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 Clay County Commission. Look for stories about ballot issues in future editions.

For County Commissioner

At Large

You may vote for up to three or leave it blank.

Travis Mockler, Republican Party

Family: Wife Jill, daughters Lacey and Kylie.

 Occupation: Farmer

Career Overview/Highlights: After attending college and working as a hired man for a couple years, I was able to start purchasing equipment and renting my own land. I have now operated my row crop and cow/calf operation for the past 23 years in Clay County.

Community/Public Service: South Dakota Corn Growers Association – Board of Directors (January 2009 – January 2018); Clay County Planning and Zoning Board (January 2011 – Present); Clay County Farm Mutual Insurance – Board of Directors (March 2012 – 2018); Clay County Fair Board (2015 -Present); Clay County Ditch Board (January 2013 – Present); Past Coach and Assistant Coach for little league sports including basketball, softball and soccer.

Number of years in public office/current position: 8 years as Clay County Commissioner, 6 years as the Chair of the Commission.

I want to serve because: I seek out service in public office because I want to have a positive impact on our everyday lives. I like being engaged with the issues that affect us and working towards solutions that benefit all our residents. Eight years ago I ran for County Commissioner because I felt the board lacked both the younger generation’s voice and someone with a working knowledge of agriculture. I believe my participation has diversified and balanced our Commissioner Board in both these areas. I seek this service because I value diversity, the encouragement of multiple perspectives, and broad representation.

Most important issues/challenges facing Clay County: I believe one of the most important issues facing the county today is finding a solution for funding the Jail/Law Enforcement/Courthouse project. The facilities are inefficient and beyond capacity with renovation of the current site not an economical option. Roads and bridges also remain a top priority especially given the flooding in both 2018 and 2019. Although funds are always short, our highway department continues to work hard at patching and keeping roads safe until they can be fully resurfaced.

Biggest Covid-19 concerns: I’m concerned with both the emotional and financial stress this pandemic has put on all our residents. We all need to support one another (including our local businesses) so we can make it through this challenging time.

Vote for me because: My family, friends, relatives, neighbors and business associates are stretched out across every square mile of this county and I want to proactively promote the decisions that will improve their opportunities to grow and prosper. I’m also a small business owner and representative of a typical, dual income working family with school age children. I have and still do face many of the same struggles as our younger residents. Furthermore, I am a lifelong resident of Clay County. Both my family and my wife’s family are in the 4th generation as Clay County residents. Clay County is where I live, where I operate my business and where I am raising my family. I remain deeply rooted and fully vested in the quality of life, protection of natural resources, and economic development of this county.

James H. Bohnsack, Republican Party

Family: Nikki Bohnsack – Spouse; Nate Bohnsack – Child; Emery Bohnsack – Child; Emma Bohnsack – Child; and Ben Bohnsack – Child.

Occupation: Vice President of Agri Business with First Dakota National Bank

Career Overview/Highlights: I have mostly been in the finance industry since graduating college in 1998 from the University of Wyoming. I have held positions of Personal Banker, Consumer Lender, Mortgage Lender, Commercial Lender, Ag Lender, Vice President, and Branch President. I owned and operated a title and escrow company at one time and also a property and casualty insurance agency.

Community/Public Service: I currently sit on the Clay County Fair Board and serve as the chairman. I have been a member of this community board for six years. I also serve as chairman of the Concordia Lutheran Church Council and have held this position for five years.

I am a current co-leader for the Clay County 4H Lucky Trail Blazers and have held this position for the past three years. I have helped with the Field to table event, put on by Valley Ag Supply, for the past six years. Presenting the corn segment for the last three. Prior to coming to Vermillion I served on the Sheridan County Fair Board for 10yrs., in the positions of Secretary, Treasurer, Vice Chair, and Chairman.

Why I want to serve: I want to serve in public office to fulfill my duty as a citizen. Our government is made by the people for the people. As a citizen I feel participation is the only way to preserve this ideal. I want to make sure the voices of rural citizens is being heard just as loud as those of our cities and towns.

Most important issues/challenges facing Clay County: Maintenance and repair of county infrastructure. (Roads, bridges, ditches, etc.) Maintaining a level of economic viability to keep business thriving and attract new business to our area. Managing our growth responsibly. Court house and Jail issue.

Biggest Covid-19 concerns: I am concerned about the lost loved ones, the lost jobs, and the economic fallout our community will experience in the wake of this virus. Additionally, I am concerned about how citizens may react to future virus outbreaks.

Vote for me because: Our county needs representation that will get the work of the citizens done and done right. Who, will operate with the goal to serve all Clay County citizens. I am that candidate. I respect the history of Clay County and am excited about what the future holds for it.

Richard Hammond, Democratic Party

Family: Sarah Chadima is my wife. We have four children: Gabe, Zach, Paul, and Anna.

Occupation: Geologist, water well specialist

Career Overview/Highlights: I graduated from USD with a double major in Geology and Political Science. I also earned a minor in Chemistry. After four years practicing environmental and soils engineering, I started working at the South Dakota Geological Survey (located at USD in Vermillion, for 22 years). During that time, I also earned my Master’s degree in Public Administration (from USD; 1991). From 1999 to 2012 I owned/operated Hammond Wetmore Drilling. In 2015 I was selected as the South Dakota “Geologist of the Year” by the American Institute of Professional Geologists. Presently I work part time at Heine Electric & Irrigation.

Community/Public Service: I have served as a Clay County Commissioner since 2016. I was on the Vermillion City Planning Commission for five years in the 1990s. I was the Chairperson of the ASTM National Standards Committee on Groundwater Monitoring, from 1988-1992. I have held a variety of positions within the United Methodist Church (former Youth Group Leader and Sunday School Teacher). I served as Treasurer for many years with USD’s United Ministries.

Number of years in public office/current position: Nearing completion of four years in County Commission.

Why I want to serve: Clay County has been my home for most of my life. I have worked on the USD campus, lived in Wakonda and in two rural Clay County homes. Sarah and I have restored and lived in two wonderful old homes in Vermillion’s Historic District. Clay County has been a great place to raise our family, run a business and make a home. I hope my service on this Commission can continue to help make this community an even better place to live and work.

Most important issues/challenges facing Clay County: The Covid pandemic has had a profound effect on the health, economics, and social life of our communities. Everyone has had to deal with preparations for, and the consequences of, this virus. During this time of “social distancing” we have all had to adjust our habits at work, play, shopping, worshiping, and other social interactions. Ordinary county activities like paying taxes, property transfers, and getting vehicle licenses have been a little unhandy, but we have implemented ways to ease these procedures. The primary election went quite smoothly, and I anticipate the fall election to be safe and convenient.

One major challenge is the poor condition of the Clay County Courthouse, particularly the public safety/jail complex. The Commissioners have formed a citizens’ committee (led by Robert Fuller). They were charged with finding one or more solutions to address several very serious deficiencies. This important work will be publicized in the next few months by public meetings, printed media, and other methods.

Another major strain on the County is repairing the damage to our highways, bridges, and other infrastructure due to recent, extensive frost heave and flooding. Many roads have been closed for extended periods and some still await permanent repair.

Biggest Covid-19 concerns: First, I am concerned about the immediate health effects of this disease on our residents, especially those at higher risk. With the conventional flu season approaching and our schools now open, I hope the risk to others in our community, including our youth, is not magnified. Second, the impact of this virus on all Clay County businesses is very concerning; our businesses are vital to the health of our County. Please wear your masks when in public and be aware of what you can do to protect yourself and others. As your Commissioner, I worry about us becoming too complacent too early, and my hope is for a safe return to normal life soon.

Vote for me because: I do my best to listen well, respect others, think critically, and honestly say what I think.

Elizabeth "Betty" Smith, Democratic Party

Family: Spouse Larry Smith, recently deceased after a 47-year marriage; children Sean, 51, Caroline, 40, and Leland, 37. Five grandchildren

Occupation: Retired Political Science Professor and former Associate Director of the Farber Center for Civic Leadership

Career Overview/Highlights: During a 25 year academic career, I taught courses on Public Budgeting and Fiscal Management, State and Local Government, and Planning Principles and Techniques. I also applied this expertise to practical problems in South Dakota through my work for the Farber Center and the Government Research Bureau. Prior to my academic career, I served as chief of staff of the Office of the Mayor of the City of Hamden, CT. Previously, I worked as District Director for former Congressman Bruce A. Morrison, leading staff in resolving citizens problems with local, state, and federal bureaucracies. I also served as a VISTA volunteer with the Connecticut Department of Corrections.

Community/Public Service: Public service has been a constant throughout my adult life and these experiences have taught me much about what it takes to bring communities together to work on common issues. As a member and chair of the Clay County Historic Preservation Commission, I worked on creating a Clay County Preservation Plan and the first Downtown Vermillion Streetscape plan. As Associate Director of the Farber Center, I taught civic leadership and strategic planning at the Mount Rushmore Institute and in numerous towns in southeastern South Dakota. As a volunteer, I have led many strategic planning processes for nonprofit and government entities. I currently serve on the boards of the Vermillion Cultural Association, which owns and operates our local nonprofit movie theater, and the South Dakota Shakespeare Festival.

I want to serve because: The challenges facing Clay County at this point in time are a good match for the skills and experience I have developed over time and I am fortunate to have time to devote to public service. I would like to make my county and my community a better place to live, work, and grow.

Most important issues/challenges facing Clay County: As the County prepares to revise its 2001 Plan of Development, it needs to involve citizens in planning for the future. This will require an inclusive planning process and a commitment to communicating with the public about the choices the County faces.

The future of the historic Clay County Courthouse will be determined in the next few years and citizens are rightly concerned about both the cost and the nature of the project. The state of the building’s mechanical systems and conditions in the jail suggest that changes need to be made soon. An architectural consultant recommended renovating the existing building. At present, a citizen-led group is exploring additional options but it is the Commission elected this fall that will need to make a decision that serves the public’s needs at an affordable cost.

One of the greatest challenges facing counties in South Dakota is funding their considerable responsibilities for roads, bridges, public health, law enforcement, jails, and many other activities. Driving north of town, many roads and bridges are closed and flooding continues to be a problem. In order to address these problems, county officials must work more closely with state legislators to share the financial burden or reduce mandates.

Biggest Covid-19 concerns: The spread of COVID in South Dakota and Clay County in particular has been severe, according to CDC data. This is a cause for concern. Fortunately, as public health officials learn more about the disease, it has become easier to protect ourselves by avoiding crowds and indoor spaces where the virus spreads more easily. The key to controlling any pandemic is readily available testing, contact tracing, and isolation of those infected. We need to improve the turnaround time in these areas.

Vote for me because: I can bring an unusual set of skills and experiences as well as a track record of success to the Commission at a moment of rapid change. But I believe that my most important asset is caring deeply about Clay County and being willing to devote myself to making it a better place for all of us.

Mark Winegar, Democratic Party

Family: Bonnie Sorensen (wife)

Occupation: Retired professor of Computer Science / ESL teacher

Career Overview/Highlights: I’ve had an exciting career in engineering with computer manufacturers and teaching computer science. I thoroughly enjoy working with Vermillion’s English learners and substitute teaching at the middle and high schools in my retirement. I take great pride in my work in the past four years representing the Sierra Club as chairman and lobbying in Pierre on behalf of the environment, education, civil rights, and ethics in government.

Community/Public Service: In addition to serving as chair of the Clay County Democratic Party and on the Executive Board of the state party, I have flipped pancakes and ushered USD games for the Lions Club, answered fundraising calls for South Dakota Public Broadcasting, delivered meals for Meals on Wheels, collected and distributed food for the local food pantry, and passed out lunches to children for the Vermillion School District’s Grab & Go program.

I want to serve because: I want to serve the best interests of the community I love.

Most important issues/challenges facing Clay County: There are many; COVID-19 recovery and protecting community health, building a better economy and creating jobs, completing repairs to county roads and bridges from the 2019 floods, replacing our antiquated jailhouse, and improving our courthouse infrastructure. These are all important issues that come to mind but I’m certain there are more. I also believe we ought to consider joining the City of Vermillion in considering empowering local government through home rule.

Biggest Covid-19 concerns: Where do I start? We must protect the children, seniors, and those with pre-existing conditions. We also need to support our small businesses. Sometimes those priorities conflict and I believe we must choose on the side of health when that occurs. The dilemma diminishes when we practice social distancing, wear masks, and avoid crowds so I encourage those behaviors.

Vote for me because: The best reason to vote for me is that I care deeply for this community and will represent the welfare all of the people of Clay County.

Glenn Pulse, lndependent

Family: Spouse Angela; children: 3; stepchildren: 2; grandchildren: 4.

Occupation: Small business owner of plumbing/HVAC company

Career Overview/Highlights: Master plumber license; Master HVAC tech rating; Certified police officer; Certified structural and wildland firefighter; Certified firefighter instructor; Certified police defensive tactics instructor; SD Certified police firearms instructor; Certified Emergency Medical Technician; Civil defense director, i.e. city emergency manager. Graduated from the Drug Enforcement Agency narcotics investigation school; Graduate of Salem High School (McCook Central) in 1982. Oversaw the planning, volunteers, and fundraising for new Canistota Fire/Rescue building (2010).

Community/Public Service: Military – U.S. Marine Corp (world-wide service); civilian contractor in support of Department of Defense operations. Fire – 25 years as a volunteer firefighter; 12 years as fire chief for Canistota Fire/Rescue. Police – 13 years as a certified police officer (police chief) for the City of Canistota. EMT - 20 years as volunteer EMT for Canistota Fire/Rescue. Emergency Management – 13 years as emergency manager for the City of Canistota. Current American Legion member and served as Post 62 Sargent of Arms for 12 years.

Why I want to serve: “Pulse for the People”- I am serving as a bi-partisan voice for the people of Clay County and looking to apply a common-sense approach to problem-solving, as well as, serving as a voice of progress. As a business owner in the community, I hear people’s concerns regarding county business and county roads. I hope to bring attainable solutions forward that will solve some of the issues our county is facing now and in the near future.

Most important issues/challenges facing Clay County: Relationships - Improving relations between the county and townships and City of Vermillion; Law enforcement - Support law enforcement, law enforcement training, and building a new jail; Infrastructure – improved roads and bridges; maintenance and repair; Revenue – look for opportunities for grant funds to enhance quality of life and opportunity in Clay County.

Biggest Covid-19 concerns: Public safety – ensuring the safety of all citizens; Supply chain disruption and economic impact – staying on top of opportunities and support for local supply of goods and services in the event that national or international flow of goods is severely disrupted.

Vote for me because: I will work to see common-sense, decision-making that doesn’t alienate people nor overstep a county’s authority. I will work towards a more transparent government on matters of county business. I will create an environment that engages community in county decision-making and public matters. I will work for more county employee training and opportunities for professional development. I will look for opportunities to increase the quality of life in Clay County for all residents.

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