MITCHELL, S.D. — Electric cars, misspellings by bureaucrats and congressional liberals’ hopes for undoing Trump-era tax cuts all drew ire of South Dakota’s three Republican members of Congress at an agricultural forum sponsored by the Farm Bureau on Tuesday, Aug. 17.
Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds and Rep. Dusty Johnson suggested a solidarity by staunchly recruiting moderates in the Senate and House to ward off liberal policies, be it raising taxes on million-dollar-plus inheritance or including improved "country of origin" beef labeling provision in the upcoming farm bill.
“We are one of nine states where cattle outnumber people in the entire United States,” said Rounds, at the 25th annual Dakotafest in Mitchell, South Dakota, event. "If you take a look at the ag committees, 75% of the members don't come from those states."
Johnson talked about quickening natural disaster funding from Congress to agriculture workers.
"There are going to be urban interests... that don't actually understand how these mechanisms work," said Johnson.
Later, when attempting to summarize his frustration with the federal government, Thune recalled when, a decade ago, a wildfire near Lemmon, South Dakota, was errantly named (by a U.S. Department of Agriculture employee) because someone misspelled the word "pasture."
"Bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., kind of miss what's happening out here in the real world," Thune said.
The three discussed a range of farm and ranch topics, encouraged by Zippy Duvall, the Farm Bureau’s president. On the docket were drought-related foraging programs, potential changes to capital gains tax, and the infrastructure package recently passed in the Senate (opposed by both Rounds and Thune), which includes investments in rural and western water programs.
When Rounds noted he’d be questioned about term limits for members of Congress, he redirected frustrations with what he said were employees running federal agencies in Washington, D.C.
“When are there going to be mandatory term limits on bureaucrats?” asked Rounds, who himself served eight years as governor and is now into his second term in the U.S. Senate.
Hometown congressman Johnson also unpacked some hits on political opponents back on the Hill, facetiously saying he’d bust out a bucket of popcorn to watch debates over the infrastructure bill in the U.S. House, where the chamber's progressive caucus is threatening to derail the deal for soft policies on climate and social equity programs.
“Speaker Pelosi has her hands full," said Johnson, to laughter in the audience. “The liberals and the moderates in her caucus can't stand each other."
But the congressional delegation — home on August recess — also reflected nuance on a range of topics, from carbon sequestration efforts to combating climate change to boosting support for legal immigration, that are often topics listed as important to members on the other side of the aisle.
After an audience member told the delegation immigrants shouldn't be portrayed as oppositional to American workers, Thune said, "We need a big fence, and a big gate.”
Similarly on climate change, both Rounds and Thune said American agriculture workers could economically benefit from private carbon markets, analogizing sequestration efforts by farmers in North Dakota. Although Rounds noted he ribs U.S. senators who drive electric cars.
“I'll say, 'How is that coal-fired car coming along, anyway?'” Rounds said.
While the delegation did not face questions on the big news out of Washington, D.C. — the collapse of the Afghanistan government and U.S.-supported pullout of troops and emptying of the embassy — members did ask about non-agricultural issues, including budget deficits and COVID-19 vaccines.
One gentleman stood up and suggested a new "civil rights" fight was brewing for unvaccinated Americans, saying he couldn't go to a Broadway show in New York City because he hadn't been vaccinated. Then he asked people to raise their hands who'd had COVID-19 and falsely alleging they'd had the same immunity as vaccinated persons.
But his question received little support from the delegation.
“I think those antibodies for people who've had it, there's a shelf-life to those,” Thune said.
Rounds also spoke at length about trusting vaccines, adding that while he doesn't support "mandatory vaccines at the federal level," he did trust the coronavirus vaccines.
"Please," Rounds told the crowd. "Get the vax."
While Rounds won reelection in 2020, both Thune and Johnson appear to face inner-party challengers for the GOP nomination in 2022. Democrats have not yet announced a statewide candidate in either race.