Noem attendance again raised as issue in congressional raceTwo members of the South Dakota congressional delegation were under fire Wednesday for missed meetings.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
Attendance is required in school, but not in congressional meetings.
It does make for political fodder, however, as two members of the South Dakota congressional delegation were under fire Wednesday for missed meetings.
For the second day in a row, Democrat Matt Varilek criticized Rep. Kristi Noem for skipping Indian and Alaska Native Affairs Subcommittee meetings and meetings of other committees. Varilek and Noem are competing for South Dakota’s sole congressional seat.
Noem sits on three committees and nine subcommittees and has said she has a busy schedule in Washington. Tom Erickson, Noem’s campaign manager, responded Wednesday afternoon to Varilek’s charge.
“Voters deserve to know that Matt Varilek does not consider the more than 600 meetings Rep. Noem has had with South Dakotans to be relevant ‘meetings,’ ” Erickson said in an email to The Daily Republic. “Given the entirety of his work experience has been as a congressional staffer and a radical environmental activist who spent years of his life pushing a national energy tax, maybe he feels uncomfortable making meetings with South Dakotans a priority.”
Varilek has denied he is a “radical environmental activist” and said he opposes a national energy tax. Like Noem’s attendance record, it has been a regular bone of contention in the race.
Noem’s claim that she missed meetings because of scheduling conflicts is false, Varilek said in a press release.
He said “in the vast majority of cases, Noem had no hearings or meetings scheduled that conflicted with those of the Indian and Alaska Native Affairs Subcommittee. On many occasions she simply skipped all her committee meetings.”
Varilek said Noem missed 17 of 22 meetings of the Indian Affairs subcommittee. In 15 of those instances, none of Noem’s other committees or subcommittees were meeting at the same time. In five cases, the Indian Affairs meeting was her only one of the day.
Noem did attend a fundraiser and do an interview with Fox News on the days she skipped the hearings, according to the Democratic candidate’s research.
Noem said she focused on meetings where issues tied to South Dakota were discussed.
“I think South Dakotans would rather have their one voice in Washington working on South Dakota issues, not meetings specific to tribes in Utah or California,” she said in an email to The Daily Republic Tuesday night.
Varilek said that is proven false by a committee meeting she missed on Nov. 3. Bureau of Indian Affairs Director Mike Black, a South Dakota native and Oglala Sioux member, testified before the Indian Affairs subcommittee on that day.
On that same day. Noem skipped meetings of the Natural Resources Committee, the Agriculture Committee, and the Education and the Workforce Committee.
However, the freshman congresswoman said she was meeting with Department of the Interior Secretary Salazar and several Representatives and Senators regarding funding for the Lewis & Clark water system on Nov. 3.
The other three hearings were at the exact same time, Erickson said, and on other occasions meetings were scheduled at the same time, or Noem was in other meetings with South Dakotans.
“Rep. Noem has been an effective voice for South Dakota,” he said.
At the same time her attendance was under fire, Noem applauded the U.S. Department of Agriculture for signing two memorandums of understanding with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to foster improved access to USDA and BIA programs by tribes and tribal members.
“These agreements are an important step to increasing access to programs and improving communication between the federal government and sovereign tribes,” Noem said.
The South Dakota Republican Party joined the fray Wednesday, advising Varilek to ask his “former boss,” Sen. Tim Johnson, if he was attending committee meetings.
The release, issued by state GOP Executive Director Tony Post, said Johnson, a third-term Democrat, missed 14 of 16 oversight and legislative Hearings of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.
Johnson’s director of communications, Perry Plumart, disputed that figure and said Johnson had been to a couple more meetings than what was claimed by Post.
Plumart also noted that as chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs and Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, Johnson is kept very busy. He led 111 public hearings and executive sessions in 2011 and 2012, his staffer said.
“Three were related to Indian Country issues, two on housing and one on economic development,” Plumart said. “What I think is important for people to know is that Senator Johnson is on the job for South Dakota.”
Post also criticized Varilek for raising attendance as an issue.
“This latest attack is a last-ditch effort from the Varilek campaign and needs to be called out for the horse hockey that it is,” he said.
South Dakota Democrats released a video of Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs Chairman Don Young, an Alaska Republican, teasing Noem for texting and not speaking at a meeting. On Wednesday, Erickson released a statement from Young.
“Many of the hearings held in my subcommittee this Congress have focused on parochial issues and oftentimes on individual tribes,” he said. “The fact of the matter is, Congresswoman Noem cannot be in two places at once and when it comes down to meeting with South Dakotans or sitting through hearings having nothing to do with South Dakota, Congresswoman Noem chooses her constituents.”