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GOP Senate primary candidates clash over ideology

Steve Sibson, left, and state Sen. Mike Vehle participate in a forum Tuesday evening at the Mitchell Technical Institute Technology Center. They're running for the Republican nomination for the District 20 state Senate seat.2 / 2

Steve Sibson said he was "clearly a conservative challenging a liberal" in the race for the District 20 Republican state Senate nomination.

Sibson's comment was made during a debate with his opponent, incumbent state Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, on Tuesday at Mitchell Technical Institute as part of the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce Governmental Affairs Committee forum. The primary election is June 5, and the winner will advance to the Nov. 6 general election. District 20 includes Davison, Aurora and Jerauld counties.

Vehle didn't respond directly to the "liberal" charge but said there is "clearly" a difference between him and Sibson. Vehle referenced Sibson's advocacy for giving stimulus money back to the federal government, which Vehle said would have been foolish.

Vehle commented on his role in tackling issues in the state Legislature in his opening statement.

"Do we always agree? No. Is it always easy? No. But a majority of the people always come to an agreement on the major issues," he said. "I think that's the way we should continue to operate."

In his opening statement, Sibson said his principles come from the Bible, the state constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

"This is what united our country at the very beginning, and this is what will unite us now," Sibson said.

As part of a series of questions from local media and audience members, the potential nominees were asked their stance on state funding for education.

"Teachers need to be paid more," Sibson said. "Teachers are not the problem."

Although Sibson agreed a merit-pay system could work, he did not support the system included in the teaching-reforms bill passed during the last legislative session.

Vehle said the recently passed teaching legislation could be adjusted as several committees work to study the impact of the reforms.

"All those folks are going to be looking at this thing that we passed," he said. "That should give us a better idea of where we're going."

When asked if there was any legislation the potential nominees would like to see reintroduced, Vehle brought up the failed proposal to ban texting while driving.

"It is difficult to enforce," Vehle said, but added that once a law is passed, he believes the vast majority of people will obey.

Sibson said he hoped the Legislature will again move to resist aspects of federal health care reform.

Both candidates were asked to give a letter grade to the Legislature for its work during the last session.

Sibson, who said the Republican dominated Legislature did not stick to its core principles, gave the legislature a C.

He added that he felt large corporations were having too great an impact on South Dakota's politicians. "Global corporations are telling the governor what to do," Sibson said. "That's the globalists telling South Dakota you need to be part of a global economy."

Sibson then claimed Vehle was taking "marching orders" from the Council of State Governments, which Vehle quickly denied.

The CSG is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that works with state governments across the United States.

Vehle gave the most recent legislative session a B-plus.

"I think we took on some tough issues. We didn't dodge them," he said. "It was tough to make cuts, but we did and we balanced the budget."

In his closing remarks, Sibson once again brought up Vehle's association with the CSG, which Sibson said celebrates both a "Canada night" and "Mexico night."

"That sounds like a global new world order to me, doesn't it to you folks?" Sibson asked of the audience.

Vehle said he hopes to address issues like education, job creation, road maintenance and immigration if re-elected to serve during the next legislative session.

"There is a big difference between Mr. Sibson and myself," Vehle concluded.