Sutton makes bid for governor
May 31, 2017
Lifelong Burke area rancher Billie Sutton will vie for South Dakota's highest ranking political seat in the 2018 election.
While his 33 years haven't given him as much time as your average governor candidate to experience life, Sutton believes in quality over quantity and he said growing up on a ranch prepared him for a life of service to his state.
"This is where I learned all the values I hold dear – that includes hard work and a 'never say quit' attitude. You work until the job is done, you never give up. That's what we need in our state government, someone that will work hard and be honest and do the right thing and never give up. Farmers and ranchers understand that," said Sutton, the first Democrat to enter the governor's race.
While he has always been involved in his family ranch and continues to own cattle, Sutton works full time as an investment executive at First Fidelity Bank. He graduated from the University of Wyoming in 2008 with a degree in business finance. The year before that, a saddle bronc went over backward in a chute in Minot, North Dakota, with him, paralyzing him instantly from the waist down.
“We’re seeing a rural decline where young people are leaving South Dakota or there is not room for them where they want to be. We need to do a better job of helping young people (who want to farm or ranch) feel welcome and get them involved in the operation.”Billie Sutton, Democratic candidate for governor
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Sutton, who is not related to the Sutton rodeo contracting family from north central South Dakota, remembers, "my life changed forever in that moment– but I know deep down it's more important to live by God's plan for my life than it is to live by my own plan."
During his recovery he felt like the entire state was behind him and that now is the time to "give back to the state I love."
His full-time job has given him the chance to meet a lot of South Dakotans who he said are working harder and harder, but finding more and more challenges in "getting by."
"Saving for retirement, saving for college, everything is incredibly expensive," he said. "I want to work on policies that actually improve things and make life better for the hardworking people around the state."
Sutton hopes to improve profitability for South Dakota's farmers and ranchers. He supports reform of the property tax law so that property owners were taxed on actual use, not soil type. "Right now if you have highly rated soil and it is in grass, you are getting taxed at a crop level. That's an unfair system. If you are grazing it should be at that level," he said.
The Senate failed to pass a state country of origin labeling bill but Sutton believes that some kind of similar bill could be a step in the right direction.
Sutton also hopes to see policy that would encourage youngsters to pursue production agriculture careers.
"We'll be looking at what kind of policy that look like. We're seeing a rural decline where young people are leaving South Dakota or there is not room for them where they want to be. We need to do a better job of helping young people (who want to farm or ranch) feel welcome and get them involved in the operation."
The 4-term state senator's final senate term will end in 2018.
Better health care and economic development are two more issues Sutton hopes to face, as well as what he calls corruption in state government.
"It has cost us money, not only in money missing but in lawsuits, but worse than that, it has cost us lives," said Sutton – referring to two different cases of suicide in recent years that have involved state employees or contractors.
Sutton said even though a democrat hasn't won the governor race for 40 years, he believes he has a better chance than some of the recent candidates because he lives west of the river and has connections in that region of the state where he believes democrats sometimes fail to campaign successfully.
On the non-meandered water issue that has riled up both landowners and fishermen in state, Sutton said he's waiting to see if a special summer legislative session is called. He hasn't seen a recent compromise proposal by a special committee, so he couldn't comment as to his support or opposition.
"My rodeo career put me in touch with a lot of different people with different walks of life – We have a lot of friends and family West River where democrats don't typically do as good of a job connecting with voters," said. The "we" he refers to is his wife Kelsea Kenzy Sutton, a county commissioner and attorney who also grew up in Burke, and their one-year-old son Liam.
Sutton also pointed out that his own republican district has elected him four times. "At the end of the day, I'm a South Dakotan first. That will be our campaign focus. That puts me in a position to speak to the voter on a different level than they have in the past," he said.