Noem, Robinson ignore each other in first debate
Saying she spends much of her time in Congress "fighting a president and a bureaucracy that don't understand life here in rural America," Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., spent her first debate of 2014 reminding voters of fights she's won and fights she's waging.
Noem's foes range from USDA in implementing a new farm bill to the EPA pushing new regulations for wetlands and dust to the VA working to shut down its facility in Hot Springs.
"I didn't dream of being a congresswoman when I grew up. I wanted to be a farmer," Noem told a crowd at the annual Dakotafest agriculture expo south of Mitchell. "I ran because I thought we needed people who understood the challenges of running a business making our laws in Washington, D.C. I'll continue to work hard and be that person who gives people heck if they don't really understand what goes on here in South Dakota."
Noem entirely ignored her challenger, newcomer and Democrat Corrina Robinson, who has been largely absent from the public eye so far during the campaign cycle. Likewise, Robinson took just a few jabs at the two-term incumbent, making for a stark contrast to the testy 2012 debate between Noem and longtime political aide and Democrat Matt Varilek.
Robinson said she has been waiting years to run for political office, waiting until her three sons had each graduated from college. She spoke generally about the need for bipartisanship throughout the debate.
"I knew once they graduated college what I was going to do — to be a member of the House," Robinson said. "There are a lot of members in the House, many more than the Senate. That's where the challenge is, I believe, to get everybody to walk across party lines."
The candidates disagreed on the role of the EPA, the Keystone XL oil pipeline and on Obamacare.
Noem skewered the agency as a giant bureaucracy taking up several blocks of real estate in the nation's capital filled with people who lack understanding of farming and ranching life.
"They wanted to raise dust standards to a level where, if you're out in the field baling hay or pickups are driving down gravel roads, that would generate enough dust to violate their air quality standards," Noem said. "We got them to withdraw that regulation."
Noem also said: "The best stewards we've ever had of our land have been the farmers and ranchers here in South Dakota. Drive up and down the roads and you see the benefits of their ability to take care of our land. It's something they also will pass on to future generations."
Robinson called for farmers to "meet the EPA halfway" and to "try to adapt" to the new regulations.
Keystone XL pipeline
Noem staunchly supports the pipeline while Robinson staunchly opposes it.
Robinson said the oil that would travel from the tar sands region of Canada through the pipeline — in part through South Dakota — to the Gulf of Mexico would simply be exported to China and would not benefit American consumers.
"I oppose the Keystone pipeline because it's not in our best interests in the long-term," Robinson said, saying the risk to the environment from burning fossil fuel outweighs any economic good.
Noem said she sees little downside to the pipeline, which is awaiting approval from the Obama administration.
In South Dakota, the building of the pipeline would create construction jobs and generate taxes at both the state and local level, Noem said.
"A pipeline is much safer than transporting oil by truck or by rail. We're blocking it because of fears that haven't been based on any study or fact gathering," Noem said. "If ever there was a time to build the Keystone pipeline, it's right now."
Noem said that even though Congress finally passed a farm bill earlier this year, members of Congress must monitor its implementation.
"You don't have go very far to talk to farmers who are concerned about how implementation is going to happen," Noem said. "We've got be there to be sure they don't go beyond the letter of the law and make sure it works for you out here."
Robinson obliquely referenced the primary charge against Noem in the 2012 campaign — that she skipped some meetings of the Agriculture Committee.
"It's difficult to bring multiple stakeholders together and to go to every ag committee meeting, to be a voice, to be a leader, to drive that negotiation," Robinson said. "You can't simply just show up to some meetings and take good notes and hope that once those doors are closed people will find a way to find compromise."
Robinson criticized Congress for doing a high wire act by letting the old farm bill expire and Noem for not working hard enough on the issue while financially benefitting from ag subsidies.
"The ag committee did not make it a priority to make sure the farm bill did not expire," she said, saying a bill that did pass the House committee was not bipartisan.
Robinson said it's time to end calls to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare.
She said Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, should have implemented the health care reform in South Dakota and used state resources to inform the public about how to access its benefits.
"The ACA was a long time in coming," Robinson said. "It was a good thing."
Noem said she would prefer to repeal it but in the meantime has worked on reforms, some of which have passed Congress and been signed by President Obama.
"I don't think all of the flaws can be fixed. I don't think it's the way to reform our health care system," Noem said. "In meantime, I've been working to make it better so it's workable. If House Republicans hadn't been championing those changes, they never would have happened."
Dakotafest political debates continue Wednesday, with gubernatorial candidates meeting at 12:30 p.m. and U.S. Senate candidates meeting at 2 p.m.
Ralph Roth, of Zell, said he was most interested in the discussions the two candidates had about the farm bill and Obamacare. He said he has mixed feelings about the farm bill, as so much of it has to do with food stamps and other entitlements.
"I don't know why they call it the farm bill, because such a small percentage of it goes to farmers," he said.
On Obamacare, Zell said he hasn't seen any positive effects of the legislation "Like she (Noem) said, we're still paying higher prices for insurance," he said.
Zell thought both candidates performed relatively equally in the debate, but that he preferred Kristi Noem.
"I've never really heard of the other lady," he said.
Henry Buitenbos, of Platte, believes Noem out-did her challenger.
"Kristi clearly won the debate," he said. "She had more solid answers and addressed the issues that I was most interested in."
"The fact is that she's going to keep tabs on the farm bill and make sure it's administered properly," he said.
The discussion about the EPA was interesting, and the discussion about roads and the Highway Trust Fund were significant, he said, because Charles Mix County has a lot of bridges that need replacing.