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Democratic challenger Corinna Robinson saved her most potent fire until the final minute of Tuesday’s hour-long debate between candidates for South Dakota's only U.S. House seat, when she labeled Rep. Kristi Noem a hypocrite.

“It breaks my heart when I see people in Congress making a whole lot of money, like during the government shutdown. They’re governmental employees, too, and not one of them lost a cent,” Robinson said. “Anyone who voted for that is a hypocrite. They need to go.”

Robinson launched the attack in her closing statement, after Noem had finished. Robinson won a coin toss before the debate and chose to have the last word.

The Rapid City Journal-sponsored debate was at the University Center in Rapid City with an audience of more than 100 watching the debate in person and nearly 200 more in three overflow rooms.

Earlier in the debate, when the candidates asked each other a question, Robinson asked Noem to explain why she voted for last October’s government shutdown and also asked if Noem would vote the same way again.

Noem disputed Robinson’s characterization of the vote.

“In fact I never did vote to shut down the government,” Noem said. “There was never a vote to shut down the federal government.”

Noem did vote against the bill that opened the government. That vote occurred late on the night of Oct. 16, 2013, when the House considered a continuing appropriations bill to temporarily fund the government and thereby end the 16-day-old shutdown. That night, after casting her "no" vote, Noem said she could not support the bill because it did not address continued deficit spending.

Noem reiterated that concern Tuesday.

“It’s a lot like handing your kid a credit card,” Noem said. “If you gave your child a credit card, and they went out and maxed it out and then they came back and didn’t have any money and didn’t know what to do, you surely would not hand them another credit card without having some discussion on how things were going to be different in the future.”

Noem said she voted several times for bills to keep the government open in exchange for certain reforms. Those votes came during the lead-up to the shutdown, and the bills were rejected by the Democratic-led Senate.

The shutdown was one of several points of disagreement between the candidates, who will be on the ballot Nov. 4. Some of those disagreements are summarized below.

Robinson, of Sioux Falls, is a Rapid City native who spent 25 years in the Army and also worked as a civilian at the Pentagon.

Noem is completing her second term in the U.S. House after serving in the South Dakota Legislature. She lives on a ranch near Castlewood.

Keystone XL pipeline

Noem supports construction of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, which would carry crude oil from Canada into the United States on a route through western South Dakota.

Noem said the pipeline is an important component of a diverse approach to supplying the country’s energy. She said pipelines are safer than hauling crude oil by rail, and she said the construction of the pipeline would result in about 1,000 temporary jobs in South Dakota, along with some full-time jobs and about $9 million in property taxes for local governments.

It makes sense, Noem said, to get crude oil from a stable partner like Canada rather than the Middle East.

“It would be good for South Dakota,” Noem said, “but, boy, it would be great for the U.S.”

Robinson opposes construction of the pipeline. She is concerned about the environmental effect of potential leaks and thinks the jobs created by the construction would mostly be short-term.

“The people really supporting things like that are getting millions of dollars to say 'yes,'” Robinson said. “So I’m just telling you from my heart: Let’s be careful.”

Wages

The candidates were asked what they will do to increase wages in South Dakota.

“The easy thing to do here in South Dakota is to support a minimum-wage increase,” said Robinson, who carried petitions to help put a minimum-wage increase on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Noem said Congress should adopt better energy and farm policies to cut the cost of things like gasoline and food, should cut excessive regulations on businesses that drive up their costs, and should create a business friendly environment.

“We have worked very hard in this state to create that kind of environment,” Noem said, “but oftentimes what we see coming out of Washington, D.C., drives up costs to make it harder for businesses to do business in the United States, and that needs to be stopped.”

EPA

When it was Noem’s turn to ask Robinson a question, Noem prefaced the question with information about the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We have so many regulations coming out of the EPA that have been so hard on South Dakotans and have increased the control of the federal government on their lives," Noem said, "and are costing us more and more money and businesses more and more money to comply with these regulations, while the studies and the research that’s coming back are showing it has very little, if any at all, environmental impact.”

Noem referenced earlier debates and forums in which Robinson made favorable remarks about the EPA, and Noem asked Robinson to explain which EPA regulations are beneficial to South Dakotans.

Robinson said America can be a model for the world if it follows EPA regulations and should try to meet reasonable environmental standards. Members of Congress should fight to ensure the regulations are not too intrusive or difficult to meet, especially for small farmers or small businesses, she said.

“But we can’t say things like Mike Rounds did during that debate,” Robinson said, referencing an earlier event, “that we should abolish the EPA. That’s ludicrous.”

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Contact Seth Tupper at seth.tupper@rapidcityjournal.com

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