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Kristi Noem – real model governor?

Kristi Noem, not Ron DeSantis, might be the real model governor among Republicans today. Her history is instructive.

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The 2024 Presidential primary campaign has begun, at least unofficially. Donald Trump remains the favorite for the nomination, with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) a close second. But another governor, Kristi Noem, deserves at least as much attention. In Midterms 2022, she handily won re-election. Now in recent interviews she is calling attention to her record – and taking key positions that mark her as a study in courage and consistency.

Kristi Noem – a history

In 2010, Kristi Noem unseated Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and took South Dakota’s at-large seat in the House of Representatives. Eight years later she ran for Governor, and won. During her first year she was just another conservative Governor in a rock-ribbed Republican State. A State which, furthermore, had lost representation in the House since its admission to the Union. South Dakota had two seats when admitted, three from 1913 to 1933, two from 1933 to 1983, and one at-large seat since 1983.

Then in March of 2020, came the declaration of the pandemic. At least until August of 2020, Kristi Noem did ask for legislative authority to close businesses and other entities. (She did close schools for the spring semester of 2020.) But when the State House did not give her that authority, she did not arrogate to herself any such authority by Executive Order. Indeed she maintained that, lacking such authority, she would not order anything to shut down.

Bradlee Dean hailed her decision to keep South Dakota open. In fact she said:

When you have a leader overstep their authority in a time of crisis, that’s really when you lose this country.

She further said she came to realize, during conference calls with other Governors and then-President Trump, that fear, not sober consideration of who was getting sick and who wasn’t, was driving people’s actions.

Robert W. Peck, head of the Constitution Party, also praised her for following the law and Constitution.

On national issues

Her stand-out performance on the Pandemic has won her kudos at home as well. Today she boasts that South Dakota is gaining population at ten times the national average rate, according to Fox News. (South Dakota is growing at 0.8 percent per year and has grown 11.57 percent since 2010, according to World Population Review. These are the seventeenth highest rates among the fifty States.)

The current administration has canceled the Independence Day fireworks at Mount Rushmore twice. Noem has fought a losing battle in the courts, but her voters give her points for trying.

More recently, she pressed for legislation to ban abortions, even while Justice Samuel A. Alito was writing his seminal opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The State House rejected one such bill in February 2022 – three days before Alito finished his first draft. But she kept trying – and when Dobbs came down, her State was ready.

On Tuesday, January 17, she told CBS News her fellow governors need to do more than they’re doing.

I would nudge every governor to do what they can to back up their pro-life record. I think that talking about situations and making statements is incredibly important, but also taking action and governing and bringing policies that protect life are even more important because that’s what truly will save lives.

She has a point. Dobbs removed the last excuse for inaction on this subject, when the Supreme Court corrected a forty-nine-year-old error.

Other stances

Kristi Noem has also signed into law a measure forbidding South Dakota’s public universities to require students, faculty or staff to attend any training session promoting any of seven “divisive concepts.” This bill is similar to Gov. DeSantis’ Stop WOKE Act in Florida.

Her handling of women’s sports had provoked the most controversy. In principle she agrees that biological males, regardless of “self-identification” or their having opted for surgical mutilation and/or hormonal poisoning, should not play in women’s sports. But she has struggled to get a law that she believes would accomplish its aims and withstand judicial scrutiny. In February 2022, she finally signed a bill that does so to her satisfaction.

Now that she has become governor for another term, she will introduce “the largest tax cut in South Dakota history.” South Dakota has no income tax, and already has the fourth lightest tax burden of all the States. (Source: Tax Foundation.) Alaska, Wyoming and Tennessee have lighter burdens. The major places she can cut taxes are in general sales and property taxes.

Kristi Noem for President?

The Fox News report speculated openly about whether Kristi Noem would seek the Republican Presidential nomination. Trump remains in front, but some of his statements have lately caused concern among his staunchest allies. DeSantis’ problem is that he shifted positions during the Pandemic and tried to pretend he hadn’t. In contrast, when Kristi Noem has said she would do a thing, she’s done it.

All things considered, she is likely to give Trump and DeSantis some tough competition at least. In any case, she continues to set an excellent example for governors everywhere.

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

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