Zoey DeWolf considers herself a “hard-core Democrat” who campaigned for Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and sought out another Democrat for a congressional internship. But when the Lead resident recently spoke to Rep. Kristi Noem, she came away impressed.

DeWolf’s internship was through the Running Start program, designed to encourage women to get involved in politics. But DeWolf’s internship turned out to be anything but typical: She was working in the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman who was shot just days before DeWolf’s internship started.

That posed problems for the requirement that DeWolf interview her congresswoman. So Noem, the member of Congress from DeWolf’s home state, stepped in.

Despite saying she missed Herseth Sandlin “dearly,” DeWolf said she was honored to talk to Noem.

“She’s all the things a woman in politics should be,” DeWolf said of the South Dakota Republican. “She’s a triple threat – she’s beautiful, intelligent and determined. We don’t often find those three qualities in one (person).”

The Running Start program asks its interns to interview female members of Congress to help inspire them.

“Part of the reason they work for these female members is we want them to see themselves in the women they’re working for in a tangible way,” said Jessica Grounds, executive director of Running Start. “We have them sit down and interview them, to get a sense of their story and why they decided to run.”

DeWolf is concerned about the low levels of women in politics – due, she said, not to voter prejudice but to women not stepping forward.

“Women are just as likely as men to win when they actually run for office, but there’s a significant disparity in the amount of women who are running for office,” she said.

She asked Noem about that disparity and liked what she heard.

“Basically, what it came down to for her was not why should I run, but why wouldn’t I run?” DeWolf said. “She basically flips the table and makes gender not an issue.”

In a statement, Noem said she also enjoyed speaking with DeWolf.

“Even though I didn’t have the opportunity to meet Rep. Giffords in the few days between swearing in and the tragedy in Arizona, I was honored to help her office and her intern, who is a fellow South Dakotan, in this very small way,” Noem said. “I was pleased to meet Zoey and hear about the great work her program is doing to help get more women engaged in politics. Our elected officials should look like the rest of the country in terms of diversity and life experience.”

DeWolf said despite Giffords’ injury, which has kept her from voting, Giffords office has kept up normal work for constituents.

“The staff came in Monday morning after the tragedy, and they just went right back to work,” she said. “The staff here is really committed to serving our constituents, so we’ve been doing a lot of casework and acting the way a congressional staff normally would.”

C.J. Karamargin, Giffords’ communications director, said the office has actually been busier, with constituent service cases up 23 percent since the Jan. 8 shooting.

Party politics didn’t stand between the Republican congresswoman and the Democratic intern.

“I think it would surprise a lot of people, that when it comes down to it, we aren’t really that different,” DeWolf said. “Everybody wants the same thing out of where they are. They want solutions to the problems we see in our society, and the only difference is how we get there. Some people believe it’s fiscal conservatism. Some people believe it’s social liberalism. But whatever the means are, the end goal is the same.”

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