I would love to have attended the Matt Varilek&ndashKristi Noem debate on Friday, but hey! I ahve the taxpayers' work to do here at Spearfish High School.
Even if I had cut class to attend, I might not have gotten a seat. University Center Rapid City picked a room with maybe a hundred seats; UC ended up making room for around 400 people before finally turning folks away.
Black Hills Pioneer reporter Adam Hurlburt got to listen. His straight assessment: Noem packed the room with more supporters and signs, but Varilek won the debate:
Despite the fanfare it was Varilek, it seemed, who emerged from the 90-minute debate on top.
Varilek, a 37-year-old lawyer from Sioux Falls, supported many of his assertions with data sourced from his own research and that of outside "fact-checkers," while Noem largely relied on partisan finger-pointing and the resonance of popular Tea Party idioms.
A good example of this came from a discussion of Noem's much maligned House Subcommittee attendance record. Varilek stated Noem had only attended four of 20 Agriculture subcommittee meetings, five of 22 Native American Affairs subcommittee meetings and one of seven Early Childhood subcommittee meetings.
Noem responded by saying that her attendance record is a false issue "that's been a smear campaign started by the democrats," and that she intentionally decided not to attend specific subcommittee meetings when issues affecting South Dakota weren't on the agenda [Adam Hurlburt, "Nearly 400 Attend Noem, Varilek Debate," Black Hills Pioneer, October 13, 2012].
Rep. Noem can't respond on the issues, because she knows that anyone who looks at the facts will see Varilek is right. She has skipped a majority of her committee meetings. She has not produced results for South Dakota. Her only hope is to make people feel bad for her by portraying any factual assessment of her job performance as a "smear."
Even her paltry response here to her absenteeism shows her inability to understand her job. A Congressperson doesn't just show up to hear about issues that affect South Dakota. A Congressperson shows up to learn, to contribute to the discussion, and to make South Dakota's voice heard on all issues. Noem, however, thinks that South Dakota should think the way she does: If it isn't about me, me, me, why should I pay attention?
I don't care how nice Kristi Noem may be as a mom. I don't care how cute her kids are or how well she conforms to our fantasy images of the all-South Dakota woman. We pay her $174,000 a year, plus free stamps and plane tickets, for a job that she shows up and does only when she feels like it. Matt Varilek rightly points that fact out. He should point that fact out every time he meets her. If he does, he'll win every debate the same way he won in Rapid City.