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Rounds lauds Wessington Springs recovery effort

Former Gov. Mike Rounds talks with supporters Thursday during a noon lunch event at the Springs Inn Café in Wessington Springs during his campaign tour. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)1 / 2
Former Gov. Mike Rounds talks with supporters Thursday during a noon lunch event at the Springs Inn Café in Wessington Springs during his campaign tour. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)2 / 2

WESSINGTON SPRINGS -- Former Gov. Mike Rounds visited Wessington Springs on Wednesday and praised the local response and recovery effort in the wake of a tornado that hit the town nearly two months ago.

The June 18 tornado destroyed approximately 15 homes and significantly damaged another 44 homes, displacing at least 77 people, according to city officials. But, the tornado caused no life-threatening injuries.

"It was a lot of hard work by people who live right here in taking care of their neighbors," Rounds said in an interview Thursday with The Daily Republic. "You can't do much about a tornado coming through town, but to be able to respond to that and get people out of harm's way says a lot about a community."

Rounds is the Republican candidate running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson. He is in a race with Democrat Rick Weiland and independents Larry Pressler and Gordon Howie.

It was Rounds' first visit to Wessington Springs since the tornado, and he took the opportunity to tour the areas of the town hit hardest by the storm. Then, he met with residents at Springs Inn Cafe, located on the town's Main Street.

It's been nearly two years since Rounds began campaigning for the U.S. Senate seat, but he said he's still looking forward to the next few months of the race.

"I don't think I'm worn out," he said. "I'm glad to get the vast majority of it behind us."

Rounds will participate in a debate at Dakotafest on Wednesday in Mitchell, which he said will be the start of a new phase of the campaign, as students start going back to school and the election gets closer.

"People start to refocus on what's going on," he said. "It's when people expect candidates to be out knocking on doors."

Rounds spoke during his visit about his support for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, saying he is concerned about the future consequences of the law.

Rounds said a repeal would need to be done in a responsible way to prevent those who have already purchased insurance as a result of the law from losing coverage.

"I don't think you do it all at one time," he said. "I think you do it piece by piece in a reasonable fashion that stops the most damage from being done."

Rounds also repeated his earlier call to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education, saying it would get rid of unnecessary bureaucracy and federal oversight.

"In every single state, we know how to teach our kids," he said.

Rounds named current South Dakota Sen. John Thune as one of a few people he could see becoming the Republican candidate for president in 2016.

"I think John has a huge future," he said. "He's tough, he's strong and I think the world of him."

Rounds said he continues to hear the frustration many South Dakotans have with the government.

"They think if you go to D.C., you should be able to work with one another," he said.

Rounds said he too felt that frustration and that it helped prompt him to run for U.S. Senate, after others who have served in government asked if he would run.

"Some of them really are normal," he said. "And they're just as frustrated as we are."