Republican U.S. House candidate Rep. Kristi Noem said she was seeking leadership skills, not flirting with Democratic politics, when she attended a campaign training camp sponsored by former Sen. Tom Daschle 10 years ago.
Noem said this week that she attended the weekend camp in the Black Hills, which featured personal appearances by Daschle and instruction in candidate campaigns, under the presumption that it would be a bipartisan learning experience.
"I'm a Republican. I've always been a Republican. And he was opening it up to Republicans, so I thought I'd go and see what they do," said Noem, a state representative from Castlewood. "They brought in people who had run campaigns, people who could be mentors. I never really followed up on that. And after I left there, I never visited with them again."
Noem said she has never attempted to hide her participation in the Daschle camp, nor felt any need to.
And it wasn't her only association with Daschle and his staff.
The former Democratic leader in the U.S. Senate, who was often attacked by Republicans for alleged obstructionist tactics, secured a presidential appointment from the Clinton White House for Noem to serve on the state committee for the federal Farm Service Agency.
Noem, a rancher and small-business operator, said she considered her appointment to the FSA board a non-partisan position important to farmers and ranchers in South Dakota.
"He (Daschle) was looking to expand the board from three members to five and make it more bipartisan," Noem said. "I felt like I could contribute. And he was OK with me being a staunch Republican, so I decided to do that."
Her service on the board ended with new appointments from President George W. Bush.
"It was good to have input on federal farm programs," she said. "I worked hard to make sure people were treated fairly."
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The subsequent leadership camp was an opportunity for education and personal development in what was billed by Daschle as a bipartisan atmosphere, Noem said. Daschle organized the camps each year from 1999 through 2003. Daschle didn't hold the camp in 2004, when he was defeated by current Sen. John Thune in the general election.
Most who attended the camps were Democrats who supported Daschle. But others were invited as well, often through affiliations with Daschle or his staff on state issues. The intent was to encourage more people to consider running for office at all levels.
"It mainly had to do with campaigning, and I think they were recruiting people to run," Noem said. "But that discussion never took place with me."
Noem was elected to the state House in 2006. She announced last week that she was entering the Republican U.S. House primary. She joins Secretary of State Chris Nelson and state Rep. Blake Curd, who have been running for the GOP House nomination since last October. The Journal recently reported that Curd had given campaign donations of $2,000 to Daschle and $1,000 to Democratic Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, who holds the state's lone U.S. House seat.
Curd, a Sioux Falls surgeon, said the $2,000 he gave to Daschle provided a personal meeting with the Senate Democratic leader during a private gathering in Sioux Falls in October of 2004, near the end of his bitter campaign against Thune. Curd said he was worried about legislation in Congress that could hurt his surgical business.
Curd said he made the $1,000 donation to Herseth Sandlin in 2005 at a gathering where he met and spoke with the congresswoman and thought she seemed to have Republican-type principles. Curd said he soon discovered his impression was wrong and voted for the Republican challengers in Herseth Sandlin's past two re-election races.
Noem said she hasn't made any donations to Daschle or Herseth Sandlin.
"I certainly have never given them any money, or donated time to help their cause, or philosophically had any agreement with them," she said.
Contact Kevin Woster at 394-8413 or email@example.com