Absentee voting began in South Dakota on Sept. 18 and as voters prepare to vote early because of COVID-19, the Plain Talk has begun its tradition early of informing readers of various local candidates on the November ballot.

This week, the focus is on the candidates running for District 17 Senate. Look for more candidate profiles and stories about ballot issues in future editions.

For State Senator, District 17

You may vote for one or leave it blank.

Arthur Rusch, Republican Party

Family: Spouse: Lana; Children: Matthew, Elizabeth, Jonathon, and Mark. Grandchildren: Daniel, 15; Michael, 9; Samuel, 8; and Adam, 5.

Occupation: Retired/Writer

Career Overview/Highlights: Practiced law in Vermillion for 22 years. Served four terms as Clay County State's Attorney (part time position then); as President of South Dakota State's Attorney's Association and as a Special Assistant Attorney General to prosecute wrongdoing by staff at the South Dakota State Penitentiary; Appointed as a Circuit Judge in 1994 and as Presiding Judge of the First Judicial Circuit in 1995; President of South Dakota Judges' Association; and as a Substitute Justice on South Dakota Supreme Court 25 times; Served as an adjunct Professor at USD Law School and USD Business School. Wrote "County Capitols, The Courthouses of South Dakota"; served as a consultant for South Dakota Public Broadcasting documentary "Temples of Justice" which was nominated for an Emmy Award.

Recipient of "Eagle Award" from South Dakota Newspaper Association for legislation to require public access to news about lawsuits involving public entities. Recipient of Volunteer Service Award from USD Law School.

Community/Public Service: Student Association President at USD. Vermillion Area Chamber and Development Company: member and past member of board of directors SESDAC (Southeast South Dakota Activity Center); Past member of board of directors; Vermillion Rotary Club; Vermillion Lions Club; past member of board of directors and president; Active member of St. Agnes Church; St. Agnes Knights of Columbus and past Grand Knight; Trustee of USD Foundation; Sioux Council Boy Scouts; past troop leader in Vermillion; member of Board of Directors; past president of Sioux Council; and recipient of "Silver Beaver" award for volunteer work for scouts; Clay County Historical Society; member and member of Board of Directors

Number of years in public office/current position: I have served three terms (a total of six years) in the South Dakota State Senate

Why I want to serve: I want to serve because my legal training and experience help to ensure the passage of better legislation. When I first went into the Senate I was the only lawyer there and bills were passed that no one understood their meaning or their possible legal consequences. Every session I have been able to help legislators of both parties prepare better laws and understand the effect of proposed laws.

Most important issues/challenges facing Clay County: I believe that the coronavirus health crisis needs to be addressed. The Federal funding we received should not be wasted. The vast majority of our state budget goes to two areas: education and social services. Can we deliver those services more efficiently or can we obtain additional funding for them? Can we cut other areas of state government or should we be looking for other sources of revenue? What can we do to help promote agriculture? The repeated flooding on the Vermillion River has rendered much good farmland in Clay and Turner Counties unusable. Can we expand the Vermillion River Basin Water Development District to include the up-river counties as well so we can better plan and carry out improvements along the river?

Biggest COVID-19 concerns: The health of District 17 residents is my biggest concern. The number of new infections and the number of deaths is growing. We need to make sure that adequate health care is available and that the residents are doing all that they can to avoid contracting the coronavirus and spreading it further. My second concern is the need to mitigate the economic harm that the pandemic has caused to individual citizens who haven't been able to work and to small businesses who have been forced to close as a result.

Vote for me because: I can do the best job of representing them in Pierre. My background and experience as a lawyer and judge provide me with the knowledge to understand laws and to prepare laws that make sense. I have spent years working in Clay and Turner Counties so I know the area. My fellow legislators respect my viewpoints and judgement as evidenced by the fact that they have appointed me as vice-chairman of the Senate "Judiciary Committee," to the "Code Commission," to the "Corrections Commission" and to the "Government Operations and Audit Committee," where I can make sure that the voices of District 17 residents are heard and considered.

Gregory Baldwin, Libertarian Party

Family: Married to my wife Amanda for 13years. Daughter Mercedes age 22, and have 2 Grandchildren, Grayson age 4 and Brielle age 2 in December

Occupation: CPC certified professional coder (medical coding)

Career Overview/Highlights: I worked in Yankton for 12 years in the manufacturing industry. Most recently as a welder and worked my way up to Night Shift Supervisor of a small manufacturing company. I left to attend school at South East Technical Institute in Sioux Falls in 2018-2019. I passed my national CPC exam and now work in Medical Coding.

Community/Public Service: I am currently the Vice Chairman of the Libertarian Party of South Dakota, and have organized an annual holiday food drive with proceeds going to feeding South Dakota every year for the previous 3 years. I previously ran for State House of Representatives in 2018.

Why I want to serve: I would like to serve in office to protect the rights of all individuals. To limit government interference into our daily lives, respect the property rights of South Dakotans

Most important issues/challenges facing Clay County: Property taxes are far higher than neighboring counties I also would like to see criminal justice reforms put in place to respect the rights of Students that come here and are charged with victimless crimes that affect their futures.

Biggest COVID-19 concerns: The loss of personal freedoms and growth of Government, federal deficit spending is very troubling.

Vote for me because: If you would like to see a Senator that respects individual rights and property rights, that will not advocate for more government, but will advocate for you the individual, then vote Baldwin

Ailee Johns, Democratic Party

Family: I am the mother of the most loving, kind, caring 2-year-old.

Occupation: Bartender/Server

Career Overview/Highlights: My career does not define who I am as a person. I have always been outspoken about injustices and inequalities, and I have always served my community in some capacity. I am not ashamed of being a bartender, I love my job and the stories I have been able to hear from all walks of life. I love working alongside small business owners and being entrenched in the community.

Community/Public Service: As a working-class mother sometimes it’s about survival more than anything; community and public service both come from places of privilege. Most recently I held a fundraiser for bail funds for people who were jailed for exercising their first amendment rights. One of the fundraisers for the campaign has been a mask project, where you donate to the campaign and receive two masks for yourself and two more get donated to families in need in the area. I march alongside my community members on issues that matter to us, women’s rights, March for Our Lives, Black Lives Matter, etc.

Why I want to serve: Quite frankly I grew tired of the people who were supposed to be serving us in Pierre spending their days on hate filled legislation. We have so much more happening in this state and so many people who are not being represented that I had to speak up. My letters and calls to legislators fell of deaf ears, and that’s when I decided I should run, someone who is in her community and will listen to what people actually want and need this state to look like.

Most important issues/challenges facing Clay County: I think that anyone who says anything other than climate change is delusional. This country is literally (and metaphorically) on fire and if we don’t do more to protect it and focus on becoming carbon neutral we will not have any land to farm or water to drink.

I also believe that without an expansion of Medicaid we are doing a disservice to so many in this community. A state that cares about the health and well being of everyone and focuses on preventative care rather than reactive care can be our future.

Biggest COVID-19 concerns: I think that the biggest concern is the complete lack of leadership from our government (state and federal not local). We could be returning to a more “normal” way of life if issues like masks or testing had not been made so political

Vote for me because: I don’t know everything, I don’t have all the answers, but I do know I’m determined, I’m passionate, and I will be the hardest working person in the room. I will work hard to make sure all our voices are heard, I will work hard to make South Dakota a more just and equitable place, and I will work hard to make South Dakota a place where EVERYONE can thrive.

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