On Wednesday, House Republicans picked South Dakota's Kristi Noem to serve as a freshman liaison to the GOP leadership in the new Congress.
Noem (rhymes with "home") narrowly defeated four-term incumbent Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin on Election Day.
She lives on a ranch near Castlewood, S.D., with her husband and three children, and plans to commute from there to her new job in Washington.
While about one-third of the incoming Republicans have no previous government experience, Noem, 38, has served two terms in the South Dakota Legislature, rising to the post of assistant majority leader.
While she was on the campaign trail, Noem said that if elected, her top priority in Washington would be the debt and the deficit.
"The first thing I think we need to start doing is come up with a plan for how to pay down our debt," she said during a visit to the South Dakota State Fair. "And I think that when you do that, you need to start looking at the size and scope of government and all of the departments it has created and [is] continuing to give increases to, and start evaluating their effectiveness and how they're addressing the vision and agendas for why they were created."
Tea Party Backing
Noem said she is not a Tea Partier, but she welcomed support from Tea Party groups in South Dakota. In fact, she told a reporter in Washington this week that she wasn't sure if she'd join the congressional Tea Party Caucus being formed, but that as a hunter, she was interested in the Sportsmen's Caucus.
Noem does not favor the full-scale dismantling of government departments, as some of the newly elected Republicans do. But she says each department's budget should be examined, with a special focus on earmarks.
"Lots of these earmarks that have been funded and paid for through the stimulus package or through other major spending bills, you know, leave us in situations where we don't have money when we need it for important things, such as our national defense, or money that was promised to tribes through funding, or money for programs in education that should be there," she said.
Working Across The Aisle
Noem predicted her experience in South Dakota's Legislature would enable her to work with Democrats in Washington.
"I've proven over the years in my service here in the state Legislature that I work across the aisle really well. ... I don't see any problem with making sure that we have a new environment in D.C., and I think that's one of the things that most South Dakotans are very frustrated with. They've seen both parties get very partisan, both parties very willing to poke each other in the eye and to the detriment of good policy for business and families back here in South Dakota."
Mostly, Noem says, she wants to see government get out of the way of the people, who she says make better decisions about how to spend money than the government does. And that's the kind of language most of her new Republican colleagues in Congress understand.