SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — In the leadup to the November 8 election, KELOLAND News is speaking with the candidates for the United States Senate to answer your questions.

Republican Senator John Thune, Democrat Brian Bengs and Libertarian Tamara Lesnar visited the KELOLAND studios to talk inflation, immigration and why they want to represent the people of South Dakota in Washington D.C.

KELOLAND News spoke to the candidates in the order in which they’ll appear on the ballot.

Brian Bengs

Brian Bengs, a Navy veteran and retired Air Force Academy and NATO professor, said the January 6 riots inspired him to run for office and felt he was driven to “do something for the betterment of the country.”

When asked about inflation, Bengs said that it is a global phenomena and the United States inflation rate is lower than other places in the world, such as Europe.

“One of the big issues that we can deal with, however, is the price gouging that is taking place amongst corporations. A lot of corporations; oil and gas for example,” Bengs said.

Bengs said oil and gas corporations are making record profits and need to be held accountable.

“They have responsibilities not just to the shareholders, but to the people of the United States,” Bengs said.

On immigration, Bengs said there are two factors to those coming across the southern border.

“One is the economic factor in terms of, traditionally, ‘Oh, they’re stealing our jobs,’ and the other is a security factor,” Bengs said. “So, the economic factor does not seem to be an issue at this point. In fact, I know that Senators Rounds and Thune both have called upon the government to increase the number of Visas or individuals to come here lawfully, and I support that.”

Bengs added that the U.S. needs to do better on the security issue, though.

“But the answer is not, in my mind, a wall because a wall by itself does nothing and we’re not in the 5th century,” Bengs said.

Instead, Bengs said the answer has to be people.

“We need more forces down there to respond and we need more eyes,” Bengs said.

Bengs said most drugs in the country come through lawful check points, rather than being smuggled individually across the border.

The conversation then turned to President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness program. Bengs said Biden’s plan is a “Band-Aid.”

“Like so many political things we do in this country, we address the symptoms rather than the problem,” Bengs said. “I would rather spend the money addressing the problem, which is (why is) public education, secondary education, so expensive in this country?” 

Bengs said cost of tuition must be addressed rather than putting a bandage on the problem that will still be around in 10 years.

Tamara Lesnar

Libertarian Tamara Lesnar said the people of America are being left out of the lawmaking process due to bipartisan politics and political discourse.

“Our rights are being taken away,” Lesnar said. “Since 1994 we had the Patriot Act and as we’re going on, we’re seeing the judicial system knocked down like Roe vs. Wade.”

Lesnar said that she wants to protect freedoms and rights of American people and with her, you’re not going to get a politician.

“I can’t be bought,” Lesnar said.

Lesnar briefly touched on abortion, saying it is a personal freedom that all women should have a right to.

Lesnar said that in the House of Representatives, Republicans want to take away Social Security and Medicare and she is committed to protecting senior citizens.

“Unfortunately, you, I and everybody else that works pays into Social Security but now they want to take it away,” Lesnar said. “So, in a way that’s like theft of my money and everybody else’s money because what’s going to happen when I hit 70?”

On the topic of inflation, Lesnar said the war in Ukraine, supply-chain issues, government spending and the pandemic have factored into rising inflation.

“First, we need to start manufacturing again back here,” Lesnar said. “We need to start supplying all the resources we can here in America.”

Lesnar said that by producing our own oil and other manufacturing in America, prices will come down and make America less dependent on other countries.

Lesnar said she’s an advocate for small businesses and the free market.

John Thune

Republican incumbent John Thune said with the problems facing the country, he has the experience to get things done in Washington, D.C.

“I think I’ve proven to be an effective senator for our state. Somebody who provides us, gives us a seat at the table and a strong voice for South Dakota,” Thune said.

On the topic of inflation, Thune pointed to three things he thinks needs to be done to stop rising prices.

“Well first, stop the wasteful spending,” Thune said. “One of the reasons we have inflation in the first place is there’s a lot of reckless spending passed on a party line basis in this last couple of years and that’s flooded the zone.”

Thune said that in addition to getting spending under control, America needs an energy policy to combat low supply. 

“And then finally, I think just having a regulatory and tax policies that are light touch so that those who invest in our economy are willing to make those investments because that also increases the supply of goods in our economy and that helps get the inflation situation more in equilibrium,” Thune said.

To combat immigration, Thune said first, we need to enforce the laws of this country.

“You can’t have a country if you don’t have borders and essentially we’re a nation without a border,” Thune said.

Thune added that immigration also impacts drugs in our communities in South Dakota.

“It’s also a national security issue. When you have 100 people on the terrorist watch list who’ve concluded that the best way to get into and infiltrate the United States is coming across the southern border, you have a big problem,” Thune said.

In addition to enforcing the laws, Thune said the border needs more people and technology at the border.

Thune said that Biden’s plan to forgive some student loan debt is a “bad idea.”

“The estimates about the president’s proposal is that it’ll cost somewhere between a half-a-trillion and a trillion dollars and that’s not forgiveness. That’s just transferring debt from the 13% of people who have student debt to the 87% of people in this country who don’t,” Thune said.

Thune said that he worked with a Democrat lawmaker from Virginia to create a plan to address student debt. He said his proposed plan would have cost a fraction of what the current loan forgiveness will cost.

“That would allow employers to basically get a tax deduction for helping to pay down some of the student debt that their employees have accumulated over the years,” Thune said.