No chance for State Fair debate, even after Daily Republic sponsorship offerThere apparently will not be a debate at the South Dakota State Fair between Rep. Kristi Noem and Matt Varilek, no matter who sponsors it.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
There apparently will not be a debate at the South Dakota State Fair between Rep. Kristi Noem and Matt Varilek, no matter who sponsors it.
Noem, a freshman Republican, said this week she would not debate Varilek, her Democratic challenger, at the State Fair because she felt the South Dakota Farmers Union, which was to sponsor the event, was a partisan organization that favored Democrats.
On Friday, The Daily Republic offered to instead sponsor the debate. Varilek agreed to attend, while Noem’s campaign manager said they were mulling the offer. But South Dakota State Fair Manager Jerome Hertel said it was too late to schedule a new debate.
“I’d love to be able to have them both here,” Hertel said. “If it had just been sooner, we would have been able to accommodate it now.”
But he said there is no place available during the fair’s Aug. 30 to Sept. 3 run large enough to handle the crowd expected at such a debate.
David Benson, Varilek’s campaign manager, said the Democrat would have taken part in a State Fair debate organized by The Daily Republic.
“Sure,” Benson said. “The Farmers Union is planning to still hold their event and Matt will be there. We’ve made it very clear that we’re open and we want to do a lot of these events.”
Noem’s campaign manager, Tom Erickson, said she was willing to take part in the State Fair debate if the time met her schedule and they were able to review the format, moderator and how the questions would be presented.
But the lack of available space as the fair nears ended the effort hours after it was launched. It didn’t stop the war of words between the two camps.
Benson said Noem has declined to attend candidate forums sponsored by the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association on Sept. 21 in Rapid City and East River Electric during its annual meeting in Sioux Falls Sept. 6.
Erickson said Noem will be in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 21, since Congress will be in session that day, and had a scheduling conflict that didn’t allow her to attend the East River Electric forum.
But he said they are open to taking part in more debates. In 2010, she and then-Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin engaged in seven debates.
“We’re still considering debates,” he said. “We’ll consider invitations from fair, non-partisan organizations.”
Erickson said the Farmers Union didn’t meet that qualification in Noem’s view.
“They have a history of Democratic connections,” Erickson said. “Doug Sombke (the association’s president) has given $750 to our opponent.”
Two Farmers Union staffers have direct ties to the South Dakota Democratic Party. Mitch Fargen, a Democratic state legislator from Flandreau who was defeated in a primary bid for a seat from Sioux Falls, works for the Farmers Union, and Chris Studer, of Huron, is running for a seat in the state Senate as a Democrat.
From 2003-2004, Herseth Sandlin was the executive director of the South Dakota Farmers Union Foundation.
On the other side, Benson said Noem has shown “a pattern” of avoiding public forums and of ducking discussions on agriculture issues.
“Her record caught up with herself,” Benson said.
“I think this brings to light a lot of other issues, whether you go back to her record on the Ag Committee of not showing up, her lack of advocacy for rural South Dakota on the farm bill,” he said. “I think we’re seeing a pattern here and it’s a pattern that I don’t think South Dakotans are going to like.”
The Daily Republic has a track record of holding political forums.
The newspaper sponsored a debate between Noem and Herseth Sandlin at the Corn Palace in 2010. Publisher Korrie Wenzel was the moderator and he would have served in the same role at the State Fair debate between Noem and Varilek.
In 2006, the Daily Republic sponsored a State Fair debate between gubernatorial candidates Mike Rounds, a Republican who was running for a second term, and Democrat Jack Billion. Wenzel, who was then the editor, was the moderator.
He said Friday the newspaper was offering to host the State Fair debate to ensure the two candidates for South Dakota’s lone House seat get an opportunity to share a stage at the fair in Huron.
The debate that Noem declined to join had been scheduled for 1 p.m. Sept. 1. The Farmers Union has said it will go on, with Varilek taking the stage.
If Noem changes her mind, she is welcome to take part, according to the organization, but Erickson said she will not do so.
He said she will attend the State Fair, however.
“I believe so,” he said. “I’m pretty sure she will be.”
The first debate in the race is set for 2 p.m. Wednesday at Dakotafest in Mitchell.