Noem declines State Fair debate with VarilekRep. Kristi Noem will not debate Matt Varilek at the South Dakota State Fair, according to Varilek.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
Rep. Kristi Noem has declined a debate with Matt Varilek at the South Dakota State Fair.
Varilek said Thursday morning that he was stunned by the decision. The debate, sponsored by the South Dakota Farmers Union, had been scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 1, in Huron.
“I could barely believe my eyes when I read that Congresswoman Noem refuses to debate at the State Fair, of all places,” he said. “I don’t know what she’s afraid of, but South Dakotans deserve more transparency from their one representative in the U.S. House.”
South Dakota Farmers Union President Doug Sombke announced the debate decision in a press release issued Thursday morning.
“In an email received this week Noem’s campaign manager Tom Erickson wrote, ‘Thank you for the invitation to the Farmers Union debate at the State Fair, but unfortunately Rep. Noem will not be able to attend. Tom,’ ” according to the release.
Varilek, of Sioux Falls, is the Democratic candidate for the seat. Noem is a freshman Republican from rural Castlewood.
He has challenged her to 12 debates. So far, they have agreed to three. The first will be Wednesday in Mitchell during Dakotafest.
The other two debates so far scheduled are on TV, with one on South Dakota Public Broadcasting on Oct. 18 that is co-sponsored by the South Dakota Newspaper Association and AARP and a third on KELO-TV in Sioux Falls on Nov. 2.
Erickson offered this comment to The Daily Republic via email.
“We thank the Farmers Union for extending an invitation, but will not be participating in their debate,” he wrote. “Kristi looks forward to debating her opponent at Dakotafest next week, where the candidates will discuss agriculture. We have two additional debates scheduled where agriculture will be among the topics discussed and will continue to evaluate invitations to debate in fair and non-partisan settings.”
“At a time when South Dakotans are faced with uncertainty with the Farm Bill, Medicare and the overall dysfunction of Congress, it’s important that Congresswoman Noem explains her voting record and lack of advocacy for middle class families,” Varilek said in the release.
“The South Dakota Farmers Union gave Congresswoman Noem and me an opportunity to share our views on the Farm Bill and the future of agriculture policy,” he said. “I accepted, and I’m disappointed that she refuses to meet me in front of South Dakotans to discuss her views on these important issues.”
Sombke said Noem will be welcomed if she changes her mind, but the event will go on as scheduled.
“I’m disappointed to learn that the congresswoman won’t be attending the debate,” he said. “Farmers Union members and the public are anxious to see the two candidates side-by-side. We plan to move forward with a program at the State Fair featuring Mr. Varilek on the Freedom Stage at 1 p.m.
We will still have an open invitation to Rep. Noem if she reconsiders,” Sombke said in the release. “Voters will still have a chance to hear Varilek’s views on the agriculture issues facing our state and our country. Unfortunately they won’t hear from Rep. Noem.”
The Farmers Union invited Rep. Noem on May 22, before her challenger was known, to participate in the State Fair debate, he said.
“Family farmers and ranchers are anxiously awaiting passage of the 2012 farm bill which has been held up by House Republican leadership after the U.S. Senate passed the farm bill with bipartisan support,” said Sombke. “This is the worst drought in 50 years, and we need to be able to have an open discussion and an opportunity for family farmers to ask their leaders questions about what’s being done to help producers during this tough time. And we need answers on why a farm bill hasn’t been passed.”
The debate was scheduled during Farmers Union Day at the State Fair, which is traditionally held the Saturday of the fair. Farmers Union has hosted several debates in the past. The latest State Fair debate featured then-gubernatorial candidates Republican Dennis Daugaard and Democrat Scott Heidepriem in 2010. It had the largest attendance of any gubernatorial debate in the state that year.
Public Utilities Commission candidates have agreed to debate on the Dakotaland Stage at the State Fairgrounds at 3:15 p.m. Aug. 1, according to Sombke. All five candidates for the PUC, Matt McGovern, Kristie Fiegen, Russell Clarke, Chris Nelson and Nick Nemec, have confirmed their attendance.