PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Republican Julie Frye-Mueller is once again representing the southwestern-most district in the South Dakota Senate. A Senate Committee on Discipline and Expulsion chaired by David Wheeler had recommended her censure and reinstatement.
“This is a bipartisan committee,” Democratic Sen. Reynold Nesiba said. “We voted unanimously last night to have the report drafted, we voted unanimously at noon today for this report, and I would ask your consideration to vote in favor to adopt this report.”
“The Senate committee, in adopting its report, has clearly made a statement: that we believe her, we believe misconduct happened and that some sort of discipline is appropriate,” Wheeler said.
The committee says Frye-Muller “engaged in harassment.” In a statement, a staffer said the senator gave inappropriate advice about breastfeeding and became “emotional and aggressive,” telling her that she cannot let her child be vaccinated. Frye-Mueller defended herself in front of the committee on Tuesday.
“I did not ask her if she vaccinated. COVID has been around since 2020- why would I ask her that?” Frye-Mueller said Tuesday night. “There was no conversation on Down Syndrome, autism or death at all. At all.”
Only Republican Sen. Tom Pischke voted against the censure on Wednesday.
“I don’t agree that Senator Frye-Mueller engaged in harassment,” Pischke said. “That’s in this report … I don’t agree with anything in the report except for the line that says, recommends the Senate immediately lift the suspension of Julie Frye-Mueller.”
“I just urge this body to adopt this recommendation, let’s put this behind us, let’s get the senator back in here and doing her job for her district,” Republican Sen. Michael Diedrich said.
Frye-Mueller’s reinstatement needed 21 votes to succeed, but it easily surpassed that with 33 in support.
“The Wheeler motion having received a three-fifths’ majority vote of the members elect, is hereby declared past.,” Senate President and Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden said. “And I have instructed the sergeant at arms to contact Senator Mueller and inform her that her suspension has been lifted.”
The committee spoke Tuesday night with the staffer who accused Frye-Mueller. As of 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, a transcript of this was not yet public.
Frye-Mueller told KELOLAND News after the Senate’s vote that she disagrees with the censure, also saying “I’m glad to be back for District 30.” Asked if she engaged in harassment, she said “absolutely not.”
Senate Republican leader Casey Crabtree released a statement after the vote. “I want to acknowledge my Senate colleagues as they conducted themselves professionally throughout this process, listened to all sides of the story, and respected the privacy of those involved. The Senate is ready to move forward and direct our full attention back to the people’s business.”
Just after 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Frye-Mueller released a statement about recent events.
I am thankful to rightfully return to the South Dakota Senate to represent the citizens of District 30. The action of this body in suspending the Rules of the Senate to immediately suspend a member WITHOUT DUE PROCESS on an accusation alone without evidence is simply unjust. The consequence of these actions were to silence the voices of over 25,000 people. Now deadlines for some legislative action have passed without any obvious remedy.
If lawmakers can silence me without any due process and by ignoring the law, or suspending the rules and laws we instituted, why do we make such laws? Their failure to respond to my continued requests clearly appears to be an orchestrated attempt to obstruct my ability to defend myself and is politically motivated. We were given only 27 hours to even know what was being claimed and to coordinate legal counsel and witnesses.
As I said in my sworn testimony, the language contained in the staff person’s statement was shocking and filthy and is not what I said or conveyed. That aspect of the conversation was entirely fabricated. The permanent damage done to my reputation and that of my family is a stain that will not go away.
The actions of these Senators will likely serve as a deterrent to anyone who might consider public service. In fact, I understand that there is already a Bill (SB 197) being submitted as, what appears to be, additional retribution. When will the attacks end?
Finally, the actions of the Senate are absolutely unprecedented. However, I will do all that I can to continue to be an advocate for District 30 and the people of South Dakota. I am grateful for the tremendous outpouring of support for me and my family in the midst of this attack. God bless you all.Julie Frye-Mueller