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Native Sun News: US Senate candidates debate Native issues

The following story was written and reported by Native Sun News Staff. All content © Native Sun News.

Debate hits on Native issues
Mike Rounds a no-show
By Native Sun News Staff

RAPID CITY— The only debate held in western South Dakota went off without a hitch with three candidates all vying for a crucial senate seat being left open by the retirement of longtime lawmaker Tim Johnson (D-SD).

The debate that was hosted at the United Tribes Technical College’s Black Hills Learning Center and sponsored by Native Sun News was attended by three of the four candidates running for the for the open senate seat. Absent from the debate was former South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds, a Republican.

Rick Weiland, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate with Oglala Sioux Tribe President Bryan Brewer. Photo from Facebook

Rick Weiland, the democratic nominee for the seat, took offense to Round’s decision to skip out on the only debate in the state that has even attempted to cover issues important to Native people this election cycle.

“It's unfortunate that Mike Rounds isn't here for the Native Sun News debate in Rapid City tonight. I commend Gordon Howie and Larry Pressler for showing up. Being the next senator from South Dakota requires getting out there, talking with tribal leaders and establishing a way to stay in touch with all of the people who live on tribal lands,” said Weiland. “It's a two-way street of mutual respect and trust. I've made it a priority to visit every reservation throughout my travels and I will show up every day to work on their behalf.”

During the debate Weiland demonstrated his familiarity with Indian Country by further elaborating on his understanding of the Federal Trust responsibilities of the federal government towards tribal nations. During the debate Weiland stated that if elected he would make it a point to seek out a seat on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and went on to say that he had already spoken with Jon Tester, chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, about his desire to sit on the committee. During the debate Weiland made it a point to inform the crowd that he was the only candidate to have released a comprehensive plan for how he would address the many issue impacting Indian Country.

Gordon Howie, an independent candidate for U.S. Senate in South Dakota.

Independent candidate Gordon Howie performed extremely well in the debate as he provided insight in to how he would address many of the shortcomings of the Indian Health Service. According to Howie the best way to improve healthcare on reservations was to apply free market principles by increasing the number of providers on the reservation. According to Howie competition would drive IHS facilities to improve their quality of service. He did not however address the fiscal shortcomings of IHS that have largely been caused by continued cuts to congressional appropriations to Indian Country.

Larry Pressler, an independent candidate for U.S. Senate in South Dakota.

Elder statesman Larry Pressler who served in the Senate for six terms also said that he would be seeking out a seat on the Senate Indian Affairs committee. Pressler reiterated a point he has made all election season that he would not be seeking a second term in office and that would free him up to use his entire six years to bridge the divide between Republicans and Democrats in congress. He also pointed out that his seniority in the senate would immediately make him South Dakota’s senior senator since his previous service in the senate would be counted.

Gov. Mike Rounds has yet to engage with his opponents in open debate thus far. The refusal by Rounds debate and continued criticism of the EB-5 project that Rounds helped to create while governor of South Dakota has led to a tightening of the race and a huge jump for Larry Pressler in the polls. Rounds still enjoys a comfortable lead over all three of his competitors but has seen his once large lead take a significant hit and has resulted in many across the country looking at South Dakota on of the races to watch this election cycle.

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