Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Senate candidates clash on inflation in SDPB/Dakota News Now Debate

Candidates for U.S. Senate meet Nov. 4 at the SDPB/Dakota News Now debate.
Candidates for U.S. Senate meet Nov. 4 at the SDPB/Dakota News Now debate.

Republican incumbent Sen. John Thune was challenged on a number of topics by Democrat Brian Bengs and Libertarian Tamara Lesnar in Friday's SDPB/Dakota News Now Debate.

All three candidates agreed inflation is a major problem in the United States. However, each differed on what has been inflation's primary cause.

Bengs said inflation and high prices are caused by price gouging by oil companies.

“We are all struggling with the cost to fill up our gas tanks,” Bengs said. “Energy costs permeate the system. The cost of energy impacts pretty much everything else in our daily life. What we know is that big oil companies are making record profits. Literally, record profits.”

Thune is the second ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate. He attributes inflation to Democratic spending and control in Washington.

“When this administration took power they shut down infrastructure, pipelines, they took federal lands out of production, they refused to issue permits to drill and they pressured businesses not to invest in energy production in this country.”

Thune is seeking a fourth term as a South Dakota U.S. Senator. That hasn’t been done since Karl Mundt in the 1960s.

Lesnar says the pandemic and other world events are causing inflation.

“War, supply chain interruption, what I like to call the great national labor strike and big corp controlling the production of supply and pricing of consumables that we use.”

The candidates also sparred on Thune's approach to veteran health care. Thune initially voted against the PACT Act, before voting for it. That bill expands benefits for veterans exposed to toxins.

Bengs, a retired Lt. Colonel, said that “no” vote was an insult.

“When John Thune says he has our vets' backs, voting against the PACT act not once, but twice, it seems like I don’t want you to have my back. It seems like you had a knife," Bengs said. "That made me stupendously angry, as a veteran, for my colleagues, for my comrades.”

Thune said the initial bill was flawed, and that helping veterans was always the end goal.

"We passed it out of the Senate. And we got the opportunity to fix it. Which is the opportunity we didn’t have the first time through. And I voted for it," Thune said. "I said we’re going to take care of our vets. If our vets were exposed to toxic substances, we’re going to cover it. And this legislation does that. That doesn’t mean we shouldn't try to make it better."

SDPB co-hosted the debate with Dakota News Now. SDPB's Jackie Hendry moderated, while Dakota News Now anchor Erik Thorstenson and SDPB reporter Lee Strubinger provided questions.

Dakota News Now will rebroadcast the debate Sunday at 1 p.m. on KSFY. You can listen to a rebroadcast on SDPB Radio Monday at noon CT/11 a.m. MT and 7 p.m. CT/6 p.m. MT.

Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.
Josh Chilson is the news director at South Dakota Public Broadcasting. A Florence, S.D. native, Josh graduated with a journalism degree from South Dakota State University. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and videographer, and most recently as managing editor for Dakota News Now. Josh is based out of SDPB's Sioux Falls studio.