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South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem was the featured guest Friday night at the Pottawattamie County Lincoln-Reagan Dinner. She spoke for about 20 minutes before taking questions and had the crowd’s attention throughout her speech.
In David Young’s introduction, he talked about serving with Noem in Congress. Young recounted a day in the basement of the U.S. Capitol where Noem spoke during open mic time during a time when Republicans were deciding whether they would go through with something or not.
Noem didn’t often speak at these open mic opportunities, but she quoted John Wayne, who said “courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.”
“That’s Kristi Noem,” Young said. “If John Wayne was reincarnated, he…she is sitting right here.”
Young called Noem solid on keeping taxes low, protecting the Second Amendment, protecting the Constitution, rebuilding the military, supporting veterans, classic Republicanism – states rights, individual responsibility. And, he said, she loves the Lord, her country and her family.
“The mainstream media hates her, the Washington Post hates her, the New York Times hates her – that’s why we love her,” Young said.
Noem opened with a story about her efforts to encourage people to move from Minnesota to South Dakota due to the criticisms leveled at her by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz. She then talked about Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds.
“You guys have a fantastic governor,” Noem said. “I have never met a governor who loves her people more than she does. She’s got the heart of a mother and a grandmother in every single decision she makes. Every time she talks about you, you can see it. She feels her decisions.”
WHO KRISTI NOEM IS
Noem called for a real, honest conversation.
“You people didn’t know who I was six months ago,” she said. “I’m the governor in the country that the media said was doing everything wrong – everything. And you probably first heard about me when Rachel Maddow and Elizabeth Warren went after me and started attacking me for being irresponsible because I trusted my people.”
In order to understand her and the decisions she makes, Noem said it is important people know how she was raised. She grew up with a dad who was a “cowboy.”
“From the time I was a real little girl all I ever wanted to do is to farm with him,” she said.
Her family had a large farming operation with a cow-calf operation and feedlots as well as other businesses.
“When I grew up, all I was going to do was get into business with him,” she said. “When I was in college, my dad was killed in an accident on our farm. And it was absolutely devastating for us. He was 49 years old at the time we were farming 10,000 acres. In fact, the day he got killed he had just signed a lease on another 2,500 acres.
“It was probably the hardest thing – I couldn’t even imagine how I was going to wake up the next morning after losing my dad.”
About six weeks later, Noem received a letter in the mail from the IRS that said her family owed death taxes. At the time, she said, the rate on death taxes was 55 percent.
“So, like most farmers and ranchers, we had a lot of land, we had machinery and we had cattle, but we didn’t have any money in the bank,” she said. “And I could not figure out how a family could have a tragedy like that and all the sudden owe the federal government all that money and it made me mad.”
That experience was a large reason she got involved in government.
“I was raised with a dad that every morning when he woke me up, he would yell up the stairs to us kids, ‘get up, more people die in bed than anywhere else.’ But he also told us you don’t complain about things, you fix them. So when it came to that situation, I took out a loan. It took us 10 years to pay off that operation and to pay off that loan. But I also realized that we needed more good, normal everyday people showing up. Showing up at meetings, telling their stories, writing policy, so that it actually worked for families and for small businesses in this country. So that’s what I started to do. I just started to show up.”
Noem won a seat in the state legislature and found out “within two minutes” that leadership controls everything. She then ran for leadership and was assistant majority leader.
“But then in 2010, I was watching what President Obama was doing to this country,” she said.
People had approached her about running for Congress for a couple of years. She wasn’t interested.
“They kept coming back and asking and asking me. Finally, I said to my husband, ‘You know what, maybe we should just run. And if we lose, they’ll leave us alone and everything will be fine.’”
Noem ran and won in 2010. She said her time in Congress was miserable.
“That place is a train wreck,” she said. “Honestly, I’ve never seen anything so broken. We were there in the majority, I can’t even imagine now what it’s like in the minority.”
While in Congress, Noem worked on two farm bills.
“Which as a farmer and rancher, we all know that a farm bill is our national security policy correct,” she said. “You understand that. You’ve heard this speech because you’re in Iowa. Listen, the instant another country grows our food for us is the instant they control us. We have a safe food supply and a secure food supply and it’s an affordable food supply and it’s because of the important work they do.”
Noem said she worked on tax reform and trade agreements that President Trump has gotten over the finish line.
“We did some big things while I was there, but I also recognized that a governor, a governor is a CEO of the state,” she said. “They have the opportunity to set an agenda. They can make decisions every day in their state.”
AN EXAMPLE TO AMERICA
Though South Dakota is small, Noem said she always believed it could serve as an example to America.
“I campaigned on that. Because we were small, we could be a pilot project for everywhere else. We could have conservative values, make good decisions, help families be stronger, focus on bringing new industries to the state, creating jobs and that we would be an example to the nation,” Noem said.
“I had no idea that God would do that through a pandemic.”
Noem’s first year as governor was messy as 63 of South Dakota’s 66 counties were declared natural disaster areas due to flooding.
“As soon as we got through 2019, I went into the legislative session. The day legislative session got over, we had our first COVID-19 case,” Noem said.
In January, Noem opened up an emergency operation center because she knew COVID was coming. She also consulted with people about modeling in other countries and looked at what was taking place in other states.
“I was talking to my State Department of Health, my epidemiologists, looking at what was coming to South Dakota, but I also did something that I don’t think many other governors did. I sat down my general counsel and I sat down with some attorneys who specialized in constitutional authorities.”
They went over what authorities she had as governor and what authorities she did not have.
Her secretary of health asked Noem if she wanted to do things that feel good or if she wanted to do good.
“And I said we are going to do good,” she said.
Noem then laid out her record of the handling of the COVID crisis.
“Through the last several months, I never once shut down a business in South Dakota,” she said. “We never issued a shelter in place. I never even defined what an essential business is because, according to the U.S. Constitution and the South Dakota State Constitution, I don’t have the authority to declare your business not essential. And we’ve been back to normal for over four and a half months now.”
Noem said she did 45 press conferences in 60 days. She promised to provide the information she had, and then told the residents she was going to trust them to make the best decisions for them and their family.
“I’m going to give you the opportunity to protect their health, but I’m also going to let you put a roof over their head and food on the table. And in turn, I’m going to ask you to trust me. That we’re going to get through this in a partnership and do it very well.”
South Dakota, she said, has one of the lowest death rates in the nation. She has less than 100 people in the hospital today.
“You know, Fauci and the experts told me I’d have 10,000 in the hospital because of COVID-19,” she said. “I’ve got less than 100.”
The state’s unemployment rate is under six percent. South Dakota ended the last fiscal year with a $19 million surplus.
“South Dakota has the strongest economy in the nation,” Noem said. “We are thriving when other states are failing. We also, even though the President gave us the flexibility to extend unemployment benefits at the elevated rate that he did, I told him I didn’t need them in South Dakota, our people are working.”
The very next week, unemployment claims were cut in half.
“So listen, we’re doing very well,” Noem said. “I think we really are that example to the nation right now because we had the opportunity to take Republican, conservative principles and we did them. And we talked to each other. We were transparent and honest. We saw a challenge in front of us and we tackled them together trusting each other.
“Now listen, America has always been a place of equality and freedom and opportunity and the pursuit of happiness. When is the last time you turned on the news and saw happiness, right? Our people in South Dakota are happy. Some of you went to Sturgis a couple of weeks ago, were you happy?”
CONTRASTS ARE CLEAR
She painted a clear contrast between Democrats and Republicans.
“You watch these Democrat cities – Portland, Seattle, Washington D.C. – you see the consequences of poor leadership,” Neom said. “I have never in my life seen people so gripped by fear. When you have a leader overstep their authorities in a time of crisis, that’s when you break your country. And we’re watching it before our eyes each and every day.”
Noem’s closing challenge was to point out the choice to people in this election.
“We are literally deciding if we’re going to stay America or if we’re not,” she said. “We have a President that loves le. We are a country of law and order.
“People every day are losing their rights – they’re losing their rights to worship, to assemble – they’re being eroded away right before our eyes. We have an incredible opportunity in front of us to talk about what President Trump stands for. To talk about what Republicans believe. To talk about our history. Our history they’re trying to erase and tear down. They’re ripping down monuments, they’re threatening Mt. Rushmore. It made me mad.”
Noem decided that while the rest of the country is tearing down statutes, South Dakota would put them up. Noem is working to raise the money to get statues of the four men on Mt. Rushmore and put them up on the Capitol domes.
“Last night at this exact time I was sitting on a horse, wearing Wranglers and a cowboy hat holding the American flag at a bull riding,” Noem said. “Tonight, I’m in Iowa. Is this America or what?”
Noem said no President in the last 50 years has accomplished more for the country’s fundamental values than President Trump.
“He has protected your religious freedom, the sanctity of life, your Second Amendment rights. He has given us tax reform, put more dollars into every family’s pockets. He’s opened up more markets for us with these trade agreements. The work that he has done, giving us policies that work and then supporting law and order.”
She said she’s talked with Trump many times.
“What you need to know is he dearly loves you,” she said. “He loves America. He wakes up in the morning and goes to fight for you each and every day.”
Noem reminded those in attendance that “our children are watching us.”
“I can’t imagine what they’re thinking when they watch our news and they see adults consumed in fear and skepticism and cynicism,” Noem said. “I tell people all the time this country is addicted to being offended. We love to be offended. Everything…somebody says “oh, I’m so offended by that.’ Well, get over yourself.”
Republicans, she said, are optimistic.
“We have a future. We have hope. We have 240-plus years proving that our principles and our values offer freedom and liberty,” she said. “That’s what we have. The Democrats have nothing. What do they have? They are trying to remake this country into a failed socialist society that has never worked once in history. We have everything.
“Don’t ever forget that we are one nation under God. My favorite quote of (John Wayne’s) is that ‘my hope and my prayer is that people know and love this great country for who she really is and what she stands for.’ That is what our message is. We want people to know what this country stands for and what we really are. So let’s remember that. And boy, let’s fight like hell to make sure she stays great.”