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Rep.-elect Kristi Noem has all the makings of a fresh-faced rising star in GOP House leadership. The 38-year-old South Dakotan is photogenic, well-spoken, and able to draw a crowd and stay on message.
But Noem, who has already secured a seat at the leadership table in the next Congress, said she’s not worried about being pigeonholed as a token female in Republican leadership.
“When people start to spend a lot of time with me they realize that I’m a hard worker,” Noem said in an interview Tuesday at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel downtown. “I work hard on policy and issues. ... I’m a contributor and not just there to fill a seat.”
Dressed in a tailored taupe suit with knee-high snakeskin boots, the state Representative exuded all the confidence of a polished politician despite the fact that she’s a Washington neophyte.
Her rapid rise to become Assistant Majority Leader in the South Dakota House two years after being elected in 2006 underscores Republican leaders’ high expectations for Noem.
Nicknamed “South Dakota’s Sarah Palin” on the campaign trail, Noem was singled out as an up-and-comer almost immediately after defeating Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D) last month. She campaigned hard for one of two spots for freshmen in elected leadership and became the second female in GOP leadership, joining Conference Vice Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.).
Incoming Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) said he’s been impressed with Noem in leadership meetings.
“You would never suspect her to be a freshman when she is sitting in the meetings,” McCarthy said.
Noem is following in the footsteps of a fellow South Dakotan, Sen. John Thune (R). Thune served for two years as the representative of his class on the leadership team after being elected to the House in 1996.
He was one of the first people Noem talked to about seeking the freshman leadership slot.
“I encouraged her to seek a seat at the leadership table as a way to help represent South Dakota and the interests of rural Americans,” Thune said. “I think she’ll do an excellent job.”
While being a member of leadership gives Noem a broader platform than most freshmen, she said that wasn’t the allure of the post.
“My goal in coming out here to Washington, D.C., if I was going to be away from my family, away from my businesses, that I wanted to be as effective as I possibly could,” Noem said.