HURON — After spending a lifetime and a career working to avoid a place, now Brian Bengs is campaigning to head there.
“I spent my entire Air Force career trying not to be in D.C.,” Bengs joked. “I spent my entire life in small towns and the idea of moving there is not exactly appealing, but if that’s where the work is, that’s where I’ll have to go!”
Bengs was in Huron to attend the East River Extravaganza at the South Dakota State Fairgrounds on Friday and sat down with The Plainsman to discuss his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat, where he will oppose incumbent Senator John Thune in the Nov. 8 election this year.
Bengs spent a significant amount of his life in the military, joining the Navy immediately after graduating from high school in Iowa. After military service, he received a degree in history from Iowa State University and got his law degree from the University of Iowa. That led to a 19-year career with the U.S. Air Force JAG Corps traveling across the world.
Bengs achieved a master’s degree in history and a LL.M. degree (master of laws) in international law. He has taught across the globe at institutes of higher learning before retiring from the Air Force in 2016 and settling in Aberdeen to teach criminal justice at Northern State University.
The events of January 6 mobilized the political ambitions of the career military man, who says that he still has a “sense of duty” to the country.
“If you’d have asked me 10 years ago if something like that was possible in the United States, I’d have said you were crazy,” Bengs explained. “I’ve got this lingering sense of duty and feel that somebody should do something. I’m somebody, and I think I could be of value.”
When asked what he sees missing in current Washington politics, he finds some common ground with one of the refrains of the 2016 Republican platform.
“One of the refrains of the MAGA movement was ‘drain the swamp’ and I agree — Washington is a swamp,” Bengs stated. “The issue is defining what is meant by a swamp. In my opinion, the ‘swamp’ is unrepresentative democracy.”
He states that money has become the driving force for movement in Washington. In Bengs’ opinion, that has taken away the focus of politicians looking to work for their constituents and turned that focus toward donors and money.
He used a recent vote in South Dakota to show how voters still actively want to participate and have a voice.
“A great example recently was the Amendment C outcome,” said Bengs. “South Dakotans, when we are allowed to decide things on the ballot, when we felt that our rights on voting were at risk, the votes were overwhelming to uphold the power of the people.”
“We are all conditioned by a well-funded media machine that ‘I’m an R and you’re a D and we can’t work together,’” Bengs added. “That only works if we all can have all ideas working together regardless of party.”
As part of that line of thought, Bengs is eager to have issue-specific debates with Thune in the time leading up to the election at multiple locations.
“Having the opportunity for the voting population to question candidates in a debate is a healthy thing,” explained Bengs, who describes himself as an independent Democrat. “I have been an independent my whole life and my views on issues may be different than many might believe just because I’m running under the Democratic Party. I would welcome the chance to talk through issues with John.”
“I’ve been accused of being an idealist,” Bengs explained. “I want the government that works for the regular people. I want to help empower democracy run by regular folks. The people in a democratic process can fix it.”