'Shocking and filthy': Alleged harassment of South Dakota GOP senator’s aide sparks state party chaos
South Dakota state Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller (Legislature image).

The South Dakota Republican Party is in peril after a state GOP senator's aide recently alleged that she was harassed by her boss for vaccinating her child, The Associated Press (AP) reports.

This comes as some hard-right South Dakota Republicans, under the guidance of Governor Kristi Noem, actively stir up controversy within the party by "pushing for hard-line stands on social issues and passionately staking out positions that defy evidence, whether it is from medical authorities or election officials," per the Associated Press.

Among the group of hard-right Republicans is Senator Julie Frye-Mueller, who is currently suspended after she was accused of harassing her aide following an incident that occurred between the two in the lawmaker's office.

According to AP, both the senator and the anonymous aide confirm that their discussion about a draft bill somehow morphed into a conversation about "childhood vaccinations and breastfeeding," and went downhill from there — although their stories differ.

The aide recalled in her complaint that after she responded “yes” to Frye-Mueller’s question about whether she had vaccinated her child, the senator “pointed her finger and aggressively told her the child could have health issues or die.”

AP reports that during her testimony before the Senate committee, Frye-Mueller said "she questioned whether newborn babies in Pierre were receiving vaccinations and informed the aide about legislation that would have eliminated school requirements for childhood vaccinations."

The senator’s husband, Mike Mueller, was also present in the office during the debacle and played a part in the alleged harassment, per the aide’s complaint.

When the topic of conversation switched to breastfeeding, the aide recalled she said to Frye-Mueller that “she wished she could breastfeed,” to which the senator allegedly said “the aide’s husband could ‘suck on her breasts’ to get milk to come in.” In response, Mr. Mueller allegedly “smiled and nodded.”

During testimony, Frye-Mueller disagreed with the aide's memory of what occurred in that moment, alleging that the aide first "brought up breastfeeding," to which the senator asked "whether she wanted advice she had received as a young mother," and once given consent, she told the aide, “Have your husband help.”

Furthermore, Frye-Mueller described the aide's account of the incident as “shocking and filthy,” asserting that she was "falsely accused" and that her remarks can be classified as "an issue of freedom of speech."

Still, South Dakota Republicans “treated the incident as a personal issue and a serious harassment allegation,” placing Frye-Mueller on suspension and voting to censure her amid an investigation. However, the senator’s suspension has since ended.

While testifying, Frye-Mueller alleged that GOP Senate Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck's recent Facebook post “about the death of a family cat” was “proof of a conspiracy that he was employing a ‘dead cat strategy’ of drawing attention to something shocking to distract media attention from another story.”

Although known for often blasting his hard-right colleagues, and calling the senator and other South Dakota GOPers “wackadoodles,” Schoenbeck contends the post was about nothing other than the loss of a family pet, according to AP.

Former South Dakota GOP Senator Tom Dempster said, “When you have a supermajority, you will always tear yourself apart. The primary system incentivizes extreme candidates.”

Professor of political science and history at the University of Rochester, Gerald Gamm said, “Polarization at the state level is probably as high today as it’s ever been."

Regardless of the clear party tension, Frye-Mueller's supporters continue to stand by her side, having recently "drafted a resolution to back" the senator.