IROQUOIS – Young people should keep an open mind as they leave high school and move on to the next chapter in their lives, one that Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., says might well include public service.
In an informal question and answer session with about 80 Iroquois High School students on Wednesday, the state’s senior senator said they should weigh different options after graduation.
“Sometimes in life you might be thinking of going in a certain direction,” Thune said.
But he encouraged them – “don’t be afraid to look on the other side of the door” as it might offer them an opportunity they may not have considered before.
Thune related the circumstances surrounding a chance encounter with then-Rep. Jim Abdnor, R-S.D., which led him to get interested in public service. Thune went on to work for Abdnor and hold other government positions before running for office himself.
“And don’t forget to thank the people who invest in you. Good luck with whatever you decide to do next,” he told the seniors who are close to graduating. “But just remember the teachers, the coaches, the administrators, the people who invested in you and care a lot about trying to prepare you for the future.”
Thune answered questions about a wall on the southern border, the farm bill, industrial hemp, technology, social media privacy issues and initiatives to help rural America.
He said he meets regularly with President Trump, his fourth chief executive since taking office. Each one has his own style, he said.
As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, he was involved with drafting the recently adopted farm bill, which sets policies every five years so farmers and ranchers gain certainty about the rules.
He also focuses on technology issues like the emerging 5G and privacy issues around social media. Thune wants to see more job opportunities so people who want to stay in South Dakota can do so with good-paying positions.
“I’m always interested in things that we can do that will improve the quality of life, standard of living for people here in South Dakota,” he said.
On the issue of firearms, it’s a balance between Second Amendment rights and keeping people safe.
Asked for advice for students growing up in small schools like Iroquois – and Murdo, where Thune grew up – he suggested they should consider getting involved in public service to help those around them.
Even if they don’t intend to seek public office themselves, there are many opportunities to help candidates, he said.
When in college, they can join college Republican and Democrat organizations. They can volunteer to assist with campaigns.
“Candidates are always looking for people to help,” Thune said. “They can’t get elected to office without a good team working with them.”
But, above all, he urged those nearing their 18th birthdays to register to vote and then vote on Election Day.
Thune lost his first Senate race to Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., by 524 votes in 2002. Two years later, he defeated Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., by 4,508 votes. Just 5,000 people made the difference in two major races.
“Every vote matters,” he said.