As excitement around the Republican caucuses builds, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is an upcoming figure in the Republican Party after her management of the pandemic, which has received praise and criticism from both parties.
Noem now champions the state’s 2.9 percent unemployment rate after opposing mask mandates and business shutdowns as mitigation responses.
Noem is one of eight women serving as state executive, and only 44 women have held the governor’s seat in all of American history. Eyes are now on Noem as a possible candidate for the Republican presidential nominee in 2024 if former President Donald Trump were to not run.
Noem has seen high rates of approval from her constituents, but whether that would translate on the national level is the remaining question. Mack Shelley, chairman of the political science department at Iowa State, said Noem is a viable candidate for president in 2024, assuming Trump is not in the mix.
Noem said she excepts to see a woman on the presidential ballot, but only time will tell for which party. But her main concern for any leadership position isn’t gender — it's qualifications. However, Noem said it is still important for women to have a seat at the table.
“I don’t think there are any women’s issues; I think there is a women’s perspective on every issue, we just look at things differently,” Noem said. “Many times, we are working jobs, we’re CEOs paying the family bills, we are making medical decisions. We have been in different worlds, we are mothers, grandmothers now, so we just have a different perspective in every issue.”
On the topic of abortion, an AP-NORC poll reported a majority of Americans believe most abortions should be legal during the first three months of pregnancy. After the first trimester, the majority of Americans think abortion should be illegal with the exception of some circumstances.
When asked what the consequences for an illegal abortion should be, Noem said those debates should take place once Roe v. Wade is overturned, which she viewed as a stain on the country’s history.
Shelley said he is unsure Republicans actually want abortions to be barred because it brings in money.
“I think what Noem would really like is to have abortion die from a thousand cuts rather than being beheaded, if you will,” Shelley said.
Another debate that swept the nation is the teaching of “divisive concepts” like critical race theory and the 1619 Project.
“As long as I am governor, I am going to continue to fight critical race theory in the state of South Dakota,” Noem said. “… I am working with the Board of Regents to make sure the university systems do not allow critical race theory to be taught at universities. I am also very concerned with the 1619 Project, both of these create division and hate.”
When asked where the curriculum has been taught in the state, Noem responded with saying whether or not the theories have been taught is not the current debate.
“We are having a debate right now about it in the country and outside groups that are pushing these theories that are based fundamentally on Marxism and communism, and it has no place in America,” Noem said.
According to a fact check on critical race theory from WFPL, the theory isn’t based in Marxism or communism but instead is sourced from multiple academic disciplines. Similar scare tactics were commonly used during the Civil Rights Movement against leaders like Martin Luther King Jr.
As a rancher and farmer, Noem said conservation and biodiversity are important steps in reversing climate change but that the Biden approach is completely backward.
“The way they are doing it, penalizing the people who get up every day and try and put food on the table, that is just wrong,” Noem said. “So you can add diversification, but it shouldn’t be prioritized over Americans.”
From 2009-18, she has received over $65,000 from Moyle Petroleum, as well as other donors to her campaign.
“Corporations fund both major parties; as far as her particular power base is concerned in her home state, it is pretty much fossil fuel industry and agriculture,” Shelley said. “And she doesn’t want to get too much out of step with that.”
The Republican caucus has recently criticized the Biden administration’s approach to immigration, and Noem said the Biden administration's management of border security is shameful.
“Immigration issues and essentially hardening access at the border are kind of fundamental, red meat issues for Republicans and have been for quite a while,” Shelley said. “It is coming from a mixture of motives: Part of it is just to appear to be tough in general. Another part, arguably, is to try and avoid the kind of demographic transition that makes Republicans very jumpy.”
Noem joined Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds in sending state troopers to the southern border. Noem said they are largely there as an observation role around the Rio Grande to support ICE and border patrol officers.
“I wish the vice president cared as much about those kiddos down there at the border as she did about bailing criminals out of jail in the riots and violence we saw across this country,” Noem said. “I will do all that I can, but to secure that border is the responsibility of the federal government.”
When asked by the Daily’s reporters if the militarization of the border was a step aiding to the thousands of unaccompanied minors in apprehension centers, Noem said no.
“I think it should be secure, and those kids should not be in cages and not in detainment centers,” Noem said. “They should be with their families, they should be in their home countries and make sure we fix our immigration system so that it actually works, it is broken today. I would say even my party has failed to put forth a comprehensive immigration reform program.”
Shelley said while the Biden administration has tried to undo immigration policy from the Trump administration, they are still sending people back regularly even though there is an influx. To get to a solution, Shelley said it will require much more money and is unlikely to get the political alignment to make it happen.
“Depending on your perspective, you could argue there are perfectly good reasons why people are trying to escape really bad conditions, and therefore, the solution isn’t to choke off access to the border; it is to address the root cause of the problem,” Shelley said, “which is not a simple thing to do.”