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Panel recommends censure and reinstatement of ousted Senator

Senator Julie Frye-Mueller, and her husband Mike, watch the Senate Select Committee on Discipline and Expulsion.
Lee Strubinger
Senator Julie Frye-Mueller, and her husband Mike, watch the Senate Select Committee on Discipline and Expulsion.

A Senate Select Committee is looking to recommend censuring and reinstating suspended Senator Julie Frye-Mueller.

A panel of Senators took the action after a four-hour hearing Tuesday.

Senator Frye-Mueller was suspended from the Senate after an interaction with a legislative staffer. A Senate committee investigating the matter met Tuesday evening.

Frye-Mueller was representative by former Speaker of the House Steve Haugaard. He called the committee “absolutely unprecedented” and the hearing a “political event.”

Haugaard questioned the authority of the committee and took issue with several rulings by the committee chair Senator David Wheeler.

“Mr. Chair. I don’t know if you’ve even watched court on TV,” Haugaard said.

“Sir, that’s twice now that you’ve tried to insult me in public,” Wheeler said. “And I’m not going to allow for it anymore. You know I’m an attorney. You know I’m a practicing attorney. I’m not going to allow you to grandstand for cameras in this committee.”

Senator Frye-Mueller and her husband testified for over an hour. The Republican from District 30 says she was unfairly maligned by the Republican-controlled Senate.

"There’s no way in the world I’m going to let this go. I’ve been treated absolutely terrible," Frye-Mueller said. "I’m humiliated that you have all ran me through the ringer. That you publicized stuff you didn’t even know what was true. You didn’t even give me a chance. You hid everything from me.”

Frye-Mueller’s husband, Mike, alleged the staffer is being played to embellish the interaction.

The Senator has suggested her ouster from the senate is part of an agenda against her.

The panel is directing staff to draft a report recommending three things: censure Senator Frye-Mueller’s conduct, limit her access to LRC staff for remainder of session, and lift her suspension immediately.

Democratic State Senator Reynold Nesiba made the motion. He said lawmakers have a duty to protect staff.

“This isn’t a trial. This is a personnel matter," Nesiba said. "We have a duty to try and create an environment here where the legislators can work, where our staff can work. I believe the motion I have made will help us get back to that as expeditiously as possible.”

The Senate Select Committee will meet at noon Wednesday to approve the written report. Censure and reinstatement will require a three-fifths majority of Senate members. The chamber is expected to vote on reinstatement Wednesday afternoon.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.
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