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Potential House candidate Matt Varilek speaks →

Matt Varilek isn’t running for Congress. Yet.

Varilek, an aide to Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., spoke to 15 members of the Davison County Democratic Party on Tuesday night at LifeQuest in Mitchell. The former high school debater gave a brief but polished speech, fielded questions and then sipped coffee, munched on a brownie and chatted with the Democrats.

He is considering a race for the nomination to run against Rep. Kristi Noem, a first-term Republican, and said he will continue to meet with Democrats and talk with his wife before he makes an announcement.

“We don’t have a final timeframe,” he said.

But on Tuesday night, Varilek, of Sioux Falls, sounded like a candidate.

He took aim at Noem and leveled several broadsides at her, accusing the state’s lone member of the House of having been pulled into a “tea party frenzy” during her year in public life.

“Kristi Noem has not been on our side,” Varilek said.

He said she has supported continuing subsidies for big oil and gas in Congress and he wonders why, since there are no such businesses in South Dakota and the country is in need of tax revenue.

Varilek said a close look at Noem’s campaign finance reports shows she has received thousands of dollars from Exxon, Chevron, Halliburton and other oil and gas companies.

“All of a sudden that vote doesn’t look so mysterious anymore,” he said.

Varilek said he has also watched in dismay as Noem has done little to help South Dakotans who rely on Medicare, children who depend on Medicaid and students who seek financial aid through the federal Pell Grant program. He said she has also not helped towns in need of assistance to maintain and improve their water infrastructure.

“And that really stood out to me,” Varilek said. “I don’t know if she even thinks these are good ideas for South Dakota.”

Varilek said he would be the kind of congressman who reaches out to Republicans and works with them. The word bipartisanship isn’t something he shies away from, he said.

Varilek said he was struck by Noem’s words when he attended a speech she gave recently in which she said politics are too polarized.

“Well, I couldn’t agree more,” he said. “But that’s kind of like Goliath calling David the bully.”

Varilek said he was dismayed when Noem sided with House Republicans who threatened to shut down the government this summer. That would have caused severe economic hardships, he said, and he was surprised she adopted that stance.

“It just made no sense at all,” Varilek said. “And I think that’s reckless.”

He said he favors raising government revenue by closing tax loopholes for big companies while also investing in programs to help people. Varilek referred to that as “a balanced approach to a balanced budget” and said he would vote to reduce the deficit.

Veteran Democratic campaign consultant Steve Hildebrand, a Mitchell native who now lives in Sioux Falls, is one of the people behind a Facebook effort to draft Varilek into the race.

Hildebrand served as a deputy national campaign director for the 2008 Obama campaign and has also worked for President Bill Clinton, Vide President Al Gore, Sen. Johnson and former Sen. Tom Daschle.

Noem’s communications director, Joshua Shields, declined to comment directly on Varilek’s possible candidacy.

“Rep. Noem is focused on her work empowering South Dakota small businesses and reducing their regulatory burdens,” Shields said.

But Tony Post, executive director of the South Dakota Republican Party, said voters deserve to know how Varilek differs from Sen. Johnson or if he shares his views and political stances.

“My first thought is, if he has aspirations, he needs to quit the cushy government job and start campaigning or just keep on the job,” he said.

Davison County Democratic Party Chairman Dave Mitchell said he was impressed with Varilek’s presentation.

Mitchell, a Dakota Wesleyan University professor, said he has often been embarrassed by Noem and some of the things she says. He urged Varilek to run, as did others at the meeting.

Matt Korzan, a South Dakota native who recently returned home after living in Virginia, told Varilek to run and also said finding a way to retain the brightest young people in South Dakota should be a major concern. Varilek agreed.

Kathryn Crockett said while she hopes he runs, she wants Varilek to take firm stands on issues. She said his speech was long on generalities.

Varilek, 36, grew up in Yankton and Tabor and studied at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., where he earned two master’s degrees with an emphasis on economic development. A Carleton professor, Paul Wellstone, stunned the Minnesota political world in the 1990s when he ran a long-shot Senate campaign and unseated a wellfunded incumbent.

“Maybe there’s a lesson there for all challengers,” Varilek said.

He worked as a market analyst before joining Daschle’s staff in early 2004. After Daschle’s loss to John Thune in 2004, Varilek joined Johnson’s staff, where he has served as his economic development director while also writing some speeches for the three-term Democrat.

Varilek started working in Washington, D.C., but moved home to South Dakota in 2007 and now accompanies Johnson when he tours the state. He said he has learned a great deal about government and people by spending time around Johnson.

“Tim says, ‘A South Dakota leader has to put South Dakota first,’ ” Varilek said.

Varilek and his wife, Maggie, live in Sioux Falls with daughters Willa and Mae.

So far, Minnehaha County Commissioner Jeff Barth is the only Democrat to have declared his candidacy for the state’s sole House seat.

U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, Tim Johnson’s son, is also considered a possible candidate, but Varilek said he didn’t “see any sign of that.”

Former congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, who is now working as a lobbyist for a Washington, D.C., law firm, has said there’s a 50-50 chance she will run for her old seat in 2012.

“That’s not what I’m focused on,” Varilek said of her possible candidacy.

Barth will speak to the Davison County Democrats on Nov. 15. The event will be open to the public.

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Campaign to Help Veterans Launching →

Chairman’s Note: The Sioux Falls VA Healthcare System is launching a national outreach program for homeless veterans and veterans at risk of becoming homeless. The need couldn’t be more pressing and the veterans more deserving of our support. The fact is, honoring the service of our veterans continues long after they have returned from active duty. They stood up for us in our time of need. I’m glad the Sioux Falls VA is making sure we serve our veterans in their time of need as well.

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Why Health Care Reform Was A Fight Worth Winning

Fall is in the air. So too, for many in college (and their parents), are the effects of reforming health care. You see, if not for this day one year ago, college’s super-seniors, grad students, and those just beginning to enter this less-than-ideal job market would have had to face the perils of going uninsured.

On September 23, 2010:

  • Young adults (up to age 26) were allowed to remain on their parents’ health insurance, if their parents so desired;
  • Insurers could no longer deny children coverage for a pre-existing condition; and
  • No health plan could have a lifetime or annual limit on certain benefits or rescind coverage if an individual got sick.

So today, we celebrate. We celebrate the day Congress stood up against injustice and insurance cronies. We celebrate a President who stood up for young people, old people, poor people, rich people, working people, sick people, and yes, even healthy people.

Today, we cheer the million more people ages 19 to 25 who had health insurance in the first quarter of 2011 than in the same time period in 2010, because we know prevention and early-intervention are the best and most cost-effective medicines.

Most of all, we are humbled by the fight that got us to this day. We know it was neither easy nor without risk. But today, we are sure, the Affordable Care Act was a fight worth winning. Thank you, Mr. President.

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Thune Goes Washington…Again.

We hate to break this news; but moderation is not the new ‘black’. In fact, as Sen. Lamar Alexander exits his GOP leadership post, and Sen. John Thune clamors for the megaphone, it seems the hottest thing this season is Republican double-speak. (Say What?!)

We remember a day when Thune found leadership objectionable. We also remember the day Thune registered as a lobbyist. Oh, and the day he then served as a member of Congress and a lobbyist on behalf of his old clients.

What we’re not looking forward to is the day Thune steps into this new leadership role and then sells out South Dakota to the highest bidder. It’s been done before – we remember MetaBank too.

So, Sen. Thune – put Kristi Noem’s Tea Party aside, forget your 2014 Presidential Primary, and remember you represent more than Dan Nelson and his Iowa residency at the Federal Prison.

(Actually, whom are we kidding? What has John Thune ever done for South Dakota? Listen up – two words: Vote Democrat. Two more words: In 2012. Four more: Then Again In 2014.)

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Noem Cuts Jobs, Grows Collection of Pink Slips

Fact: Kristi Noem will say just about anything to get elected – even if that means sacrificing the jobs she “promised” to protect.

You see, kids, Congresswoman Noem told a tall tale on the campaign trail.  She claimed she would go to DC and save Ellsworth Air Force Base.  What she meant was that if she conned you into believing that she would protect South Dakota, she would work darn hard to continue that lip-service in her tele-town halls.

Today, the Department of Defense announced it will have to cut 389 jobs in South Dakota because of Kristi Noem’s Tea Party and its plan to dismantle America.  (Dear Kristi: We are less than impressed.)

The only job Noem is worried about protecting is her own.  Well, perhaps that of her buddy, Speak Boehner – oh, and Mitt Romney, who gave her a sizable donation last year.  The job Noem is not worried about protecting is yours.  (Our condolences…)

So, as Kristi Noem adds to her collection of pink slips – at South Dakota’s expense – let us not forget why, every day, Noem successfully reminds us that we need someone in Washington working to protect us (you know, even the people who couldn’t pay $1000 for a picture with Boehner).

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Johnson Calls for More Collaboration between IHS, VA →

Native American veterans should be able to seek health care through either the Department of Veterans Affairs or Indian Health Service instead of being bounced between the two federal agencies, Sen. Tim Johnson said Tuesday. Continue Reading »

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“Saving” Medicare? Let’s Get A Few Things Straight

Dear South Dakota: Your new Congresswoman, Kristi Noem, recently claimed that her vote to destroy Medicare as we know it “saved” Medicare. Baffled? Us too.

You see, South Dakota, Kristi Noem claims that her buddy Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan won’t change things for folks 55 and over – except of course for the rising Medicare Part-D premiums that the Bush Administration never bothered to pay for. Kristi Noem also claims that folks under 55 will have guaranteed Medicare – except of course, Medicare will be privatized, her insurance company donors will be raking in the big bucks, and you better not pick the wrong “plan” because you might not get coverage when you need it most, kinda like those drug formularies currently used in Medicare Part-D plans. Oh yeah, and if you’re under 55 and already have Medicare because of a disability, well, Kristi Noem and Paul Ryan don’t plan to protect you. You’re lumped with the Medicare have-nots too.

Now, some of you may want to give Kristi Noem the benefit of the doubt. She is, after all, only a Freshman, and did, after all, just complete a congressional internship this Spring in Washington, DC. So, here’s the direct quote she gave the Sioux Falls Argus Leader yesterday:

Argus Leader: “If you look at a voucher-type program for Medicare when you retire, that’s something you want?”

Noem: “It’s not a voucher program, though. I think that’s something a lot of people like to label it. It’s essentially where insurance plans are going to be subsidized by the federal government. So it’s not where I get a voucher and pick an insurance plan. It’s totally different. It’s where the seniors get to come in and pick the plan that best fits them. Then the federal government will step in and subsidize those plans. So the voucher doesn’t ever come to the senior and they get out and shop around. It’s much more where they get their choice of plans.”

Noem goes on to say,

“And Obamacare certainly changed Medicare as we know it – half a trillion dollars in cuts, and the decisions of a 15-member board, it’s a lot different than a patient and their doctor making those decisions.”

Agreed – her explanation of what a voucher is not sounds a lot like the definition of a voucher. Again, benefit of the doubt – she’s a freshman intern. Perhaps more interestingly, Noem attacks changes the Affordable Care Act (ACA) made to Medicare Advantage Plans, plans that cost the government more per patient than standard Medicare for the same services. Continue Reading »

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Johnson Announces First-in-the-Nation Native Veterans Cemetery in South Dakota Funding →

In an announcement released today by U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD), the Rosebud Sioux Tribe will receive a $6.8 million grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs to establish the first cemetery in the nation established jointly by the VA and a federally recognized tribe. Continue Reading »

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Why Social Security Is Worth Protecting

When President Franklin Roosevelt signed Social Security into law on August 14, 1935, he said,

“The civilization of the past hundred years, with its startling industrial changes, has tended more and more to make life insecure. Young people have come to wonder what would be their lot when they came to old age. The man with a job has wondered how long the job would last. This law, too, represents a cornerstone in a structure which is being built but is by no means complete. It is, in short, a law that will take care of human needs and at the same time provide the United States an economic structure of vastly greater soundness.”

Roosevelt’s words are as relevant now as they were then.  The Social Security Act and its promise to aid the most vulnerable help comprise the very fabric of our social fiber.  Social Security, and the people it helps, is worth protecting.

As we celebrate its 76th anniversary, we remember Social Security’s humble beginnings and the lives forever changed because Americans believed we do better when we all do better. As Democrats, we stand proud for the difference Social Security has made, and stand ready to protect a more secure future.

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Stand Up for Veterans That Stand Up for Us

Shortly after Congress finally reached agreement on our nation’s debt ceiling, we received news that shocked us all – 30 Americans belonging to the elite Navy SEALS team that killed Osama Bin Laden were shot down in their helicopter by Afghani insurgents, killing all service members on board. This was the deadliest single loss of US troops since the war in Afghanistan began.

It’s easy sometimes to disconnect from the sacrifices our armed service members make day in and day out. These brave soldiers lost their lives in service to our country. Many more service members return home with permanent injuries in need of persistent care. Their sacrifice demands our support.

Learn More about the Disabled American Veterans Department of South Dakota

For all South Dakotans who have served or whose family members served, please take this moment to support local groups that support our troops. Let’s not forget that sacrifice South Dakota soldiers and their families make every day in service to their country.

I’m highlighting the efforts of Disabled American Veterans, which has been building better lives for America’s disabled veterans for over 90 years. Today, there are ways you can stand up for veterans that stand up for us:

In light of recent events, please consider giving your support to the Disabled American Veterans or another local veterans group today.

– Ben

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