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Friday, August 08, 2008

If Sen. Johnson Can't Debate, Can He Adequately Represent South Dakota?

By now news has broke across South Dakota like a firestorm that Senator Tim Johnson has announced that he will not be able to participate in any debates this election season.

I have been open and honest about my recovery. While my speech continues to improve it is not yet 100 percent and I have not yet reached a point in my rehab where my participation in a debate would accurately reflect my capabilities. Therefore I will not participate in traditional political debates during this campaign.

Johnson suffered a brain hemorrhage more than a year and a half ago and has been working hard to come back from this debilitating injury. Despite notable progress, he still faces serious challenges in his mobility and speech.

These difficulties have been the source of speculation for months, over whether Johnson would be able to participate in the usual campaign debates, or would even be able to run for reelection at all.

Recent weeks have seen considerable discussion, especially among South Dakota blogs, over whether Johnson would participate in the upcoming DakotaFest debate later this month and a scheduled October KELO TV debate. Republican challenger Joel Dykstra had already committed to both debates.

This must have been a heartbreaking decision for Senator Johnson and those close to him to reach. Still, Johnson's advisors surely knew this would be an issue during the campaign.

Debates often do not change many minds. But the reality that the incumbent candidate will not be participating will certainly speak loudly to many South Dakotans about Johnson's ability to adequately represent the state in Washington D.C.

The duties of a United States senator include speaking on the floor of the U.S. Senate, participating in committee hearings, caucuses, behind-the-scenes negotiations, meetings with lobbyists and policy experts, a considerable amount of travel--all in a hectic schedule moving at a grueling pace.

The question on many people's minds will be: if Senator Johnson cannot debate his challenger here at home, will he be able to adequately defend and speak for the interests of South Dakota in the nation's capital?

On a personal level, Johnson's efforts to overcome this tremendous setback have been admirable. But as much as South Dakotans are hoping and praying for his recovery, it's only reasonable for them to weigh whether Johnson can do the job they elect a senator to do.


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