SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – Dusty Johnson and Taffy Howard are the U.S. House candidates for registered Republican voters in South Dakota to choose.
Johnson, South Dakota’s current Congressman, and Howard, a Rapid City lawmaker, shared their beliefs on a variety of topics during separate 10-minute conversations with KELOLAND News anchor Tom Hanson. During the discussion, Johnson highlighted his experience and approach to problem solving, while Howard expressed her frustration with Washington D.C. and called for more limited government.
You can watch the full discussion from this weekend’s Inside KELOLAND online in the player above.
Below is a transcript of the candidates’ answers to many of the same questions. Answers have only been edited for clarity. DJ represents answers by Dusty Johnson, while TH represents answers by Taffy Howard.
On what brought you into politics?
DJ: I grew up in a working class family. There were seven of us and there were times when government was there to help us. But I knew from a very early age, when government does things for people that they should do for themselves that breeds dependence, rather than independence.
TH: I would say, probably what a lot of fellow Americans and fellow South Dakotans are feeling, frustration. Absolute frustration at the direction this country is going. I never wanted to be a politician. And I don’t consider myself one. I consider myself a statesman. But it’s frustration; I feel like we’re losing our country.
When we look around and we see the direction that everything is heading, it’s time for us all to step up. It’s time for us all to fight for our country. It is time to put Americans first. I don’t believe (with) who we are sending to D.C, I don’t believe that’s happening. I was just asked by a lot of people across this state to consider getting into this race. You know, I’ve been in Pierre for six years, currently vice chair of House Appropriations. I have been trying to serve South Dakotans that way, but I’ve been asked to get into this race to really work on bringing South Dakota values back to D.C.
On rising gas prices?
DJ: This administration has made a lot of mistakes. Think about day one of the Biden Administration, the Keystone XL Pipeline being canceled and that was just the continuation, frankly, of a lot of bad energy policies that our country has embarked on the last 20 years.
We know that our oil and gas is cleaner than the stuff from Russia. If we care about the environment, we should have Europe using our oil and gas and not Russia’s. Ours is 23% cleaner. You’ve got homegrown fuel like ethanol, it took way too long for Joe Biden to come on board with E15. That over time, could put another 8 billion gallons of ethanol a year into the supply system, that would have a huge impact on prices.
TH: I think first of all, what has to be addressed is the reckless and irresponsible spending at the federal level. I think if you talk to any economist, they would say you can’t keep printing money out of thin air. I mean, my opponent voted for over $5 trillion in spending. That’s not what South Dakotans want to see in D.C. Voting for that spending that’s what’s driving inflation. That’s what’s driving the higher prices and everything. We’re gonna continue to see that until we see some fiscal sanity restored to D.C.
DJ: No. 1 we got to quit passing trillion dollar spending deals. In the last 18 months, I voted against $9 trillion worth of spending. The economists tell us that inflation is probably three points worse than it would have to be because of how much we spent on COVID and on the recession.
It’s amazing, so many of my colleagues out in D.C. want to continue with the spending. They want to spend like we’re in the Great Depression. The reality is the recession ended in May, not this May, not last May, but two Mays ago.
Then we got to make sure we get Americans off the sidelines. We have 3 million fewer full-time workers in this country today than we did three years ago. We need policies that reward work; we need policies that make sure people realize they should not be on the sidelines. We’ve got to get them trained. We’ve got to get them educated. We’ve got to get them into the workforce; that is the only way somebody can escape poverty.
How can we address mass shootings in our country without more gun control?
DJ: Our country is not well. We know that we have a chronic underinvestment in behavioral health and from a mental health perspective, we clearly have not done enough.
I introduced a bill with (Rep.) Kim Schrier (D-Washington) that would have taken that trillion dollars of unspent COVID funds about a year ago. (It would have) gathered them up, gave them to the states so states could establish permanent trust funds to deal specifically with mental health. So often in government, we create programs and then try to figure out how to pay for them. My plan would have been the reverse, we would have created this trust fund that in perpetuity would have funded major new investments in behavioral health. Frankly that would have done our country a lot more good than so many of the COVID dollars that I think we are seeing now.
We can get Americans healthier then I think we’re gonna be in a much better position to make sure that we don’t have 50,000 suicides a year and that we don’t have 60,000 drug overdoses a year. These are the kinds of issues we have to tackle as a country.
TH: That is a very difficult question and I don’t know that I have the answers to that. I know we have serious mental health issues in the country that have to be addressed. I don’t think the whole COVID lock downs, I don’t think anything that the federal government did on those issues helped. I really am curious to see some mental health statistics over the last year or so. The policies that are being enacted at the federal level are just wrong for our country and I think that’s going to be reflected in the mental health issues that we’re seeing as well.
I am a strong advocate for our Second Amendment rights. Unlike my opponent who has supported red flag gun confiscation orders, I have opposed that. At the state level, we’ve killed that bill, because I don’t believe you should lose your right to keep and bear arms without due process. It is unconscionable that we would strip Americans of their constitutional rights without due process.
There are inconvenient truths that my opponent doesn’t really want to be out there. If you look at my literature, everything I send out is footnoted. You can look at his record, he has voted for red flag gun confiscation order legislation. That’s a fact. You can look at his record. It was in the last two NDAAs and he voted for that.
On red flag laws for gun control?
DJ: I oppose red flag laws. We can’t take away somebody’s Second Amendment rights, if we haven’t given them due process. I think that’s really important. Politicians say some pretty goofy things during the campaign and I’ve been befuddled a bit that my opponent has tried to convince people that somehow I’m soft on gun rights.
Here’s the reality: I’m A+ rated from the NRA (National Rifle Association). The NRA endorsed me and not her in this race. Gun Owners of America, they also gave me an A. I’m one of the nation’s strongest gun rights advocates. We should not be taking away the gun rights of law abiding citizens.
If Roe vs. Wade is overturned, should there be exceptions to the abortion ban? If so, what are they?
DJ: I think these decisions are gonna be made at the state level. The (leaked) Supreme Court decision said the Constitution is silent on abortion – no one has a right to get an abortion. They really returned that power to the states where it had been for most of our country’s history.
I think you’re gonna see a large diversity of how these states tackle abortion. From the federal level perspective, I’m going to stay focused on what I’ve been focused on, which is making sure that the Hyde Amendment stays in place. The Hyde Amendment says taxpayer dollars should never be used to fund abortion. That is something that people on both sides of this issue used to agree on. I think it’s important that we maintain that in law.
TH: Abortion is wrong. I am thrilled that the Supreme Court is finally doing what it should have done years ago. This whole issue is a states rights issue. If we don’t support the right to life, if we don’t protect that right, no other rights matter. I am not for any exceptions.
What can be done about the immigration issue?
DJ: First thing we’ve got to do is secure the border. We’re not going to be able to make the border system better if we’ve got 1.8 million people illegally apprehended at the border year after year. We’re clearly in a crisis. Step one for me is put back into place the remain in Mexico policy; I am a leader in that in Congress.
Once we’ve stabilized the border, we need to acknowledge that it is too easy to get here illegally and, frankly, too hard to get here legally. There are good, hardworking, brilliant people who want to make their lives in America and we have made this a seven or 10 year journey for them that cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars. Let’s secure the border and then let’s reward the folks who wait in line and follow the law.
TH: Immigration, that has to be our No. 1 priority. We’re being invaded. Title 42 has to stay in place. We cannot allow that to go away. I’m thankful that the courts are keeping that in place for right now. President Trump had it right, he was ready to build the wall, finish building the wall. My opponent voted against that three times. He voted with Pelosi on that.
I was talking to a retired Border Patrol agent the other day. We know that building the wall works, so there are things at our disposal. We just have to make it a top priority.
We’re being invaded. I was talking to this border patrol agent. He said there are people who live near the border and they literally cannot go to their barn to do their chores without being armed because they may run into an illegal that is also armed. So our No. 1 priority is protecting our citizens and protecting their property. I say things in D.C. need to shut down until that is taken care of.
On Title 42 specifically?
DJ: Title 42 is supposed to be about a public health emergency and I don’t think we’re in a public health emergency right now. But President Biden simply cannot pull back Title 42 until he’s got a better plan in place.
It’s been a source of great frustration, not just on my side of the aisle, but on both sides of the aisle. You hear members saying, ‘Mr. President, you’ve got to have a plan.’ The country is going to be overrun with 2 million people a year if we don’t and we know they’re queued up and they are ready. They are there waiting for Title 42 to go away so they can enter this country. I was glad to see that a court last week told the president he couldn’t pull back Title 42.
Where do you stand on the validity of the 2020 election?
DJ: My opponent basically wants a federal takeover of elections. She looks at what happened in South Dakota and elsewhere and I guess thinks we need more help from Washington D.C.
I go the other way, I’m not somebody who feels like we need more federal government to solve these problems. We know that South Dakota does it right. You got to have a photo ID. Ballots aren’t able to come trickling in weeks after the election. There isn’t ballot harvesting. We do it right.
What we know is that 27 states in the last year have made their elections more secure, more like South Dakota’s (elections). There were irregularities, but there was not the kind of widespread fraud that would be necessary to overturn the 2020 elections. When Taffy tells people that we need to tell Georgia how to run their elections or we need to tell Florida how to run theirs, that is terrifying to me. That means at some point, Nancy Pelosi’s House is going to be in charge of South Dakota elections. That is something we can not abide (by).
TH: I’m not afraid to say I do believe there was fraud in the last election. That is also a clear difference between my opponent and myself. He has yet to admit that there is any fraud. I believe the citizens of this country ought to be able to feel very confident in the integrity of our elections. It’s very clear that many millions of Americans do not have that confidence so we owe it to them. We owe it to them to do what we need to do to ensure that they can have faith in our elections again.
If you lost the primary, would you have faith in those results?
TH: I don’t believe South Dakota has major issues. I have voted for numerous bills and there are small things that we could do to tweak and make things better in South Dakota. It’s not perfect in South Dakota. There were some problems, some small anomalies in maybe Pennington (County) and Minnehaha County, but not enough to sway our election. So no, I would not be concerned if I lost this primary, but I’m not going to lose the primary.
How do you balance your own feelings on certain issues when they go against the popular belief of the Republican Party?
DJ: My oath of office is not to any political party and it’s not to any political leader. My oath of office is of the Constitution, United States of America. There are people who can be principled and are not effective. I’ve really done both.
I told South Dakotans I would be conservative – endorsed by the NRA, A+ rated by Right to Life, voted against $9 trillion in spending. I’ve made good on that commitment. But I’ve also been effective. I passed out of the House or otherwise had implemented 15 different bills. That’s a big difference compared to my opponent. She didn’t pass a bill this last legislative session. She went 0-for-4. The previous legislative session, she went 0-for-5. The legislative session before that, she didn’t pass a vote either. She went 0-for-7. I tried to be somebody who actually solves problems, rather than just howling at the moon, and I think South Dakotans appreciate that.
TH: I tend to vote with the Republican Party and that is why I’m running. That’s a difference between my opponent and myself, and one of the reasons so many people are frustrated – because he has gone to D.C. and voted with Pelosi and not with Republicans on the border wall, on spending, on the election issues. I don’t know that I would have that issue.
We will have a red wave in November. I will stand firm with the Republicans to advance a limited government agenda, because that’s what our platform says. There’s a line in our preamble that I love, it says we believe the proper role of government is to provide those critical functions that cannot be properly provided by individuals or organizations. That’s why I’m a Republican. We are the party of limited government. But South Dakotans deserve to have that representation in D.C.
What are the challenges the Republican Party faces ahead of the 2022 midterms and the 2024 general election?
TH: Here in our state and I would say within the party too, there’s a tug of war between really two factions in our party. It’s those who want to abide by our Constitution and by our platform. There’s another faction in our party that is more the go along to get along, looking for a career.
We’re having inner party struggles right now. So this primary is huge. I believe it will determine the direction our party goes whether we stay true to our foundation of being that limited government party.
(Former President Ronald) Reagan said, ‘Man is not free unless government is limited.’ Our party traditionally believes that and fights for that. So that’s probably the biggest issue that our party is facing right now, along with a myriad of issues that our country is facing.
DJ: South Dakotans, I think, like work horses and not show horses. I’ve made good on my commitments. We have serious energy problems, serious work force problems, serious border problems. I’m somebody who’s addressed them in the past, and I’m going to keep working on them in the future.
TH: I would just ask for everyone’s support. If they’d like to go to our website, taffyhoward.com we would love for them to check that out. There are very clear differences between my opponent and myself. I’m the limited government Republican running to advance that platform. I will fight to secure our borders, I will fight for less spending and lower taxes, less regulation. So those are some of the main differences between us.