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Democratic Senate candidate says he has 'good chance' for an upset

A Yankton Democrat arrived in Mitchell on Tuesday seeking support for his bid for the U.S. Senate, and he believes he has "a good chance" to unseat his incumbent opponent.

Jay Williams, a Yankton Democrat running for U.S. Senate, speaks with members of the Davison County Democrats on Tuesday evening at LifeQuest in Mitchell. (Jake Shama/Republic)
Jay Williams, a Yankton Democrat running for U.S. Senate, speaks with members of the Davison County Democrats on Tuesday evening at LifeQuest in Mitchell. (Jake Shama/Republic)

A Yankton Democrat arrived in Mitchell on Tuesday seeking support for his bid for the U.S. Senate, and he believes he has "a good chance" to unseat his incumbent opponent.

"I think my chances ride with the presidential election," said Jay Williams, a Democratic candidate for the Senate. "I think if the people of South Dakota reject Donald Trump, as I think they should, they will reject John Thune, too."

Thune has been one of South Dakota's two U.S. senators since defeating Democrat Tom Daschle in 2004. He was re-elected in 2010 after running unopposed. Williams said he was making sure South Dakotans had a choice in this election.

Thune, along with South Dakota's two other national representatives - Sen. Mike Rounds and Rep. Kristi Noem - have endorsed Trump for president, which Williams said makes Thune a racist.

"This guy is really bad, and John Thune has endorsed him, and if you endorse a racist, that makes you a racist," Williams said.

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Williams urged Trump, Rounds and Noem to withdraw their endorsements of the candidate.

Williams was in Mitchell to attend the Davison County Democrats' monthly meeting at LifeQuest. While in town, he discussed his key issues, especially global warming.

"Perhaps the biggest issue, the most important issue to all of us on this whole entire planet is our environment," Williams said.

Williams said it was time to move away from environment-harming fossil fuels and set up a grid to generate and transport wind and solar energy, as well as create incentive programs to make solar panels affordable enough for people to place them in their homes.

Williams is also concerned about income inequality between the high and middle classes. According to the IRS website, single individuals who make $415,051 or more pay $120,529.75 plus 39.6 percent of the amount over $415,050.

Williams said more brackets need to be added so millionaires pay even more than 39.6 percent of their income. Although Williams didn't know how high the tax rate should go, he said he agrees with Bernie Sanders, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. presidency, on "pretty much every issue." Sanders' plan raises tax rates for the most wealthy at 52 percent.

But it's not just the rich who would see a tax hike under Williams' proposal. He said taxes may have to rise for the middle class, too, saying middle-class individuals don't pay much in taxes now.

"People are willing to pay taxes. They just don't feel right about them being the only ones paying taxes," Williams said.

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Higher wages

Along with tax increases, Williams favors increasing the national minimum wage. On Jan. 1, South Dakota's minimum wage rose to $8.55 an hour, but Williams said it should be at least $12 nationwide, closer to the $15 an hour found in populous areas of the country like New York and California.

Because South Dakota's cost of living is lower than more populous states, Williams said a higher minimum wage would attract workers to the state. He said business owners would be the ones paying for the raise, but as a business owner himself, he would be happy to give more to his employees.

Williams owns a technology company called Excelltech in Yankton that primarily builds apps. Four people work for the company, but Williams said it is beginning to "wind down" as he travels around South Dakota campaigning.

Before opening his company in Yankton, Williams grew up in Gettysburg. After graduating from high school in 1968, he earned a political science degree from the University of Wisconsin and joined the Navy, where he completed a tour in Vietnam, completed flight school and worked in search and rescue in Italy.

After that, Williams and his wife joined the Peace Corps and traveled to Bogota, Colombia, where he saw extreme poverty and a corrupt government.

After leaving the Peace Corps, he received a degree in computer science from Northern Illinois University. He went on to work for Texas Instruments in Dallas, Texas, and two technology startups in Silicon Valley, California, but when his three kids grew old enough to attend school, he and his wife decided South Dakota would be a better place for them to grow up.

Williams said he hopes to take part in numerous public debates with John Thune, including one at Dakotafest in August in Mitchell.

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The two candidates will face their final challenge when voters mark their ballots on election day on Nov. 8.

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