokesperson, Delia Garcia, also released a statement:

Last August, the Sioux Falls City Council voted to advance the city’s long-term development plan by rezoning 55 acres at 85th & Minnesota for commercial use.  In addition to the widening already planned for Minnesota Avenue, the Dakota Crossing commercial center will result in more than $1 million in privately funded road and public infrastructure improvements to facilitate the safe flow of traffic along both 85th and Minnesota Avenues. The city will also benefit from more than 250 jobs, tax revenue for public services, and additional business growth and investment.

Building a Better Sioux Falls is a citizen’s committee comprised of businesses, community leaders, and residents who support building a Southside Walmart and understand the positive city-wide impact of the future Dakota Crossing commercial center. Walmart supports their efforts because it’s important to communicate with residents city-wide and ensure that voters have the information they need to make an informed decision on April 8th. A “YES” vote on April 8th means jobs, tax revenue, and business growth in Sioux Falls.

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