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Kristi Noem talks to the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association on Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010. (Ryan Soderlin/Journal staff)

U.S. Rep Kristi Noem, R-S.D., made the first big mistake of her new political career last week when she voted to fund the "bridge to nowhere."

The $320 million bridge linking Ketchikan, Alaska to its airport on Gravina Island, has become a symbol of government waste and pork barrel spending.

Noem's vote came in glaring contrast to the conservative principals she touted during her political campaign.

She also doubled the blunder with a convoluted explanation of her vote that was hauntingly similar to those expressed by former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, whom Noem defeated in November.

Noem said she wasn't voting for the bridge. She was voting against sending it back to a committee so funding for the bridge could be stripped from the measure.

"They put that language in there to try to get people to vote for it," she said.

Although we fail to see any problem with that, Noem said the action would make it "very difficult for us to get our work done on the House floor."

Making it easier to get work done on the House floor is hardly worth a $183 million installment on a costly bridge in an isolated area that could continue to rely on a ferry.

Noem should have voted to send the measure, originally backed by Republican congressmen from Alaska, back to the committee so the bridge funding could be eliminated.

Even if Noem's explanation was credible - that the vote was procedural , and not a show of support for the bridge - why is it now OK for her to vote that way when she blasted Herseth Sandlin for similar votes?

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During the campaign, Noem never hesitated to cast Herseth Sandlin's votes in the worst possible light, regardless of Herseth Sandlin's true intent.

Either way, Noem's vote casts her in a bad light, as wasteful and hypocritical.

If Noem doesn't support the boondoggle bridge, she still voted in a way she previously characterized as unacceptable.

Even worse, she voted to fund a wasteful project in striking contrast to her campaign pledge to cut federal spending.

Just how wasteful is the project? The bridge connecting Ketchikan (population 8,900) with Gravina (population 50) will cost $320 million to replace a ferry that some residents complained had 15- to 30-minute waits and cost $6 per car.

Noem loses a little credibility when she turns her back on her conservative principles and campaign promises.

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