Editor's note: today is the last of three editorials the Journal Editorial Board has run providing our endorsements in several federal and state elections.
Mike Rounds had a hefty lead in the polls when he visited with the Rapid City Editorial Board this summer and said in so many words that the election for U.S. Senate was essentially his to lose.
Rounds had name recognition as a two-term former South Dakota governor; he was a Republican in an overwhelmingly red state and had national party support; and his opponents included a never-before-elected and a little-known Democrat in Rick Weiland and two candidates running shoestring campaigns as independents.
And yet, in our view, while Rounds may still win the election, he has lost our support as a board.
The revelations over his handling of the EB-5 federal immigration/investment program — many uncovered by reporters from this and other South Dakota newspapers — show that either Rounds was incompetent or has been deceptive about what he knew about the problems plaguing the program.
Those problems include turning the program over to a former Rounds cabinet member, Richard Benda, who allegedly misused travel funds, may have misappropriated a half-million dollars, and eventually committed suicide when authorities closed in.
But moreover, Rounds filed false testimony to a legislative committee after claiming his office was never served with a lawsuit over the handling of program financing by another Rounds crony, the elusive Joop Bollen. Rounds corrected the record, but it is either incompetence or deception by Rounds when he still claims not to have been told of the lawsuit even though his own brother oversaw legal matters involving the state at the time.
Toss in the fact that Rounds has frequently avoided debates, and would testify before the investigative committee only in writing and not in person, and the sense of uncertainty about his character only rises. Finally, we question how much credibility Rounds will take with him to the Senate if further bombshells are dropped, especially since an FBI investigation into the program remains open.
But if not Rounds, then who? Independent Gordon Howie, a former state lawmaker, is simply too inexperienced to win our vote, and has spent more time attacking other candidates than putting forward sound proposals.
Democrat Rick Weiland, while no doubt a fine, friendly restaurateur who burned up shoe leather visiting every town in South Dakota, has no elected experience and has not demonstrated a deep understanding of the issues facing our state and nation. His guitar playing and singing create a welcoming man-of-the-people aura, but the schtick runs thin when it comes to selecting someone who could at some point decide whether to send American troops to war.
We hope Weiland stays in the political picture in South Dakota, and believe he can do good work to help make this a better state and nation. It's just too soon to send Weiland to the U.S. Senate.
That brings us to Larry Pressler, a former Republican U.S. Representative and Senator who has run a grassroots campaign for what he says would be one final term in Congress to in part break the partisan gridlock that has left our federal government hamstrung.
Pressler, who famously turned down a bribe during the Abscam sting in Washington D.C., has the integrity and experience to bring real change to Washington. Now running as an independent, Pressler promises he won't be beholden to either party, and that is attractive at a time when deep partisanship divides our leaders and much of our nation. Pressler has not said which party he will caucus with in the Senate, which is somewhat disconcerting.
Yet Pressler has 18 years of experience in Washington, which gives him a strong foundation of knowledge about how government works, or can work, and he will bring immediate seniority and clout to the post if elected. At 72, Pressler is an elder statesman, and can appear a bit rumpled. Yet he speaks cogently about major issues in a way that are not driven by party alliance, or a desire only to be re-elected, but to make life better for Americans.
Pressler, a Vietnam veteran, Rhodes Scholar and Harvard Law graduate, also demonstrates a deep sense of caring about South Dakota, and its people, and appears willing to tackle local issues such as improving air service to Rapid City and other smaller towns across the Great Plains.
After considerable debate, and having met with all the candidates for U.S. Senate in person, the Journal Editorial Board urges a vote for Larry Pressler in Tuesday's election.