The Underlying Danger of Neal Tapio, Part 1 [OPINION]
Neal Tapio is a state senator from Watertown who was the state director for the Donald Trump campaign in South Dakota.
He's also rumored to be seeking the Republican nomination to run for the U.S. House or Representatives.
Beyond that most South Dakotans probably didn't know anything about him until this week.
Tapio was in the news twice this week and was a topic of conversation on The Patrick Lalley Show, specifically during my daily observations and commentary on the news known as the P&L Statement.
This is the first of two commentaries on why I think Tapio's ideas on immigration and religion are dangerous for South Dakota and the United States.
But first, let me say that I have nothing personal against Mr. Tapio. I've met him I think twice. This is about the ideas and philosophy that he brings to the public arena.
To start the week, Tapio said he was going to form a "legislative work group" to examine immigration and resettlement programs in South Dakota. According to The Associated Press, Tapio said he planned to analyze the programs’ “financial and societal” effects on state and local governments. He said the committee plans to create an “exhaustive” analysis including financial impacts in areas like education and law enforcement.
Make no mistake, this is not a fair-minded effort to dig into the cost to government. It’s a justification for a belief that somehow the United States is under assault from the straw man of Islamic extremism. It’s a belief that Sharia Law is sweeping the nation and will suppress Christianity.
If you listen to Tapio for any extended period of time, you’ll hear the hints of what sounds like paranoia. That was the case Tuesday when Tapio was interviewed by Lori Walsh on "In The Moment" on South Dakota Public Radio.
He talks about openness and transparency, that all he wants is a discussion of the issues. But in the end what Tapio wants – and there is constituency for this point of view – is to keep people out. He rambles from topic to topic with vague references to poverty and some unknown force in the universe, near as I can tell.
Tapio’s effort here is not clear-eyed. It’s a tactic intended to ultimately undermine Luther Social Services, the agency that does most of the refugee and immigrant settlement in South Dakota, which is directly into Sioux Falls. Many of those immigrants filter to other parts of the state to find work, but they begin their new lives in Sioux Falls.
Unless I missed something, we haven’t had any terrorist attacks in Sioux Falls, or anywhere near here. We aren’t living under Sheria Law. We aren’t living in fear of Islam.
The broader debate over immigration is fine and good. We need to arrive at policies that are both humanitarian and beneficial. It’s a challenge that we, as a nation, have struggled with certainly since the Vietnam War, if not earlier. This isn’t new.
The charges of crime, fears of cultural infiltration, and expressions of religious anxiety – these are all familiar to anybody who’s been listening. It is fraught with myth, lore and unsubstantiated allegation.
That's the base upon which Tapio builds his crusade. I talked to him a couple years ago now, and found it disquieting.
I’m not expecting Neal to change, or accept what I think.
But it’s my hope that when he calls the first meeting of what he’s calling his working group -- on some bright, cold, winter morning at the South Dakota State Capitol, the people’s house, built by and for the European immigrants hoping for a better life -- that it will be a very lonely experience.
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