Noem, Varilek debate taxes, work ethic in SDRAPID CITY (AP) — Republican Rep. Kristi Noem tried to paint Democratic challenger Matt Varilek as a dedicated follower of President Barack Obama, while Varilek accused her of being ineffective and missing meetings during a brisk Friday debate in which they often ignored the moderator.
By: Chet Brokaw, The Associated Press
RAPID CITY (AP) — Republican Rep. Kristi Noem tried to paint Democratic challenger Matt Varilek as a dedicated follower of President Barack Obama, while Varilek accused her of being ineffective and missing meetings during a brisk Friday debate in which they often ignored the moderator.
Noam tried to tie Varilek to Obama's policies on taxes, health care and other issues, a strategy likely motivated by the fact that registered Republican voters far outnumber Democrats in South Dakota. Varilek repeatedly said Noem has been ineffective in getting a farm bill and other measures crucial to South Dakota passed even though her party controls the House.
While the two candidates for South Dakota's lone U.S. House seat were polite and didn't interrupt each other or the moderator, they sometimes ignored the rules for timed statements and rebuttals as they traded barbs in a 90-minute debate sponsored by the Rapid City Journal and streamed live on the newspaper's website.
"I know you want it to be true, but it's not true," Varilek said after Noem accused him of supporting policies that would tax excess energy use.
"That's a false issue," Noem said after Varilek said she has repeatedly failed to show up at many House committee meetings.
The Rapid City debate will be the only one in western South Dakota, an area defined by small towns and ranches on the prairie and the tourism-oriented Black Hills. They met earlier in Mitchell in a debate focused on farm issues and will meet twice more before the election in debates in the more populated eastern portion of the state.
Varilek, as the challenger, has sought more debates, but Noem has declined, citing schedule conflicts or worries that debate sponsors might be biased against her.
Noem, a 40-year-old farmer from Castlewood, was elected in 2010 as part of a conservative surge that helped give control of the House to Republicans.
Varilek, a 37-year-old lawyer from Sioux Falls and former member of Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson's staff, accused her of missing many meetings of the House Agriculture Committee and at least a couple of subcommittees.
"I'll show up," Varilek said. "I'm going to make sure our voice is once again heard loud and clear."
Noem called allegations that she has missed many committee meetings a "smear campaign" by Democrats. She insisted that she attended many meetings Democrats said she skipped, but also said she won't apologize for skipping meetings that have nothing to do with South Dakota issues.
She said she has a 99 percent voting record in committees and a 98 percent voting record on the House floor.
"I will always wake up in the morning and decide to go where I can be most effective for South Dakota," said Noem, who previously served in the state Legislature.
The two also sparred on taxes, with Varilek saying he supports spending cuts to help balance the budget but believes in ending tax breaks for the wealthy so the federal government can continue to give grants or loans to college students and support health care for senior citizens and low-income families.
Noem said she does not support tax increases in a shaky economy, and the policies supported by Obama and Varilek would raise taxes on many South Dakota small businesses that create jobs. Noem said she believes tax rates eventually can be lowered if exemptions and loopholes are scrapped.
Varilek said Democrats would end tax breaks only for those earning more than $250,000 a year — which many South Dakota business owners don't.
In response to a question, Noem said she supports eliminating the federal estate tax because it would prevent many people from holding onto family farms and ranches after their parents die.
Varilek said he believes the estates of millionaires and billionaires should be taxed, but the inheritance tax should not be placed on smaller estates like those of farm and ranch families.