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TODD EPP: Restaging of Benda's death was inappropriate

Call me skeptical.

I, too, think the explanation that Richard Benda, one of the key players in the ongoing EB-5 saga here in South Dakota, committed suicide seems difficult to believe. But there is a huge gap between my journalistic skepticism and actual proof.

Attorney General Marty Jackley's investigation says Benda's death last fall was suicide, albeit in an unusual manner. And until someone steps up with actual, credible evidence to the contrary, that's the official version of what happened.

To take this skepticism and then use it as political theater as independent gubernatorial and lieutenant candidates Mike Myers and Lora Hubbel did Wednesday following the Dakotafest gubernatorial debate in Mitchell has now become the nadir of the 2014 campaign. And the 2014 campaign is already in the books for its complete oddness.

Restaging the death of a man in public? By people who want the most important jobs in South Dakota state government? Then, as they announced late Wednesday, taking their "play" on the road to Rapid City and points elsewhere?

This isn't exactly "South Dakota Nice." It's more like "South Dakota Macabre."

So is this what we should expect and accept in South Dakota politics? Wannabe politicians putting on amateur plays staging an amateur crime scene reconstruction?

There is plenty to talk about in the failed EB-5 loan program, no bid contracts and crony capitalism in South Dakota. That should keep a competent candidate more than busy with research, facts, arguments and suggestions for improvement and change.

There are legal and political processes candidates, the press, legislators, citizens and law enforcement can use to try to get at the facts of what happened to Richard Benda, his role in EB-5 and what former Gov. Mike Rounds and current Gov. Dennis Daugaard knew and when they knew it.

The serious candidates are doing that. We also saw that Wednesday at the Dakotafest debates with Rick Weiland, Larry Pressler, Gordon Howie and Susan Wismer and with the Democrats' news conference Tuesday on EB-5. And we saw Rounds' and Daugaard's serious responses.

But to use the death of a person — and to restage it publicly like it was "Hamlet" or worse, a snuff video — is a mere step or two removed from terrorists who behead captives on video to make political points.

We should expect our politicians to not be on the take and to avoid making their friends rich at a cost to others. We should expect them to use their positions to increase the common good, not to increase someone's private greed.

We should also expect politicians to be respectful of the process, the voters, their fellow candidates — and to the friends and families of people who died tragic deaths — whatever the means or reason.

If a candidate can't meet that basic threshold, maybe they should leave the playing field and howl at the moon while the serious candidates go about the vitally serious business of democracy.