U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., answered questions from about 17 people in a room of almost 100 Wednesday afternoon at South Dakota Mines in Rapid City.
Johnson hosted a town hall in the Classroom Building and fielded questions ranging from government’s role in education and clean energy, to social security checks and unemployment.
However, Johnson emphasized his thoughts on the need to be more concerned about China and his new bill that would blacklist the country from buying American farmland, and reducing government spending.
“I understand this is a global economy and, in general, when international companies invest in America, it could be good for the American worker, it could be good for prosperity,” Johnson said in his opening remarks. “If Toyota wants to build a car manufacturing facility in Tennessee, hire 1,000 workers at good wages, that enriches America. I feel pretty differently when it’s the Chinese Communist Party seeking to gain more control over our food or health care supply chains.”
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He said over the last decade, China has increased their foreign agricultural land holdings, and own 1,300 agricultural processing facilities in the United States and elsewhere.
Johnson said people should also be concerned about China having much control over the food supply. He said that’s why he is a leader on the bill, and a leader on another bill that would make it clear that if someone steals intellectual property, they can be taken to federal court.
In response to a question on how China is able to purchase land, Johnson said it’s not typically the government on the paperwork, it’s a company.
One man asked what Johnson’s thoughts were on people still in prison for the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection. Johnson said the federal system does not have bail and many of those arrested for the insurrection are able to be released pretrial on a personal recognizance bond. For those that judges don’t feel can be released, they have to wait for their trial in jail.
In response to a question on unemployment and workforce, Johnson said the unemployment rate is “a garbage statistic.”
“You only show up in the unemployment rate if you are receiving unemployment insurance, and that means every single week you’ve got to be out looking for a job and you have to take a job if it’s offered,” he said. “There are a lot of people who don’t want to do that, they’re not actively looking for work, and so they don’t show up in the unemployment numbers, even if they’re getting food stamps, SNAP, WIC, LIHEAP, HUD vouchers.”
Johnson said he’s not denigrating the existence of the programs and does believe in having a safety net.
He said instead of the unemployment rate, he looks at the workforce participation rate. He said the workforce participation rate for women has increased and decreased for men. Johnson said there is no problem with that, but it begs the question what are the men doing.
He said for those who are watching television 14 hours a day, he’s not angry at them but rather angry at his colleagues in the U.S. Congress that don’t enforce work requirements.
“We put back into place work requirements that say, and these were not onerous, this is not like you’ve got to work your fingers to the bone,” Johnson said. “The work requirements used to be in place for food stamps, where if you’re able-bodied, no dependents at home, you’re in an area with normal unemployment, you have to work or be in a training program 20 hours a week.”
Johnson was also questioned on why he thought the contraception and marriage equality act of the House passed and why he would not vote yes.
Johnson said there is a fair amount of fear-mongering around issues and that eight out of nine Supreme Court Justices have said they do not want to address this.
“Contraception is not going away in this country,” he said. “I don’t know very many members of Congress in either chamber or either party that are interested in getting in the way of people and their decisions related to contraception.”
Johnson said he voted against the bill because there were concerns that the bill would create a new right to abortion pills. He said there was a separate bill that would have made clear that abortion pills were not covered, but it was not raised by Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“I think the Speaker missed an opportunity to have an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote on that one,” he said.
He said it is similar to gay marriage — it is not going anywhere, and the Supreme Court justices are not looking at a case that would change that.
Although there were questions on South Dakota’s government, laws and upcoming items on the ballot, like the Medicaid expansion in Constitutional Amendment D and Critical Race Theory, Johnson did not speak specifically on state business.
He did say that he does not believe the federal government should have gotten involved in education and has consistently failed to make good on its promises.
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