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Welcome, Mr. President
May 5, 2015
By Bernie Hunhoff
Mr. President, welcome to South Dakota. You’ll be landing Air Force One on Friday in the center of our great USA. The official geographic center is near Belle Fourche, a six-hour car drive straight west of where you’ll speak in Watertown.
In between are farms and ranches, towns and small cities — all populated by mostly hard-working and decent people who don’t expect much of the Washington whence you come.
Oh, we’ll take what we can get when offered. We’ve seen enough hard times — droughts, floods, hail storms and tornadoes — to know that you don’t bite anybody’s hand. But we don’t expect much. Most of us were raised with the belief that the next government check — like the next rain — might be the last for awhile, and we’re ok with that.
We figure we'd have the same number of farmers and ranchers if Washington had never sent a nickel through an ag program. We farm because we farm. For the sake of pure patriotism, we'd host Ellsworth Air Force Base for the nation even if it didn’t add a dime to the economy. Our Native American citizens would still call places like Pine Ridge and Standing Rock their home even if you tore up the treaties and never spent another dollar on the rez. And we would have probably allowed you (I say “you” because as president, you represent the government to us) to flood our middle section of the state by the four Missouri River dams even if we didn’t get some fine walleye fishing in exchange.
As a state senator, I can promise you that we’d find a way to balance our state budget if we lost the 40% that comes from Washington. It wouldn’t be easy, but we’d survive the same way we dig out of blizzards. One shovel after another. Our senior citizens appreciate Medicare and Social Security, but the cost of living is lower here so we’d probably even get by without those wonderful perks.
Washington is a million miles away from our daily lives.
I wish you had a a day or two to spend in South Dakota. You could take federal Highway 212 from Watertown and drive to Belle Fourche, past the most cussedly independent folks on our planet. Most of them don’t belong to your political party, but you could stop in any small town or pull into any farm driveway and you’d be met with the biggest smiles you’ve ever enjoyed. As a Democrat, you’d love the giant concrete donkey at Tinkertown, just west of Watertown, and the immense fiberglass pheasant at Redfield.
As you cross the great Missouri, America’s grandest river, you’ll enter the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, one of the places where our government sent the Lakota. It hasn’t worked well from most viewpoints. Capitalism hasn’t taken root. Health care is a disaster. Alcoholism is a problem. But it is Home to the Lakota, with a capital H. The reservation people face many challenges, but it wouldn't take you long to find very spiritual and determined people who are working to make things better for the next generation.
The Cheyenne also marks the gateway to true cowboy country. On down Highway 212, you’ll want to stop for a hot beef sandwich and some conversation at the Faith Livestock Auction Barn. The salty ranchers of West River are everything Ronald Reagan dreamed of being.
South Dakotans neither love or hate the government you run. Likewise, most neither love or hate you. Oh, we have a few political nut cakes. But fewer than most places. Most South Dakotans are too busy with daily life to think a lot about Washington and all your problems.
But don’t get me wrong. I welcome you to South Dakota. We all welcome you. We’re always happy when folks come here and spend some money, just as we like a good rain.