To Comfort The Afflicted
And Afflict The Comfortable

To Comfort The Afflicted And Afflict The Comfortable

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Observercast

Kristi Noem? Um, No Thanks

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South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem recently made two roundtrips of about 2,400 miles each from her home state to a dental office in Sugarland, TX, just outside of Houston. Not a real endorsement for SoDak dentists – a “sucker punch,” according to South Dakota Searchlight.

But that’s not the endorsement Noem is courting. Noem has been running to be Donald Trump’s vice president candidate for most of the past two years.

How do we know about her sparkling new teeth? On March 11, she posted a five-minute endorsement on her social media accounts singing the praises of Smile Texas – “professionally shot,” according to Sioux Falls TV station KELO, which should be an acceptable judge of video quality.

The video opens: “Hi, I’m Kristi Noem. I’m the governor of South Dakota and I had the opportunity to come to Smile Texas to fix my teeth, which has been absolutely amazing. For years I have needed to have an adjustment to my teeth for a biking accident.”

It is unclear whether Noem received any compensation for her ad or whether state taxpayers picked up the tabs for her flights. [There’s a history there.]

Publicity is the name of her game – and, if Smile Texas chooses to run Noem’s testimonial as an ad, so much the better for her. Noem loves seeing her plastered face plastered across screens. Exposure in the Texas market would suit her just fine.

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And the attention she has received for her bizarre action certainly must count as a positive to her way of thinking.

She is already peppering parts of the nation with an advertising blitz, herself prominently featured under the auspices of encouraging workers to move to South Dakota.

Under the banner of Freedom Works Here, Noem has used $5 million designated for COVID economic relief on this project, where she has played dress-up as a plumber, welder – even a dental assistant – to get face time across the country. She calls the campaign a great success. Skeptics would like to see supporting data.

An anonymous [ashamed?] South Dakota donor told Politico’s Adam Wren last year: “Everybody assumes she’s running. It’s very obvious. Not a week goes by where she’s not on Fox News. It’s a national strategy.”

Her use of taxpayer money for campaigning does align her with Trump’s four years’ worth of rallies. She just had to exercise more creativity in accessing the taxpayers’ money.

It has been estimated that Trump’s 365 golf outings during his four years in office [note, that this is one-fourth of the time] cost U.S. taxpayers from $140 million to $300 million – much of which went to his golf courses and into his pockets. In South Dakota, Noem doesn’t have the same opportunities, but she makes do.

Noem does share many other Trump traits, which have earned her the short list for his running mate [if he doesn’t decide to declare himself president for life or anoint Ivanka to succeed him]. There’s nepotism, bigotry, anti-choice stances and deadly anti-science initiatives.

“If President Trump is going to be back in the White House, I’d do all I can to help him be successful,” she has said.

It was her pro-Trump, anti-science decision to keep South Dakota “open” during the pandemic that gave Noem her foothold on the national stage in 2020. She ignored safety precautions – and common sense – to encourage motorcyclists to attend the Sturgis bike rally. Each year of the pandemic, her indifference to human life resulted in surges of COVID deaths in the upper Midwest. Dead pawns to make Trump proud. Her loyalty established

 

 

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In April of 2022, her office purchased a newer airplane. [She was toying with the idea of running for president before it became clear that the GOP was going full-fascist with Trump.] The alleged state-business trips she has taken have raised eyebrows.

South Dakotans do not know if they are paying for Noem’s trips to a hunting convention in Las Vegas, Republican Party events and campaigns, and her trip to the Conservative Political Action Committee. And her routine trips to a Texas dentist?

The watchdog group American Oversight filed suit in 2022 questioning these trips and expenditures. According to Stephen Groves of the Associated Press, “It alleges that the governor’s office did not follow the state’s open records law by claiming that releasing the records would create a threat to the governor’s safety.”

Well, you never know when Sherman and Mr. Peabody might show up in their Wayback Machine to challenge a governor’s unauthorized, inappropriate use of public funds.

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In the lawsuit, Heather Sawyer, executive director of American Oversight said, “South Dakota law requires disclosure of public spending and the public has a right to see how Gov. Noem is spending their money.”

In her second inaugural address in 2023, Noem had a Top 10 list of what she considered surprises after attaining office. No. 10 on the list was, “People care where I am.” I imagine most South Dakotans would prefer her in South Dakota tending to state business.

KELO reported in August 2022 that, “The Noem administration sent one person to Idaho last week for the annual summer meeting of the Western Governors Association. Meanwhile Governor Kristi Noem spent those same days in Washington, DC, speaking to conservative audiences … and holding book-signings for her new political memoir.”

Her speechifying over tending to governmental business dovetails perfectly with the Trump model.

There was another inquiry in the American Oversight filing. It sought to discover the legal expenses incurred when Noem intervened after her daughter’s repeated failures to acquire a state real estate appraiser license.

When Noem’s daughter, Kassidy Peters, failed to meet certification requirements in 2020, an unprecedented additional training program was established to get her up to speed. But that did not satisfy her proud mother.

Noem’s Labor Secretary Marcia Hultman removed the additional training requirement, but Sherry Bren, the director of the appraiser program and a 30-year state employee, following protocol, sent Peters notice that her application would be denied. Under this system, Peters would need to wait six months before reapplying.

Bren soon found herself summoned to the Governor’s Mansion with the documents relevant to the case. The upshot of this overt bullying and nepotism was that Peters got an appraiser license, Bren was forced to retire – and then the state was forced to pay Bren $200,000 for her wrongful termination. [Peters is no longer a certified appraiser.]

In September 2022 the South Dakota Government Accountability Board, an ethics committee staffed by three retired judges, concluded that Noem “engaged in misconduct” through her interference and that “appropriate [but never specified] action” should be taken.

On that aforesaid Top 10 list of [mostly humorous] surprises, Noem’s sixth biggest surprise was, “How inspiring she found state employees for their hard work and dedication.” Was she thinking of dedicated public servant Sherry Bren when she said that?

Granted, this is not of the same magnitude as Trump incorporating trademarks agreements for Ivanka in formal negotiations with China. But the mindset is the same. Family financial finagling dictates official action. [What did Trump adviser-and-son-in-law Jared Kushner do for the Saudis to earn the $2 billion he received in 2021? But, given a national stage, Noem could really fulfill her potential.

To be an ideal Trump running mate Noem would need to share his bigotry. She was one of the first GOP grandstanders to send troops to the “warzone” at the southern border.

She’s done so twice, the first time as mercenaries, with $1 million of the cost funded by Tennessee billionaire Willis Johnson. [Wonder where he will next deploy Noem’s Hessians?] The total cost was $1.4 million, meaning South Dakota taxpayers “spent more than $20,000 a day to support a public relations stunt,” according to Lauren White of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

She sent the troops south again last year, under even more dubious financial circumstances.

When questioned, her spokesman Ian Fury told South Dakota Searchlight that, “All costs will be paid out of the Emergency & Disaster Fund,” which Noem budgeted with $2,524,560 for emergencies and disasters specifically within the state. [Evidently an $850,000 price tag has surfaced since then.]

According to the Searchlight, “Lee Schoenbeck, a Watertown Republican and president pro tempore of the state Senate, said securing the border is a federal responsibility. He said Noem is acting on a ‘political agenda unrelated to South Dakota issues’ and violating the trust placed in the executive branch to spend the state’s money as intended.

“‘She cannot use those funds for that. She needs to follow the law.” Follow the law? The law in Trump World applies to others.

The Searchlight’s Dana Hess, in a commentary, thought the 52-year-old Noem too young “to be suffering from long-term memory loss,” though brain fog would be another Trump-like characteristic.

Hess quoted Noem’s 2022 budget address when she said, “I recognize that taxpayer dollars are not our own – they belong to the people of South Dakota. We all must remember throughout our budget discussions, that this money belongs to the hard-working people of South Dakota.”

Hess continues, “That money may belong to us, but Noem gets to use it as she sees fit. And often she puts it to a use designed to make her look good among her conservative colleagues … Noem was polishing her credentials as a conservative by sending South Dakota Guard soldiers to the border, and she funded it with taxpayer dollars.”

So, believe what she says, or what she does? Well, good Republicans, Trumpers especially, prefer public sources to pick up their private tabs.

Hess also pointed out the human cost of Noem’s grandstanding – the National Guard members who miss important family milestones and job opportunities, the children who miss a parent, the spouses suddenly doing double duty to satisfy Noem’s publicity cravings.

Hess observes, “Members of the Guard know that deployment is an option when they sign up. Usually the commercials seeking recruits show the National Guard rescuing their friends and neighbors from natural disasters, not stringing razor wire along the Rio Grande.”

Noem’s disingenuous bigotry in calling the border situation an “invasion” was also noted last February by Frank Star Comes Out, president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, when he banned her from its reservation. He said he did so for the safety of the Oglala people.

He issued a four-page letter following her remarks.

He called “invasion” a “misplaced” nomenclature.

“The truth of the matter,” Stars Comes Out said, “is that Gov. Noem wants to use the so-called ‘invasion’ of the southern border as a Republican ‘crisis’ issue to help former President Donald Trump use it as a campaign issue to get re-elected as president, and in turn increase her chances of being selected by Trump to be his running mate as vice-president.”

Well, Republicans quit being subtle about their bigotry and motives long ago.

State Senate leader Schoenbeck also remarked last July about another trait Noem shares with her idol. At that time, he told Stu Whitney of Rapid City’s KOTA-TV that the constant turnover among Noem staffers was not his concern, but should be hers.

She was looking for her sixth chief of staff in less than five years. Could anyone count high enough to document the number of entries and exits from the Trump administration? And, of course, he is planning to fire as many civil servants as possible if elected. But ignorance among staffers does not matter when those in charge ignore facts as a matter of course.

“To have a lack of staffers that know South Dakota and understand the issues – that ought to concern her a lot,” Schoenbeck said. “It’s a tough gig being Kristi Noem’s chief staff.” Tell that to those officials dizzied by Trump’s revolving door of employment.

When defying common sense and encouraging sickness and death at the Sturgis rallies, Noem proclaimed herself a champion of individual freedom fighting an all-controlling federal government. But that liberty to choose personal health options does not extend to women in her state.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, as of March 13, South Dakota ranks among the 15 “most restrictive” states in the country for permitting abortions. There is a total ban except in the case of saving a pregnant woman’s life.

Noem’s past stances on the matter of women’s choice have included advocating a ban on mail-order abortion pills; threatening to prosecute pharmacists who, following Federal Drug Administration guidelines, dispense abortion pills online; calling for a “fetal heartbeat bill” to make abortions as difficult as possible to attain and urging other governors to adopt her “most restrictive” measures.

In August 2022, women’s choice activist Leah Bothamley of Spearfish challenged Noem at one of the latter’s surprise campaign appearances [she guards her schedule], demanding, “I want my rights back.”

Bothamley also denounced Noem’s alleged concern for the 10-year-old Ohio girl who had to go to Indiana to get an abortion after being raped. Though Noem called the development “a tragic situation,” Bothamley pointed out in a Daily Beast story that Noem opposed the abortion.

Rape and incest are not permissible reasons for abortions in South Dakota.

At the same rally, Tiffany Campbell of Sioux Falls told her governor: “I said,” she told the Daily Beast, ‘I think women should make their own medical decisions and I’m sorry that you don’t also.’ And then she kind of looked at me, gave me a nasty little look. I said, ‘If you don’t think I should make my own medical decisions, you don’t respect me as a human being.’ And that’s when she really took off.”

Took off as in fleeing the scene.

Noem follows the Trump model of not taking questions from any but softballing sycophantic reporters. The South Dakota press gets plenty to write about trying to keep up with her shenanigans, but it gets few responses from their governor herself.

Last year the Associated Press reported that Noem, who had not held a press conference during the first three weeks of the legislative session, “has granted numerous TV interviews to national outlets. But in her home state Capitol, where she is proposing a historic tax repeal, new rules for foreign entities purchasing farmland and a batch of bills aimed at aiding new parents, she has not personally taken questions from reporters.”

As with Trump, Noem favors social media for getting her messages publicized unchallenged – even if her message is touting Texas dentists.

Speaking of which, Travelers United, a consumer travel non-profit organization, filed suit against Noem seeking clarification as to whether or what compensation she received for her posting.

“Someone with a very busy job does not take time off of that job to make a free advertisement for medical services in another state. There are many dentists and cosmetic dentists in South Dakota,” the Travel United lawsuit said.

“No one with an extremely important job in South Dakota would fly to Texas to receive dental treatment and then sit in that office and film an advertisement without some form of compensation,” the suit continued.

The allegation is that Noem is acting as a social influencer and such influencers have to clearly mark their advertising pitches as such.

Noem’s intro into the influencing field has also drawn the attention of Democratic state Sen. Reynold Nesiba, who has asked the Government Operations and Audit Committee to examine her performance.

“I just thought it was a very strange video about how much she enjoyed having her teeth done at that particular place,” Nesiba told the AP.

And, as with Trump declaring himself above all laws, Noem had not responded to public inquisitiveness or the lawsuit before she posted another commercial endorsement Mar. 14. This time she promoted Fit My Feet, a South Dakota [at least] company that fitted her tennis shoes and cowboy boots with custom insoles.

“They have totally built me inserts for running, separate ones for my cowboy boots. I’m gonna be perfect, I’m gonna be like bionic woman now,” she stated Mar. 14.

Bionic? Well, I’m a poor judge of the work people have done to their appearances. It has to be catastrophic before I can tell.

Perfect? Well, Noem certainly checks a lot of the Trump boxes though she has called Trump’s idol Vladimir Putin “evil.” Perfect for a Trump running mate; lousy for this country.

Heck, South Dakota’s family values governor has even been accused of having a long-running affair – with Trump advisor Corey Lewandowski. That could be another similarity between Trump and Noem.

In September of last year, DailyMail headlined: “EXCLUSIVE: Married South Dakota governor Kristi Noem and Trump advisor Corey Lewandowski have been having a years-long clandestine affair.”

It followed up that, “DailyMail.com uncovered evidence of Lewandowski and Noem’s fling: Dozens of trips that mixed business with pleasure, private flights and luxury resort stays.”

And: “Neither denied the affair when asked by DailyMail.com. The Governor issued a statement attacking us for the timing of the article, while Lewandowski did not respond to a request for comment.”

Among those cited in DailyMail.com’s report, “Former Trump operative Charles Johnson wrote in a Substack post that he had seen them acting ‘in a very flirtatious manner’ at the August 2020 meeting of the Republican Attorneys General Association [RAGA] at The Cloister resort on Sea Island, Georgia.”

Noem has never been South Dakota’s attorney general. She later denied that she had had an affair with Lewandowski.

DailyMail.com’s salacious story is both lengthy and detailed, presenting “extensive evidence.” But while Noem’s purported behavior jibes perfectly with Trump’s braggadocio, he and his Magats might still adhere to a double standard – admiring “macho” men, but frightened by “loose”  women.

Yes, there might be a reason Noem dodges the press.

Or maybe she’s just hoping that the publicity she gets with her endorsements displays a defiance of public norms that will appeal to Trump’s innate lawlessness. Or maybe she’s venturing into commercial influence peddling, seeing that as her only viable career step.

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Gary Edmondson
Gary Edmondson
Gary Edmondson is chair of the Stephens County Democrats. He lives in Duncan, following a sporadic career as a small-town journalist, mostly in Texas, and as an editor of educational audio-visual materials. Some days he's a philosopher/poet, others a poet/philosopher.
Mark Krawczyk
Mark Krawczyk
March 9, 2023
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Brette Pruitt
September 5, 2022
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