South Dakota has one voice in the U.S House of Representatives, but some say Congresswoman Kristi Noem isn't speaking up enough as she represents the state.
Noem was appointed to the Education and Workforce Committee, as well as the Natural Resources Committee when she was first elected in November 2010. Last June, she added the Agriculture Committee to her assignments. But some question whether South Dakota's views are being heard.
Noem's communications director contacted KELOLAND News to dispute what they claim are false accusations by the South Dakota Democratic Party. Through its own research, the Party concluded Noem has only attended four out of 20 Ag Committee meetings since being appointed and has only spoken once. That's when KELOLAND News started digging into her other committee assignments to see her participation level.
On June 23, 2011, Oklahoma congressman Frank Lucas, the chair of the House Agriculture Committee, attempted to introduce Noem at her very first meeting. He soon realized she wasn't there and the committee responded in laughter.
Although Republicans voted at the start of January 2011 not to have official attendance records, transcripts for most committee meetings are posted on committee websites to show Representative Noem's participation. When KELOLAND News attempted to speak with Noem about this issue, we were told she was unavailable Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
"I think most people would expect a vigorous advocate to not only show up, but make an impact when they're there," South Dakota Democratic Party chairman Ben Nesselhuf said.
Nesselhuf says Noem missing her first meeting is indicative of her status on the Ag Committee, where he claims she only spoke once in the past 11 months. That prompted KELOLAND News to investigate Noem's other assignments on the Education and Workforce Committee, as well as the Natural Resources Committee.
KELOLAND News found transcripts from 23 full Education and Workforce committee meetings and 27 subcommittee meetings over the past 17 months. In those 50 meetings, Noem has spoken seven times. One of those times was to 'yield time' to another member and once was simply to vote 'aye.'
The Natural Resources committee is a bit harder to track. KELOLAND News was only able to find transcripts up through July 2011 on the committee's official website. Other information was found with Congressional Quarterly researcher. When we combined the two searches, there were 24 committee meetings and 17 subcommittee meetings, at which Noem spoke a total of seven times at the 41 meetings.
"It is true that seniority plays a role in these standing committees," former South Dakota State political science professor Bob Burns said.
Burns acknowledges Noem's standing in Congress may play a role in her participation. But he also says a lack of attendance records makes it difficult to determine if it's normal.
"Members of the House have fewer committees than members of the Senate, so they run into fewer conflicts with regard to committee scheduling," Burns said.
There were 22 dates where Noem had at least two different committee meetings on the same day. She never spoke at multiple meetings on the same day, but spoke at one or the other only four times. There were two other times she appeared present, but it was inconclusive whether she spoke.
"It's worrisome in the respect that South Dakota is not being heard maybe as much as we'd like to be heard," Burns said.
While Noem's campaign manager said she wasn't available to speak with us, he offered to comment himself. But we declined, saying we wanted to speak with the Congresswoman herself.
He did provide us with a list of "roll call'' votes in Noem's three committees. Of the 156 possible votes, Noem has voted 154 times on the course of action for a bill or resolution.
In regards to the Ag Committee meeting on June 23, 2011, Rep. Noem was at a Natural Resources subcommittee meeting at that time.