In the recent elections, Ray Ring won a second term in the South Dakota House of Representative representing District 17. He was first elected in 2012.
Though Ring is not originally from South Dakota, he has a long history in Vermillion as an Economics professor.
“I taught at USD for 33 years,” Ring said. “I retired three and a half years ago.”
Ring also said his wife taught at USD as well in the Special Education program.
Throughout Ring’s schooling and professional career, he has stayed in the Midwest.
“My undergraduate was from St. Benedict College which is now Benedictine College in Kansas,” he said. “I got my PhD from the University of Kansas. I worked briefly for the state of Illinois and also for the US Congress before I moved back here.”
According to Ring, the University of South Dakota gave him reason to stay.
“Part of the reason I came here was to work with the legislature and I got really involved with things at the University,” he said. “I was involved in the honors program for awhile and just got involved more and more in research and teaching here.”
After retiring from teaching, Ring said he wanted to get more involved in politics.
“I wasn’t too crazy about some of the things they’re doing in Pierre and so I decided I’d run for election and succeeded,” he said. “I probably worked harder for this [election] but I think I knew better what to do and had a better campaign and did better relative to the other candidates.”
If there are three words that describe a typical workday in the South Dakota legislature, they are meetings, meetings and more meetings.
“Well we start out with some kind of committee hearings depending on what committees we’re on and I think it’s confirmed that i’m going to be on the appropriations committee,” Ring said. “We have caucus meetings. The Democrats meet separately in order to talk about the bills that are coming up and strategy. At 2:00 we go into the actual session and those usually last a couple of hours. The appropriations committee sometimes meets after the regular session as well to hear proposals for the budget.”
Ring said he looks forward to changing things for the better as much as he is able.
“I’m going to try to get people interested in changing the way we do the revenue forecasts,” he said. “They’ve not been very accurate the past few years. There are a lot of states that use independent forecasters. In South Dakota the only forecast we get is from the governor’s budget and from the legislative research council staff. When I came here there were three revenue estimates every year one from the LRC one from the budget office and one from the business research bureau. We don’t get that anymore. I’d like to get even more independent estimates so if I get around to it I’m going to try to propose something like that.”
Also on his agenda is more funds for education, fitting since Ring recently served on the Education committee in the legislature.
“We’re still pushing hard for increases in education spending,” Ring said. “We have to do something about teacher salaries.”
Ring also said he is in favor of expanding programs like Medicaid even though he hasn’t felt the governor’s support on the issue.
“I think everybody is entitled to some access to healthcare and under the current way that we do things for some people, low income people their only access to healthcare is the emergency room,” Ring said. “That is very inefficient because the emergency room is the most expensive way to provide health care. It also means people put off getting health care until they can’t put it off anymore.”
The consequences of this type of behavior can have dire consequences according to Ring.
“There’s been some studies come out that say that if people have access to health insurance it will reduce the death rate,” he said. “People that don’t have insurance get sicker and die sooner. So that’s a pro-life issue just like a lot of other issues.”
Expanding Medicaid is an action that Ring believes makes sense in a moral and practical way.
“Under the affordable care act we can [make healthcare more available] at very minimal expense to the state,” he said. “It’s never more than the state covering 10% of the cost for the foreseeable future.”
As Ring begins a new term he fully accepts the challenges that await such a position.
“If I’m going to be on the appropriations committee [the challenge will be] just sorting out all the different needs and there’s always greater need than we have resources and making those decisions,” he said. “I’m a Democrat and we’re in even smaller number in the house than we were last term. Convincing people that we have the right decision will be very difficult.”
One thing that will make his job easier, Ring said, is for the members of the community to be in open communication with those whom they have elected.
“There are times where it would help if people would email their legislators especially, from my perspective, the ones on the other side of the aisle and letting them know what they would like to see the state do,” he said. “I know for me it’s made a difference to hear from people when certain issues come up.”
To contact the state legislature, visit http://legis.sd.gov/.