An Independent running as a Democrat: Meet the Aberdeen man aiming for Thune’s Senate seat

KELOLAND.com Original

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Republicans Bruce Whalen, Mark Mowry and Patrick Schubert Sr. have all filed with the Federal Election Commission to run for U.S. Senate.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Standing 6-feet, 8-inches tall, Brian Bengs doesn’t shy away from a challenge. 

And with last week’s news that longtime Republican Senator John Thune will be seeking a fourth term in South Dakota’s 2022 midterm election, Bengs understands the daunting challenge he’ll be facing once the calendar hits November. The veteran, attorney and former Northern State University professor said he decided to run for office because of security. 

“I’m very, very concerned about the future stability of our country particularly given the violent attack on the Capitol last year,” Bengs told KELOLAND News. “I was watching and waiting for someone to step up with a bold plan to address the current threat environment against our democracy.” 

Bengs said he hasn’t seen anyone focus on fixing “the political dysfunction” that surrounded the Jan. 6 attack and the current political environment in America.  

Along with the security of the nation’s democracy, Bengs said he is also worried about economic security. 

“The working, middle class South Dakotans and Americans are kind of being ignored by government because government, as we know, is controlled by money,” Bengs said. “Interests of regular folks are being overlooked. Those are the motivations for me wanting to serve.”  

Bengs, who lives in Aberdeen, moved to South Dakota in 2016 after 19 years working in the U.S. Air Force JAG Corps. The Iowa State University graduate and University of Iowa Law School graduate said he was “shopping for a hometown” for his daughters after deciding to retire from the Air Force. 

“I was looking for certain things and a certain quality of life.” Bengs said, adding he was offered a teaching job at Northern State. “It was a huge pay cut, but I wanted to do something worthwhile and live in a nice place. My Air Force retirement enabled me to do both.” 

He announced his campaign for U.S. Senate on Veterans Day in November and said he’s running as a Democrat because state law requires a candidate to be a registered member of the same party. Independent is not a political party in South Dakota.

Bengs pointed out South Dakota’s Republican Party doesn’t allow independents to vote in their primary elections and that’s why he reached out to the South Dakota Democratic Party to seek the party’s nomination while remaining an independent. 

“I was an independent up until October of last year for my entire life,” Bengs said. “I didn’t want people to tell me what to think, I wanted to decide for myself what to think.” 

According to the Secretary of State office, a Democrat candidate for U.S. Senate needs 1,615 signatures as a Democrat to make the June primary ballot, while an Independent candidate needs 3,393 signatures. 

Bengs, who joined the Navy right after high school, said he’s lived in nine different places, but called himself “not an urban guy.” After growing up in a small town, he said his entire approach is working towards helping the middle class and working Americans which he says John Thune no longer represents. 

“John Thune is in the pocket of big money politicians,” Bengs said. “He has $15 million in his campaign fund. You don’t get $15 million from working for the interests of regular Americans. You get that from working for working the interests of the wealthy elites and large corporations.” 

The latest report from the Federal Election Commission shows Thune with just under $15 million in cash on hand. Thune will also have to win the South Dakota Republican Party nomination, where three people have announced plans to challenge him — Bruce Whalen, Mark Mowry and Patrick Schubert Sr., who have all filed with the Federal Election Commission. Thune and Mowry are the only candidates who have reported campaign money with the FEC.

Facing an uphill battle with money, Bengs said he also expects to receive death threats while running for office. He said he’ll try to meet as many people face-to-face as much as he can. He just returned from a campaign stop in Spearfish on Tuesday and has plans to stop in Vermillion and Pierre next week.  

“You can’t just ignore something and hope it goes away and someone will deal with it,” Bengs said. “You can’t do that. You have to step up. You have to run to the gunfire and deal with it.” 

Bengs said he hopes to have a campaign website up and running soon. He’s gathering signatures from registered Democratic voters, but encouraged people to look at his LinkedIn account to look at his background or search his name to find more about him.

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