MITCHELL, S.D. - Six South Dakota gubernatorial and congressional candidates found themselves on the hot seat Tuesday, Oct. 17, as they fielded questions from Dakota Wesleyan University students during the annual McGovern Civic Engagement Forum.
But there was one overarching question: "What makes a nation great?"
It drew a large variety of responses from the candidates, which included U.S. House of Representative candidates Dusty Johnson, Secretary of State Shantel Krebs and Tim Bjorkman and South Dakota's gubernatorial candidates Attorney General Marty Jackley, Lora Hubbel and Terry LaFleur.
Dakota Wesleyan officials also invited U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem and state Sen. Billie Sutton to the forum, but both declined.
Johnson took to the microphone first, pointing to hard work as the "essential element" in a country's success.
"It's not a universal cure to what ails this country," Johnson said, sharing his own experiences. "It's still the case that hard work is incredibly strong predictor of where you're going to end up on life."
Krebs took a different approach. Citing a 2014 election, Krebs said only 20 percent of registered South Dakota voters in the 18- to 30-year-old category voted.
And to make a great nation, she said, that must change.
"Educate yourselves and on your people running for office," Krebs said. "Get involved in government and then take action."
But for Bjorkman and LaFleur, working together as one is important in making a great nation.
Bjorkman, who served for a decade as a judge, said leaders today from both political parties are "failing us."
"We need to remember who we are as Americans and we're on the same team and share the basic desires for our country," Bjorkman said.
Adding to this, LaFleur said it is not too late for America to "back up from the abyss" to achieve success.
"America has the right system, American has the right stuff and America can heal and also correct itself through hard work," LaFleur said.
But for the other two gubernatorial candidates, answers boiled down to the country's foundation and the freedoms enjoyed by Americans.
Hubbel said the country's founding documents have allowed its people to determine their own destiny.
"A lot of people in a lot of nations, can't do that," she said. "Don't settle when somebody tells you have to be this."
Jackely dared students in the audience to dream and enjoy the freedoms and opportunities available in South Dakota and the country.
"It's the freedoms that we love and enjoy," Jackley said. "And the opportunities we get to choose of whether we want to succeed or fail."