Frye-Mueller stripped of assignments, suspended

Leslie Silverman

District 30 Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller is being investigated by a Select Committee on Discipline and Expulsion after allegations  by a Legislative Research Council  staff member.
The developing story began Jan. 25 when Frye-Mueller was stripped of her committee assignments. Frye-Mueller sat on Senate Local Government and Senate Health and Human Services.
The decision, which came from Watertown Republican Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, President Pro Tempore of the Senate, came without comment.
In an official statement Jan. 25  Frye-Mueller said that she was stripped of her committee assignments and that in doing so the great people of District 30 have been stripped “of representation on important topics that affect our district. Today I’ve not received any formal written complaint or charge against me. It’s a sad day in America where advancing freedom becomes a crime. I will continue to keep the public and my wonderful constituents abreast of the situation as we fight for the Mount Rushmore District’s right for representation at our state Capitol. The issue may involve a conversation that I had with staff where I promoted my well-known stance on medical freedom and the ability of individuals to choose the best course of medical treatment for themselves instead of politicians or employers that would suggest otherwise.”
Frye-Mueller said Jan 25 she  was “humbled by all the wonderful people across the state who have reached out” to her and said, “‘we believe in you and we support you.’”
A day later on Jan. 26 the Senate moved to immediately suspend Frye-Mueller “from exercising any rights or privileges as a senator pending the outcome of the investigation.”
Senate GOP leader Sen. Casey Crabtree explained “that that motion is brought after a lot of serious thought for members of both our bodies, meaning the Republicans as well as discussions with folks in the Democratic caucus.”
Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden, who presides over the Senate, cautioned against the move saying, “I understand the motion before us is to suspend the rules...suspending the rules does not suspend us from the obligation to follow state law or common sense. Can you cite to me in law or by what authority it’s proper for this chamber to strip the voting rights from a duly elected member of this body?”
Schoenbeck called the motion “appropriate” to “protect the decorum” of the Senate and says the action  “provides for a due process opportunity.”
Rhoden, however, ruled the motion out of order, saying, “by suspending the rules we are denying a member of a long-standing legal principle in the United  States of America of due process. We’ve put the cart ahead of the horse in first suspending a member  and taking their ability to represent the people that elected them to serve in that office away from them before they’ve had a jury of their peers.”
Frye-Mueller herself addressed the Senate stating that she has not been presented with  any information at all reiterating she was not “getting [her] due process.” She continued, “I have not seen anything at all that I have supposedly done.”
In a 27-6 vote the Senate chose to support suspension.
On Jan. 27 Crabtree issued a press release entitled, “Senate Appoints Select Committee on Discipline and Expulsion.” The release stated  Senate Republicans had “received a detailed report from an LRC staff member alleging inappropriate behavior and harassment related to private maternal matters, including childhood vaccines and breastfeeding, which took place in the LRC office inside the State Capitol Building.”
 It went on to say that “Sen. Frye-Mueller was given an opportunity to speak to the Senate Republican Leadership Jan. 25. Comments made by Sen. Frye-Mueller in that private discussion are inconsistent with her public statements and the report received from the LRC staff member.” The release outlined the South Dakota Constitution allows each house to “determine the rules of its proceedings” and “qualifications of its own members.”
To that end, the release explained the procedure will be informative to the public while respecting the rights of all parities.
Sen. David Wheeler (R- District 22) will chair the Select Committee on Discipline and Expulsion that will hear the complaint and make a recommendation to the full Senate. Also appointed to the select committee are Senators Jim Bolin (R-District 16), Sydney Davis (R-District 17), Helene Duhamel (R-District 32), Red Dawn Foster (D-District 27), Brent Hoffman (R-District 9), Liz Larson (D District 10), Tim Reed (R-District 7) and Dean Wink (R-District 29).
Frye-Mueller held a press conference Jan. 28 in Rapid City that began with prayer. She read from a prepared statement in which she acknowledged a conversation she had with a female legislative staff member whom she “considered a friend.”
Frye-Mueller  went on to say, “any misunderstanding she may have had from my advice and my intention to help her with her situation in a private and confidential conversation between women is unfortunate.”
She referred to the interaction as  “a private conversation between women and nothing more.”
Frye-Mueller  added that she had still not received any formal written complaint related to the incident. She once again expressed her gratitude to her constituents and supporters and her desire to “keep the public and my constituents informed of the evolving situation as we continue to fight for the Mount Rushmore district’s right to representation in the Senate as the taxpayers they are.”
Frye-Mueller filed a lawsuit on Jan 30 in federal district court in Pierre in order to “secure her first amendment rights,” court documents show. The suit names Schoenbeck in his official capacity as President Pro Tempore of the Senate as the defendant.
The suit alleges the defendant singled out Frye-Mueller by suspending the rules of the Senate and that she has been suspended from her duties without due process. The suit goes on to the say the Schoenbeck’s actions “adversely impacts” the “citizens of South Dakota Legislative District 30.”
The suit was filed by former state Rep. Steven Haugaard and asks for Frye-Mueller to be reinstated to her legislative duties.

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