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Small-town visits give Noem insight on issues

U.S. Representative Kristi Noem on Tuesday morning leaves Higher Ground Coffee on Main Street in Howard after talking with community members during her visit. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)

HOWARD -- U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem sat down Tuesday at a table inside a cafe in Howard, a coffee mug in her hand, and listened.

Noem, R-S.D., heard from local and state officials, who talked with her about a variety of issues, ranging from the price of corn to the upcoming start of the school year. Howard Mayor Andrew Dold told Noem about an extensive sewer upgrade the town is planning, and Noem said she would find out if any federal grants are available to help move the project ahead.

In her visits to cities and towns across South Dakota, it's been fairly common to hear about ongoing infrastructure projects, Noem said.

"Often these small towns don't have the manpower to write grants, or even know where to go to find one that could help them fund something," she said. "So, our office helps them with that quite a bit."

After leaving Howard, Noem visited Alexandria and Parker later Tuesday, and planned to visit Sioux Falls today. It's those types of visits, Noem said, that gives her insight into what South Dakotans are thinking and talking about. Lately, Noem said, she hears the frustration many residents have with the government.

"I always tell folks I don't listen to the news before I go to bed at night, because it is depressing when you turn on the news and see that kind of dysfunction," she said.

When confronted with that frustration, Noem said she points out some of the recently passed legislation, including bills to reform the Veterans Affairs Department, fund highway and bridge repairs for the next ten months and transfer ownership of nine historic cemeteries in the Black Hills to local communities.

"I try to focus on what we are able to get done," she said. "If you focused on the negative it would be pretty hard to get up in the morning and keep doing the job day after day."

Noem will be in Mitchell next Tuesday to attend Dakotafest and participate in a debate with Corinna Robinson, a Democrat who is running against Noem in the Nov. 4 general election. Noem said the debate will, for her, signal the start of the campaign season.

"When debate season starts, that's when everybody starts thinking we've got an election coming up," she said.

Noem has also agreed to participate in debates Oct. 14 in Rapid City, Oct. 16 in Vermillion and Oct. 24 in Sioux Falls.

Noem was mentioned in a report in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month for being among the first congresswomen to bunk in their congressional offices. Noem has been sleeping in her office during her stays in Washington D.C. for nearly two years. It's a practice many male lawmakers have taken part in for decades.

"I think people in South Dakota have just been surprised," she said. "I don't think they realized that I was sleeping in the office."

Noem had rented an apartment in Washington, D.C. prior to January 2013., but has since moved to a sleeper couch in her office.

"If I can't sleep at night, I'm right there," she said. "I can work."