SD House candidates agree: Other is a radicalEnvironment, tea party, President Obama rise as issues.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
This is the second story in a series on the issues and accusations in South Dakota’s U.S. House race.
Matt Varilek and Rep. Kristi Noem agree on at least one thing in the campaign for South Dakota’s lone seat in the U.S. House: Each says the other has fringe views that do not match those of most South Dakotans.
The Republican Varilek v. Noem Noem says Varilek is an “environmental extremist,” an advocate of liberal and big-government policies that would harm the state, its residents and businesses.
The Democrat Varilek says Noem is a “tea party favorite” and has been less effective than she should be in Congress because of it.
And both say the other is wrong when claiming they are on the extreme edges of American politics.
“You know, the tea party is a grassroots organization that pushes for things we can agree with,” Noem said. “I’ve got a lot of tea party support. But I consider myself a South Dakotan. For me, I’m just Kristi.”
Varilek laughed when asked if he was an environmental extremist.
“My wife had pointed out that I do recycle my beer cans, but I don’t think that makes me an extremist by any measure,” he said.
‘Tea party princess’?
The two candidates disagree sharply on Noem’s ties to the tea party movement. It was created in 2009 as conservatives across the country formed loose-knit groups based on their opposition to what they view as excessive government spending, lax immigration laws and the rising power of big government, exemplified by the health care law President Obama signed.
Since he started campaigning last fall, Varilek has worked hard to link Noem to the tea party. During an appearance Oct. 18 in Mitchell, he said she was caught up in a “tea party frenzy” in the House. He has used the term repeatedly ever since.
Noem is not a member of the House Tea Party Caucus, but Varilek said she has ties to it that date to the opening days of her first bid for Congress..
“That is not the only measure of affiliation with that group,” he said. “She rode the tea party wave into office in 2010.”
Noem was elected one of two freshman liaisons to the House leadership by a GOP class that is packed with tea party members and supporters, he noted. When she appears on cable news programs, she is routinely identified as a “tea party favorite,” Varilek said.
“And I have never heard her correct that introduction,” he said. “It seems to me she is happy to wear that label when it suits her and resists that when it would hurt her.”
Noem said while she is not officially a tea party member, she does agree with the movement on many issues.
Indeed, her campaign website has a 2010 New York Daily News story that, in the headline and in its opening sentence, refers to her as a tea party star and favorite.
She has appeared at tea party events in South Dakota and is often interviewed on conservative-leaning Fox News, where in her role as a spokeswoman for the House freshman class she offers perspectives on tea party-related issues.
While she may not claim official tea party status, the movement claims her.
The website Tea Party United labels her a “Tea Party Princess” and says she is a “Mother, Wife, Christian, Conservative, Reagan Republican, TEA-PARTY champion.”
Noem said she agrees with tea party members on many if not most issues. But she said she does not belong to it and disagrees with Varilek for trying to link her to it. Noem said she is a conservative Republican, and that is a label she embraces.
Noem said her campaign will continue to cal Varilek an environmental extremist and a liberal whose political views echo those of President Obama.
The Noem campaign and the South Dakota Republican Party have created two websites about Varilek: capandtaxmatt.com, devoted to what they claim is his work advocating cap-and-trade legislation, and obamavarilek.com, which seeks to tie him to Obama.
“For over a decade, Matt Varilek has been an outspoken proponent of a ‘Cap and Trade’ scheme that if enacted would increase the cost of living for South Dakota families, increase the cost of electricity in South Dakota by as much as 48 percent and increase the cost of growing crops and raising livestock,” capandtaxmatt.com states.
Noem has also pointed to a paper Varilek wrote in 1998 while he was a Columbia University instructor at the Biosphere 2 facility in Arizona. He and Graciela Chichilinsky, a professor and global warming proponent, wrote about the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 conference which included cap-and-trade as a key element.
Cap-and-trade is a proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by placing a limit on pollutants. Companies could purchase a permit, but there would be a cap on how many could be issued by a government. Some companies would not need as many, so they would trade their permits to other businesses. Opponents have referred to that trade as a tax on businesses.
“The radical cap-and-tax scheme that Matt Varilek spent years advocating would be detrimental to South Dakota’s families and agriculture-based economy,” said Noem’s campaign manager, Tom Erickson. “With a background this troubling, it’s no wonder Matt Varilek acts as if this part of his life never happened.”
Noem said research done on Varilek unearthed his background and made it fair game in the race.
“When you’re running against someone, you look at how they’ve lived their life,” she said. “It’s important to look at people’s history. We’re going to talk about his background and papers he’s written.” Varilek said the claim is a distortion of his views and his career. He said his role was as director of policy and research for a company called Natsource LLC. “It has evolved in the years since I was there,” Varilek said. “But when I was at the firm, it was an energy commodities brokerage, meaning that the company facilitated private-sector trading of electricity, natural gas, coal, renewable energy credits and emissions permits, among other things.”
He still has friends at Natsource, since three top officials, CEO Jack Cogen, COO Richard Rosenzweig and Managing Director Michael Intrator have donated a combined $8,500 to his campaign.
Varilek said he was invited to a United Nations conference in Morocco to give a private-sector analysis of how various market designs could impact their results.
“It’s important to be clear I was analyzing many markets,” Varilek said.
Any other assertions by Noem and her supporters are “making a logical leap that is not true.”
Varilek said he opposes a national energy tax and a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade system.
“No amount of wishing on her part is going to make her false claim true,” he said.
Varilek campaign manager David Benson said Noem is acting in desperation.
“She’s making stuff up,” Benson said. “But no amount of wishing will make her claims true. Matt spent years in the private sector as a market analyst at an energy commodities brokerage. He understands the power of markets, and the importance of protecting and expanding affordable supplies of energy.”
Noem and her camp say Varilek is a supporter of “Obamacare,” as the president’s sweeping health care package has been labeled, and they say the Supreme Court decision that gave it legal standing created a massive tax on the American people.
Varilek has said he agrees with his former boss, Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and would have supported Obamacare if he had been in Congress.
The state’s previous Democratic U.S. representative, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, angered some Democrats in the state when she voted against it.
“The Affordable Care Act, also known as health care reform, is far from perfect. It will not singlehandedly solve this problem,” Varilek said after the Supreme Court ruled. “Yet it is a step forward, and many of its provisions are already making a positive difference in the lives of Americans …
“On the issue of health care, Congress should look forward, not backward. Instead of repealing the bill and then starting a new divisive health reform debate, Congress should work on further improvements to our health care system.”
Noem has been a critic of Obamacare. She called for its repeal in her first speech in Congress.
“At a time when our economy needs turning around; at a time when our small businesses are asking the federal government for regulatory and tax certainty so they know what is coming down the pike as they consider expanding or hiring an additional worker; at a time like this, the last thing we should do is begin implementing a health care bill that destroys jobs by adding red tape, more paperwork, new bureaucracy and additional burdensome regulations on our small businesses,” Noem said in January 2011.
She cited a study claiming that an employer insurance mandate alone could lead to the elimination of 1.6 million jobs between 2009 and 2014, with 66 percent of those coming from small businesses.
Varilek said his years working as an aide to Johnson, whom many consider a moderate Democrat, taught him valuable lessons. He said he feels his political views are in that range as well.
During his primary campaign against Minnehaha County Commissioner Jeff Barth, Varilek announced he is opposed to same-sex marriage but supports civil unions. Barth sought to make it a major issue in the primary, but Varilek won in a landslide.
Noem has said she opposes same-sex marriage and has joined with other Republicans in and out of Congress to support traditional marriage as defined as the union of one man and one woman.
Noem and Varilek differ on abortion. Varilek has said the government should not dictate women’s choices in early pregnancy, and the nation should “focus on areas of common ground, like promoting adoption and contraception, in order to reduce unplanned pregnancies.”
Noem calls herself pro-life and is opposed to abortion in most cases, except in cases of rape, incest or when the life and health of the mother is at risk.
They share some views. Both support gun rights and trumpet the fact that they own guns and hunt.
Both back support for veterans and want the 2013 farm bill passed to provide security to agriculture producers.
Noem is consistently ranked as a conservative by special interest groups based on her speeches, statements and votes. The American Conservative Union gives her an 84 percent score, while the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) gives her a 0.
This is Varilek’s first bid for office, so scores for him are not readily available.