Suspended Rapid City senator speaks out in late-night hearing, ethics committee recommends reinstatement

Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller is on her way toward reinstatement in the Senate as early as tomorrow, along with censure and "limited" access to LRC.

Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller, of Rapid CIty, and her husband, Mike Mueller, look on at committee discussion during the hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Discipline and Expulsion hearing on Jan. 31.
Jason Harward / Forum News Service

PIERRE, S.D. — Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller, the Rapid City senator who was suspended last week for an interaction with a legislative staffer, is on her way toward reinstatement into the South Dakota Legislature.

Following some four hours of testimony into the late evening hours on Jan. 31, the nine senators on the investigatory committee, in a motion by Democratic Sen. Reynold Nesiba, of Sioux Falls, voted unanimously in favor of a recommended resolution containing three parts.

The Legislative Research Council staffer who made a complaint against Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller, of Rapid City, released a full account of the incident in a Jan. 30 statement.

According to the motion, Frye-Mueller is to be censured, or reprimanded, for her conduct; limited from the Legislative Research Council office for the remainder of the session; and reinstated from her suspension immediately.

Sen. David Wheeler, a Republican from Huron and the chair of the committee, said the exact definition of “limited” will be parsed out in the full report delivered to the Senate tomorrow afternoon, pending final approval from the committee that morning.

The actions contained in the report will require a three-fifths majority, or 21 favorable votes, for the resolution to be approved.


The decision came after emotional public testimony from Frye-Mueller, where she presented her own view of the interaction last week between her and a staffer, a much-sanitized rendition of the events in the staffer’s account.

She said she was “shocked” at the allegations released by a legislative staffer in a redacted document released by the committee.

While both versions of the events included discussions of breastfeeding, vaccinations and a child’s health, Frye-Mueller’s account included a significantly friendlier and less explicit version of the meeting inside the Capitol between the staffer, the senator and the senator’s husband, Mike Mueller.

“I was so furious by what we read,” she said of the document widely circulated in the media and added to the committee’s public record. “It was disgusting for us.”

The suspended senator said she “absolutely did not” say that the child would “die from vaccines,” as the staffer’s redacted document claimed. Nor, Frye-Mueller claimed, did she make any suggestive gestures to her breasts or discuss raunchy details of breastfeeding.

“To be accused of saying something as filthy as [the staffer] said about the nursing stuff,” she said during her testimony. “That is not me. I never said it.”

Sen. David Wheeler, of Huron, listens to testimony from Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller's chief counsel, former House Speaker Steve Haugaard.
Jason Harward / Forum News Service

Though several senators, including Sen. Erin Tobin, of Winner, used the subsequent question portion to drill down into the specifics of the conversation, Frye-Mueller remained insistent that the issues of vaccination and breastfeeding were raised by the staffer, a claim backed up by the follow-up testimony of her husband.

A full piecing-together of the exact conversation did not materialize through the lengthy testimony, which included Frye-Mueller, Mueller and the senator's counsel, former House Speaker Steve Haugaard.


In a separate set of questions, Sen. Helene Duhamel, of Rapid City, asked if Frye-Mueller was willing to apologize to the staffer. Frye-Mueller claimed that last week she had met with Duhamel, who is a Senate whip, and asked if the three — Duhamel, Frye-Mueller and the staffer — could have a private meeting to discuss the allegations. That meeting never happened, and Wheeler confirmed that a similar request had been made.

“Before we had the written statement, the senator had asked me for the opportunity to have a private conversation with the staffer,” Wheeler said. “And at that point, I did not think that would be in the best interest of the parties involved.”

Following the hearing, Sen. David Wheeler, of Huron, the chair of the investigatory committee, said he felt the body did its job well considering the circumstances.

“I feel that the committee has, at this point, appropriately balanced the need to resolve this quickly while allowing a public process to occur,” Wheeler said.

“It's been great to see the support from the Legislature this year on backing up that type of investment," Gov. Kristi Noem told reporters days after approving $400 million in prison investments.

Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or

Jason Harward covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at
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