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Crabtree Seeks to Fry Frye-Mueller for “Unprofessional Behavior”; Frye-Mueller Notes Less Punishment for Worse Behavior by Past Legislator

On Friday, Senate Majority Leader Casey Crabtree (R-8/Madison) announced that Senate leaders had chosen these nine Senators to serve on the Select Committee on Discipline and Expulsion formed to investigate and recommend punishment for the remarkably, historically, extra-constitutionally suspended Senator Julie Frye-Mueller (R-30/Rapid City):

  • Chair: Sen. David Wheeler (R-22/Huron)
  • Sen. Jim Bolin (R-16/Canton)
  • Sen. Sydney Davis (R-17/Burbank)
  • Sen. Helene Duhamel (R-32/Rapid City)
  • Sen. Red Dawn Foster (D-27/Pine Ridge)
  • Sen. Brent Hoffamn (R-9/Sioux Falls)
  • Sen. Liz Larson (D-10/Sioux Falls)
  • Sen. Tim Reed (R-7/Brookings)
  • Sen. Dean Wink (R-29/Howes)

Senator Crabtree also expanded, slightly and vaguely, on the allegations that led Senate Plenipotentiary Lee Schoenbeck (R-5/Lake Kampeska) to strip Frye-Mueller of her committee assignments Wednesday and led the full Senate to suspend its rules and boot Frye-Mueller from the Senate pending this investigation:

On Jan. 25, 2023, Senate leadership were notified of an allegation of unprofessional behavior against Senator Julie Frye-Mueller by a Legislative Research Council (LRC) staff member. Because of the seriousness of the allegations, Senate President Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck (R-District 5) removed Senator Frye-Mueller from her committee assignments as permitted by Senate Rule S4-1.

On Jan. 26, Senate Republicans 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. Senator Frye-Mueller was given an opportunity to speak to the Senate Republican Leadership on 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 [Sen. Casey Crabtree, press release, 2023.01.27, posted to Twitter by Austin Goss 2023.01.27].

So now Frye-Mueller stands accused not just of some vague inappropriate behavior and harassment (talking about vaccines, breastfeeding, and maternal matters is not harassment, so there must be more) but of lying about it to either Senate GOP leaders or the public or both with her “inconsistent” statements.

Frye-Mueller read a prepared statement at a public event yesterday in Rapid City making the following claims:

  1. She considered the complaining LRC staff member a friend.
  2. The LRC staffer shared with Frye-Mueller “intimate and personal details regarding a maternal issue.”
  3. Frye-Mueller gave the LRC staffer advice “which was the same I received as a young mother.”
  4. The staffer misunderstood Frye-Mueller’s maternal advice and intention.
  5. The conversation was “a private and confidential conversation between women.”
  6. Frye-Mueller won’t give further details about the conversation, out of respect for that confidentiality.
  7. Frye-Mueller referred yesterday to “our discussion about vaccines”. I assume  “our” refers to the LRC staffer and Frye-Mueller. Frye-Mueller told reporter Austin Goss earlier this week that the conversation was not about covid vaccines.
  8. The actions taken by the Senate are “extreme and egregious”.
  9. The Senate has disenfranchised the people of District 30.
  10. It is “unfair” of Senator Schoenbeck and others to compare this situation to allegations in 2006 that then-Senator Dan Sutton sexually molested a male page.
  11. Senator Sutton “was served with a formal written allegation and retained his Senator privileges and voting rights” throughout the investigation.
  12. Senator Sutton received only a censure.
  13. Frye-Mueller has still not received any formal complaint.
  14. Her Legislative e-mail account has been closed down.

(For the record, a motion to expel Sutton from the Senate failed on January 31, 2007, on a 14–20 vote. The motion to censure Sutton passed 32–2, with the only nays coming from two Black Hills Republican Senators, Jerry Apa and Bill Napoli who said censure wasn’t enough.)

The comparison with Senator Sutton’s misconduct and censure is not unfair; actually, it could be quite useful to Frye-Mueller’s cause. Indeed, the Senate did not expel Sutton. The Senate did not suspend Sutton while investigating his misconduct and considering his discipline. Likewise in the 2017 case of Representative Mathew Wollmann, who had sex with interns throughout his first term in the House. House GOP leadership opened an investigation but did not suspend Wollmann, who mooted the investigation by resigning before the discipline committee could meet.

Unless Frye-Mueller’s motherly conversation with the LRC staffer turned into attempted sex on the desk, Sutton’s abuse of power over a teenage page and Wollmann’s rampant bedpost-notching with interns were a whole heck of a lot worse than Frye-Mueller’s allegedly inappropriate talk with an adult employee.

Crabtree expects the Select Committee on Discipline and Expulsion to issue its recommendation by the end of this week. He signals that, while the committee will meet publicly, it will still look for ways to keep certain matters secret under state law. But if Crabtree wants the swift suspension, investigation, and potential expulsion of Frye-Mueller to carry any legitimacy, he had better stop looking for excuses to keep the matter private and lay out all the evidence that justifies this extraordinary exercise of Senate power to undo the will of District 30 voters.

And Julie Frye-Mueller, if you want to save your bacon, you should do the same.


  1. Donald Pay 2023-01-29 09:40

    Dan Sutton’s behavior was worse, so that excuses Frye-Mueller’s behavior? Sorry. Frye-Mueller seems to have a problem with boundaries, just like Sutton. I don’t know about you, but I would resent the hell out of someone pontificating, uninvited, about how they felt about how I raised my child, particularly if it was opposite of my position If people don’t ask my opinion on such matters, I don’t offer it to them. Maybe Frye-Mueller meant well, just as her strident position on other matters (say, abortion) is probably coming from her heart, but you have to have a sense of what your boundaries are, both as a human and as a legislator. It’s something that all legislators need to think about. Know what your lane is and stick in it.

  2. O 2023-01-29 10:44

    How can there not be clear procedures for removing senators and representatives from their office for inappropriate behavior?

  3. Richard Schriever 2023-01-29 10:49

    I will venture a guess here that F_M noticed the staffer was PG and started pontificating about “how to” perform parenting duties. Possibly degenerating into a “false imprisonment” scenario with a lot of shouting. Again, just a wild guess.

  4. Mark Anderson 2023-01-29 11:27

    Once your elected your there until your next election. Where else would Santos be employed?

  5. ABC 2023-01-29 11:51

    Republicans do disenfranchisement 365 days a year. Taliban of South Dakota eats their own.

    Lawless. They look at the constitution as do whatever you like.

  6. Bill C 2023-01-29 11:59

    Wow. She goes straight to full white midwestern woman indignant mode in the first bullet point! Geeze, Julie, you gotta build up to that level of passive-aggression.

  7. ABC 2023-01-29 12:26

    What’s the crime?

    Rape? Sex ? Someone’s feelings got hurt? Did she kill someone while driving?

    Simple disagreement?

    She is not licensed as a Doctor.

    Why would LRC member feel it is her duty to squeal to Schoenbeck? And remove said elected Senator? LRC has that power ?

    Decorum? Were her clothes awry? Cussing? Disagreement on mommy issues? Hey this is all covered under the First Amendment, white Taliban leaders.

    Closed session, no release to the press and public? Basically a secret suspension and lynching of an elected Senator? Senators can’t be impeached. But to suspend and expel, you have to have evidence and due process in a democracy.

    Republicans do private expulsions, so we never know what decorum was breached?

    Again, no misdemeanor or felony was alleged.

    So I, as a Progressive, fully support the District 30 voters right to keep her as an elected Senator.

    It doesn’t look like that will happen.

    It looks like she is in the minority ultra Trumpist wing of the R Party, and they are grasping for a secret reason to expel her. Oh we’’ll just say decorum, that covers everything, right?

    This is Not Democracy in action.

    She has the full right to represent District 30. If a felony or misdemeanor is alleged, them go ahead and allege it. Otherwise shut up and drop it.

    Real men and women would say, live and let live, no crime committed. Extra constitutional fascists who do not value free speech basically are wrecking what little democracy we have left in South Dakota.

    We can’t expect the R leaders to grow a brain at this late date.

    If the R people go ahead and remove this lady Senator (full evidence is she’s not a man and did not rape or have sex with the staffer ) then why should we consider the Senate a legitimate body?

    The house and Senate should be 100% reconstituted by Initiative and Legislature, so that the very subjective affirmation of decorum can never be used to remove someone you don’t like.

    If a guy refused to wear a suit in the chamber, remove him? Take away 1/35 of the votes of the Senate? Some voters probably vote absentee while naked or smoking we’d. Does their vote get taken away?

    No sex, no rape, no one died, no crime. Stop the extrajudicial lynching of District 30 voters.

    You Republicans don’t inspire any confidence in your ability to govern. All of you, resign. We will replace all of you by election anyway.

  8. Jake 2023-01-29 13:18

    It’s all about RETRIBUTION-plain as our latest snowfall…

  9. Arlo Blundt 2023-01-29 13:23

    Who knows what the conversation was??? We’ve heard nothing very specific from any of the various sides. “Loose Lips Sink Ships” I guess.

  10. Donald Pay 2023-01-29 13:28

    O asks, “How can there not be clear procedures for removing senators and representatives from their office for inappropriate behavior?”

    (1) South Dakota is a backwater of inappropriate behavior of every sort because, well “freedom.” (2) Government officials questionable behavior goes unchecked (eg., Janklow), Noem. (3) Lack of basic employee rights and understanding what those rights are/should be. (4) Go along to get along. (5) As indicated by Cory, offenses differ and it’s easier to consider each as they come up, rather than have a long rule considering every type of incident.

  11. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2023-01-29 14:06

    KNBN provides a transcript of Frye-Mueller’s Saturday public remarks. In another error, Frye-Mueller did not take questions from reporters. Bad move. Instead of hiding behind a prepared statement, Frye-Mueller should be talking to every reporter willing to listen, answering all questions, and raising holy heck throughout the weekend news cycle and right through next week’s Legislative meetings.

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2023-01-29 14:10

    Representative Tony Venhuizen (R-13/Sioux Falls) writes that the Legislature appears never to have expelled any member.

    In the grand history of legislators doing dumb things, how does JFM’s “conversation” with an LRC staffer rank as the first impeachable offense? Not Greenfield and Langer’s drunkenness at the Capitol, not Gary Cammack’s or Tim Johns’s drunk driving, not Sutton’s page-bedding, not Wollmann’s well-known intern boinking, not countless heated ass-chewings by who-knows how many hotheaded legislators, but this one weird interaction about vaccines and maternity.

    Is there any chance legislators are treating this situation differently because the alleged offender is a woman? Anyone want to play the sexism card?

  13. Curt 2023-01-29 14:33

    It’s not sexism. That charge loses its impact when used loosely, as in this instance. This is opportunism on the part of Schoenbeck, et. al. He campaigned actively against her in the Primary, and was looking for any excuse to bring her up short.

  14. Donald Pay 2023-01-29 14:46

    Cory, I would suggest that maybe the SD Legislature finally is entering the modern era, where “freedom” doesn’t allow one to verbally flay a staff person or fondle an intern just because one is a legislator. I don’t get this idea that the Legislature shouldn’t deal with this issue because they were too chicken to deal with other issues, whether they were worse or not. It’s better this institution comes into the modern age, where “freedom” doesn’t mean you get to be an a-hole. Maybe this incident doesn’t deserve Frye-Mueller be expelled, but I’m glad they are finally taking misbehavior seriously.

  15. sx123 2023-01-29 15:30

    Yeah, I’m thinking there’s more to this story.

  16. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2023-01-29 15:50

    I’m certainly ready to focus on Machiavellian opportunism as the primary motivation here and stay out of the sexism critique. And if we are entering the modern era, as Donald suggests, then I hope we’ll see the same standard of conduct applied to all legislators… although we’ll need public testimony, a transcript, and other rock-solid evidence to make absolutely clear the precedent we are setting.

    So I won’t press a sexism critique yet. But let’s consider: how many times have other legislators or even Governor Kristi Noem herself spoken belligerently or otherwise offensively to state employees? Is such aggressive behavior enough to trigger such swift and severe punishment from the Senate, or will this punishment be reserved only for members of trouble-making minorities?

  17. Arlo Blundt 2023-01-29 16:26

    For sure, Cory, trouble making minorities, Native American and Women first. White Republican, Male Episcopalians, last.

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