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Kristi Noem: Still Not Paying Attention

Last updated on 2012.11.21

This town hall coverage brought to you by a super-special reader who made a contribution to the Madville Times that covered gas and groceries for the trip! Thank you, friend! And readers, if you like what you read here, feel free to ring that tip jar in the right sidebar!

Congresswoman Kristi Noem held an all-too-rare town hall in Rapid City on Saturday. With good weather and the Stockman's Show competing for folks' attention, only several dozen people, hardly half the hall at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology "Classroom Building," came to hear our Congresswoman show us what she knows. You'll find full video of the event below (which is why this page takes so long to load! Sorry about that!).

Congresswoman Kristi NoemI've seen Kristi Noem in two extended live performances: her State Fair debate with Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and B. Thomas Marking a year and a half ago and her town hall yesterday. After over a year on the job in Washington, Rep. Noem gives me the same impression she did in Huron: she's a lightweight, in over her head.

To be honest, as I watched Kristi recite her budget slideshow and cobble together old talking points in response to questions, she reminded me of me. I'm teaching high school French right now on a two-decades-old French minor, a flair for accents, and a lot of heart. I've been hitting the books since August, getting up to speed on the passé composé and French prepositions. But I continue to tremble at the prospect of live, authentic French-language situations that will expose my limited vocabulary and experience.

Of course, one key difference is that I'm relearning my French and dancing on the pedagogical high-wire on my own. Congresswoman Kristi Noem has a few hundred thousand dollars' worth of Congressional staffers to help her become a policy whiz. And so far, they haven't succeeded. They could probably sit her down in front of C-SPAN for an hour a day to make her sound more prepared.

Rather than becoming a policy expert, Noem prefers to keep singing karaoke.

Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) speaks at a town hall meeting at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Rapid City, SD, February 4, 2012
"I wanna be loved by you..." Karaoke night at the Cattleman's Club? Close!

Noem opened the town hall with a 15-minute slideshow presenting the basics of the federal budget and the national debt. She showed us a federal debt ticker, some form of which I suspect every Tea Partier in the room at this Tea Party-sponsored event has seen and forwarded to everyone in his or her address book. But even though she is a United States Congresswoman, she can't pick the official tally from the Treasury. She might at least have displayed the cool global debt map from The Economist, which puts our national debt in much better perspective and would have made a much more dramatic slide.

Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) speaks at a town hall meeting at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Rapid City, SD, February 4, 2012.
Dang, another hard question. "I'll definitely take a look at that."

Noem's paucity of policy knowledge shone through her slideshow and her responses to audience questions. Her 15-minute slideshow avoided any real policy details. She defended her vote to gut Medicare without mentioning plan author Rep. Paul Ryan by name and without discussing any of the specific changes she wanted to make to the program.

Asked by a Ron Paul supporter about the indefinite detention and suspicious terrorism provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act, Rep. Noem asked puzzledly if he was talking about an actual law that had been passed. President Obama signed it on December 31. Congresswoman Kristi Noem herself voted for it on December 14. (Conservative basket case Lori Stacey points out Noem voted for NDAA twice.)

Good grief: NDAA has been riling Ron/Rand Paul followers and other Tea Party types for months. If you're going to a Tea Party town hall, you have your staffers brief you, and you have an answer ready, right?

Asked by another Paul man whether she agrees with the list of agencies Rep. Paul says he'd like to close, Noem is again caught unread and unprepared. I'll give her a pass on not paying attention to the details of everything Ron Paul says, but Noem isn't even ready to enunciate her own vision of how to downsize government. Instead of rattling off her own targets for closure, Noem just offers the empty tweet that all agencies deserve scrutiny. Heck, even Rick Perry could think of two agencies to close off the top of his musty head.

Another questioner trumps Rep. Noem by offering his own laundry lists of budget cuts he's like to see. He punctuates that list with a call to end unconstitutional wars, which draws applause from the audience. Rep. Noem totally evades the war question. She mutters about foreign aid but names no specific countries. She uses the questioner's mention of bailouts to pivot to her tired campaign-trail story about her little boy Booker's reaction to her simple explanation of bailouts, but she never addresses a specific bailout that harmed the country or that she would somehow undo.

Rep. Kristi Noem speaks at a town hall meeting; Rapid City Journal reporter Kevin Woster snaps a picture.
Jeepers, Woster! Down in front! Can't you see Kristi and the guy with the hat are trying to concentrate?

On a question about Lora-Hubbel-style paranoia about drivers license databases, Rep. Noem totally misses the point that the federal laws she wants to enforce are forcing South Dakota to enforce the drivers license regulations that so outrage the questioner. Rep. Noem also omits any mention of the fact that she voted for those drivers license rules in the South Dakota Legislature in 2009.

Asked by Tonchi Weaver about getting Congressional approval to allow the states to dodge ObamaCare, Noem says, "I'd absolutely take a look at it," a remarkably non-committal answer considering the audience and her avowed desire to repeal ObamaCare, but then reveals she is absolutely clueless about the laws South Dakota has already put in place to comply with ObamaCare. Apparently troubled by her own ignorance, Noem turns to some prepared folksy lines about an unsourced poll on public suspicion of bureaucrats and the sheer lie people "no longer have any decisions over their health care" under ObamaCare. Again, no specifics, no evidence, just empty lines designed for crowd approval.

On a question about whether unemployment benefits cause people not to seek work, Rep. Noem turns to talk about the increase in the number of discouraged workers, the formal category of folks who are not actively seeking work. Um, just checking here: if you're not actively seeking work, you're not eligible for unemployment benefits, are you? Rep. Noem's response thus completely misses the thesis of the question. (Bonus: Rep. Noem then says we ought to drug test recipients of unemployment benefits... since obviously, if you're not working, you must be scum.)

When my neighbor from Buffalo County, rancher Bret Clanton, asks Rep. Noem to keep in mind the travails of landowners facing eminent domain at the hands of TransCanada, she says she's heard others express concerns, but she offers no policy assurances of any sort. "Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Thank you. Appreciate that." Nice, but still no mention of a specific desire to protect the private property rights of South Dakotans against the predations of a foreign oil company.

When a Rapid City teacher expresses alarm at the lack of priority placed on education policy and funding, Rep. Noem enunciates no clear policy vision for improving schools. She simply retreats to her safe saws about reducing federal government regulation.

When a Rapid City Air Force retiree speaks of increased costs for TriCare premiums, a lack of information, and proposals from Senators McCain and Coburn to push military retirees off TriCare, Rep. Noem says she had no idea such proposals were being floated.

[Correction based on comment below! Sorry, Bob!] Some guy who I thought looked a heck of a lot like Bob Ellis stood up and griped about California's 1980 "power grab" to gain more representatives (yeah, a power grab carried out by having more babies and growing the state population). He asked Rep. Noem if she was aware of any initiative to amend the Constitution and mandate at least two representatives for each state. Noem hadn't heard of anything like that.

Ed Randazzo finally got up to give Kristi the business. He asked her to step away from Speaker Boehner and join the Tea Party Caucus. In a wild distortion of the truth, Rep. Noem said "that has nothing to do with Speaker Boehner. I don't have any allegiance to Speaker Boehner when it comes to that." She then said she hasn't joined the Tea Party Caucus because she asked them for a mission statement and never got one.

Quick quiz, dear readers: what do you think the Tea Party Caucus mission is? Any wild guesses? Do you really need a piece of paper to tell you, after three years, what the Tea Party stands for? And if you don't know, and if you're even vaguely interested in joining, and if you're a member of Congress, do you think you might have time over the course of thirteen months to walk down to caucus leader Michele Bachmann's office and ask for a copy?

When Kristi Noem peppers every other sentence with an emphatic really or truly or definitely, when she responds to every other question with that hint of puzzlement and the assertion that either she'll look into or that we need to look at all options, when she fails to take a definite stand on specific policy questions, I hear a novice debater desperate to make a few cards handed to her by the varsity kids sound more important and weighty than they are. Ask Kristi to talk about real policy or evidence or anything other than whatever pops into head, and she's lost.

Yesterday's town hall made clear that, if South Dakota wants intelligent, studious, policy-oriented representation in Washington, it needs to replace Kristi Noem with someone ready to do the job.

Video of February 4, 2012, town hall (nearly full event, in chronological order, with some breaks):

1. Noem budget slideshow:

2. Noem on the budget ceiling vote:

3. Concerns about National Defense Authorization Act:

4. Cutting pensions, closing agencies...

5. Foreign aid, bailouts, unconstitutional wars...

6. Paranoia: drivers licenses, immigration, and the state-federal run-around:

7. Actual budget cuts, or just slowing the increase?

8. ObamaCare will enslave us all...

9. VA funding:

10. Math is hard for Kristi (insert cheerleader laugh here)... but let's hear more about spending cuts, tax cuts, and stimulus:

11. Let's stick it those gosh darned freeloading, pot-smoking unemployed people:

12. Rancher Bret Clanton asks for support for landowners facing eminent domain along the Keystone XL pipeline route:

13. Rapid City teacher asks about education funding and policy:

14. Kristi gets another shot at veterans policy, shows continued ignorance:

15. Citizen: Hey, Kristi, how about Congress subject itself to same laws as rest of country. Kristi: huh? what?

16. Screw the Founding Fathers! I want more Congresspeople!

17. Social Security is not an entitlement, electronic health records are not secure, government is involved in too much! Get rid of government, and everything will be fine, just like in Somalia!

18. Come on, Kristi! Join the Tea Party Caucus! But I don't know what they stand for... and they haven't sent me a nice enough invitation yet.

19. Tsars, Saul Alinsky, and anti-Muslim bigotry from an audience member. Noem had the character and decency to reject this bigotry when I spoke with her after the meeting:

20. Everything Obama and Dems do is evil! You're just wonderful, Kristi! Keep up the good work passing bills that go nowhere!


  1. Bill Fleming 2012.02.05

    Super report, Cory. U da man. Thanks!

    The whole "Saul Alinsky, Tzar, etc." thing is a puzzlement. I don't really think the people using those buzzwords really even know what they're talking about. It might be fun to go over them sometime. Readers will no doubt be surprized to note that it's the GOP far right who have most closely embraced the Alinsky tactic lately, and that there is not one "tzar" in government. Not one.

  2. larry kurtz 2012.02.05

    District 31 Democrats: a gift has been delivered unto you...don't blow it.

    Send Monsieur Heidelberger some money.

  3. Taunia 2012.02.05

    If there's something good to say about this, at least Noem had a townhall meeting.

    I can change Noem's name to Hartzler and I will have seen Vicky Hartzler's upcoming townhall meetings, IF she has any, which we don't expect. They share the same canned speeches, same props and same airheaded, empty, placating responses.

    What did this audience learn? Nothing. What was gained by Noem? She, like Hartzler, will put in her newsletters and tweet to the world that she's been all across her district talking to her constituents and they agree with everything she is doing in congress.

    Both of them campaigned against "big government", the "establishment", "family values" and "jobs". They both went to DC and surrounded themselves with top flight established lobbyists, staffers and donors. The unemployment rate is going doing IN SPITE of GOP obstruction and the firing of thousands of public sector jobs. And family values have been chiseled down to favor only those with the straight, white and religious criteria.

    They both still insist the EPA is the bogeyman and were happy to sponsor the mythical dust bill. They both still tweet TransCanada would provide 52 bazillion jobs.

    Both Noem and Hartzler are completely vulnerable this year. The push back on the tea party is coming in great big waves. Rick Santorum seems to be the only candidate true to the current tea party set of standards and he was last in Florida.

    Find your candidate, get behind them and beg for weekly debates.

    Neither Hartzler or Noem can fight their way out of a paper bag.

  4. Taunia 2012.02.05

    ..campaigned against “big government”, the “establishment”, and campaigned FOR “family values” and “jobs”.

  5. Ed Randazzo 2012.02.05

    Hey Cory, Glad they let you out for a day. It was good for you to visit Pennington County and that you survived the trip into the land controlled by those radical, gun-totin', tea partiers. Next time you're in these parts, give me a call and we'll grab a mug of coffee and hatch a plan to dump some RINO's out of the state legislature.
    Sorry about the bad news (for you) that the Rapid City tea party groups are working together. We were pretty effective in helping Kristi dump Herseth-Sandlin in 2010 and we are much stronger and smarter together in 2012.
    BTW, the tea parties are not ready to abandon Congresswoman Noem. Neither was the purpose of my question to "give Kristi the business." We wanted to convey to her the message that the Rapid City tea party groups (CFL & SDTPA) were united in cause and purpose and that we disagreed with her votes on some issues. Our message was delivered and received with respect.
    I can understand your harsh personal attack of Congresswoman Noem in the light of your frustration since you know in your heart of hearts that she is virtually bulletproof in this election. Sometimes the truth hurts and this one has got to sting.
    My suggestion to you is to focus on getting some good candidates to run for some other offices, The people's seat in the US House will be occupied by Kristi Noem, at least for 2 more years.

  6. Douglas Wiken 2012.02.05

    "The whole “Saul Alinsky, Tzar, etc.” thing is a puzzlement".

    Try to watch Moyers and Company. It won't be much of a puzzlement. It is GOP wingnut projection. If they attack liberals or Democrats for something, it is usually a safe assumption that they are doing it themselves or have done it. I did not expect that to be the case with Saul Alinsky, but turns out Dick Armey uses Rules for Radicals as a manual that gets passed out to operatives and supporters.

    Remember Newt Gingrich attacking Bill Clinton's sexually-challenged ethics?

    A Newsweek columnist used a line when noting that the debates and campaigns indicated Texas Perry would not be able to spell "Cat" even if spotted the "C" and the "T". Looks like the same applies to Noem.

  7. JohnKelley 2012.02.05

    Learn something new everyday - "Veterans benefits are part of the discretionary [budget]." Video #9; begin at 0:25. Somebody better tell General (Retired) Shinseki (and the 21.8 million US veterans and millions more surviving spouses who receive benefits) that NOem thinks caring for them and paying their earned disability or retirement or both is discretionary. Since 1636 veterans benefits in this land are earned entitlements.

  8. larry kurtz 2012.02.05

    @jbouie Jamelle Bouie: Every single ad featuring the American auto industry should end with "Brought to you by Barack Obama." Retweeted by KatrinaNation

  9. Owen Reitzel 2012.02.05

    Ed, why do you think Noem hardly has any town hall meetings? Because people will see that she doesn't have a clue to what is going on.
    The last thing we need is "more" tea party" ideas. Opps, almost said Tea Baggers

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.02.05

    Ed, a cup of plotting sounds like a blast.

    Now, "bulletproof"? Whom are you kidding? You're getting played by Noem again! She hosts a rare town hall, lets you and Mike have your little lovefest at the start, and you're willing to ignore all the dodges and non-answers she gave on core issues for your constituency? You're willing to accept her answer that she has shunned the Tea Party Caucus for over a year because she didn't get a copy of their mission statement? Good night, Ed, how hard is it to figure out what the Tea Party Caucus stands for? Please tell me you can see through Noem as easily as I can. It seems to me that the only reason you're throwing in with her is because you are afraid to take on the establishment and mount a third-party challenge with a solid candidate. Why stick with Noem when she refuses to give you what you want? Or are the occasional town hall and pictures all you really want?

  11. Bob Ellis 2012.02.05

    I don't know who that was that you are claiming was me, but it wasn't me. I didn't ask a single question.

    But then, when have you ever gotten anything right or said anything truthful? Why should I expect anything different here?

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.02.05

    Dang, it sure looked like you, Bob! I apologize for the error. I also apologize to my readers for giving youa chance to engage in your usual absurd insults and hasty generalizations. You've pointed out one error, which I'm happy to correct. Otherwise, I offer a pretty factual account of Saturday's town hall.

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.02.05

    ...and certainly a more detailed account than your puff piece, Bob, which avoids mentioning Noem's dodges of Tea Party questions.

  14. D.E. Bishop 2012.02.05

    Thank you Cory. That was great coverage.

    I have to give Noem lots of credit for really strong discipline. That's what it takes to talk for all that time, to that variety of people, even responding to un-vetted questions - and manage to say nothing while evading everything. That takes poise and focus. I am blown away.

  15. Taunia 2012.02.05

    Heh, D.E. Bishop.

    There's a certain line from the movie Pulp Fiction that's very fitting here. It's from the car cleaning part. You're smart. :)

  16. mike 2012.02.06

    Heidelberger for SDDP Chairman!

  17. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.02.06

    Easy, Mike—I'm just shooting video and writing notes, not recruiting candidates and organizing statewide fund drives. Different skill set!

  18. Ed Randazzo 2012.02.06

    Cory, Photos, interviews, town halls and blog posts are fine, but only votes count. The message was delivered and received off-camera.
    The town hall brought people in the house and media coverage to the fact that the tea parties of Rapid City have unified in purpose and are actively working in the legislative cycles in progress and will be a force in the election cycle in 2012.
    Your animus with Congresswoman Noem is understandable in light of the fact that you have virtually no hope of unseating her in 2012. We'll see how you handle your candidates' answers to questions in a public forum soon if they make themselves available.
    Meantime, we'll just expect the continued chorus of liberal voices claiming that they have a monopoly on brains, thoughts and ideas and that their legislators always "get it."
    Special note for Owen: You really distinguish yourself when you use such elegant labels. If you want to talk issues and opinions that would be fine. If you want to vomit, hit the head.

  19. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.02.06

    Ah, so Ed, now you're telling me that private, off-the-record assurances and deals are important than what's said in the open, on the record? And here I thought the Tea Party was all about openness and transparency. You're turning into just another backroom gladhander. A member of Congress gives you some secret, private promise and facetime, and you're happy? Hypocrisy!

    Notice also how Ed is studiously avoiding discussion of the issues raised in this meeting, including Noem's clear diss of his urging that she join the Tea Party caucus. He's just playing Kristi's lapdog now, trying to create an impression of complete unity to bolster this weak incumbent. It must hurt to compromise your principles like that for a few pictures and a little positive press, Ed... not to mention hitching your wagon to a political climber who will use you again to get what she wants, then throw you overboard in favor of the DC establishment.

  20. LK 2012.02.06

    " town halls and blog posts are fine, but only votes count. The message was delivered and received off-camera.

    If this statement were written about Tim Johnson, I am positive that "a nationally syndicated author. He has been a conservative activist and consultant for over 30 years" would be blogging and writing syndicated columns about it for months.

    It's pretty clear that the Tea Party is nothing more than another political machine that will sell out to a pretty face and a few dollars to the right program

  21. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.02.06

    Right on, Leo! Sell out! Sell out! The Noem office has apparently brokered a peace deal between the Tea Party clubs in Rapid. It sounds like she's told them to shut up and she'll give them some cookies. Ed Randazzo, Mike Mueller, and the others are all sitting up and barking, right on cue.

  22. David Newquist 2012.02.06

    The most disconcerting aspect of South Dakota politics is that Kristi Noem and her Senate cohort, John Thune, have never uttered a substantive line about the issues facing the state. They made their careers reciting the hackneyed talking points against the government, which the fairy dust and cow fart legislation is a part of, and relying upon small-minded slanders against their opponents.

    In a previous post which covered the idiotic anti-muslim sound and fury, some commenters suggested it was the isolated ranting of one deranged individual. But there was some applause for this person and a very attentive audience, indicating that he represented the attitudes and thinking of a larger constituency. The fact that Noem and Thune hold office indicates the political direction of the state.

    The attacks on education and the reforms to bring it in line with the designs of the majority party seem to be bearing fruit. The people are so indiscriminate and slavish to the anti-progressive slogans that they are brainwashed into accepting the mindless hack work that comprises the discourse of Noem and Thune as reality.

    One cannot help recall Eugene McCarthy's response when George Romney claimed he had been brain-washed into supporting the Vietnam war: it actually took only a light rinse.

  23. Les 2012.02.06

    Wow, Kristi's answer on the Nat Defense bill? She must be Pelosi's lap dog. We just need to pass it to find out what's in it.

    Ed, if it takes Noem two years to get your point, whats the value or your point?

  24. Jeff Barth 2012.02.06

    Her comments, her positions, her sound bite rhetoric just dosen't add up. Thanks for this coverage.

  25. Jeff Barth 2012.02.06

    Uff Da

  26. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.02.07

    You're right: they don't add up any better now than they did in her debates against SHS in 2010. Yet Noem still won by two percentage points. Don't let her do that again. Use her empty words against her. Educate the public, help them see the fecklessness on display in Noem's performance here.

  27. larry kurtz 2012.02.10

    Red states don't want high speed rail while blue states are leading job growth.

    "We’ve already put American workers on Amtrak and rail job-sites in 32 states and the District of Columbia. Projects in Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, and Vermont are coming in ahead of schedule and under budget."

    @RayLaHood: High speed #rail is coming to America; that includes #California. #hsr
    1 hour ago. Retweeted by JerryBrownGov

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