SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Scandals and corruption have a long history in South Dakota, dating back to when the state was known as Dakota Territory, one University of South Dakota professor recalled.
A flood of news reports and headlines involving South Dakota elected officials, notably Republican Governor Kristi Noem and Republican Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, had Dr. Michael Card recalling how the state came to be.
“There was quite a bit of corruption in Dakota Territory,” Card said. “Leading many of our state’s founders to want to secede from northern Dakota largely because of the corporate influence on the operations of government.”
Fast forward to the final week of September 2021, Noem has been at the center of an Associated Press report detailing her daughter’s initial denied appraiser certification and a $200,000 settlement made by the Department of Labor for a longtime state employee. Shortly after that report was made public, Ravnsborg confirmed he had been contacted by state lawmakers about the report and would review concerns.
It creates a situation in South Dakota where Ravnsborg, who Noem has publicly called on to resign, could lead an investigation against the first-term governor. Ravnsborg, who reached a settlement with Jennifer Boever, the wife of Joe Boever, this week, will face the possibility of impeachment during a special legislative session on Nov. 9.
“I don’t think it’s any secret to anybody in South Dakota that the governor and the attorney general have some animosity towards each other,” Card said. “I suspect, I don’t know the answer, but an assistant attorney general will see if any laws were broken from the information that’s been revealed.”
Card said the AP report doesn’t directly prove Noem broke any laws, but he said the situation “fails what people call the smell test.”
“It just looks bad,” said Card, who is an associate professor of political science at USD.
Card said the AP report looks like a clear case of possible “conflict of interest,” but he also had a handful of other documented stories that raise questions about Noem. He mentioned “allegations of potential bribery” from a Tennessee millionaire to send the South Dakota National Guard to the southern Texas border.
“She said she had to get back to work and lo and behold she ends up in Ohio campaigning for a Republican senatorial campaign,” Card said, referencing a photo on Twitter Wednesday of Noem. “It’s just a lot.”
In the past six days, Noem has been documented in Michigan (Republican dinner Saturday), Nevada (charity event in Las Vegas on Sunday as reported by Politico), California (Televised town hall on Tuesday) and Ohio (Jane Timken campaign events Wednesday and Thursday).
Card listed more recent scandals involving other state elected officials pointing to the EB-5 loan program, the Gear Up scandal, allegations of sexual harassment, and unfair employment practices within South Dakota’s Correctional System.
“There have been a number of scandals over the years,” Card said. “With the coverage of what’s going on here, it does seem to be happening all at once.”
Card did not mention allegations of an improper relationship between Noem and former Trump Presidential Campaign Manager Corey Lewandowski. Noem’s communications director Ian Fury said Lewandowski was never paid as an adviser and “will not be advising the Governor in regard to the campaign or official office.”
“It’s an unfortunate reality that all women candidates have to deal with issues of infidelity. Whereas men often get rewarded for allegations of infidelity and it’s just terrible,” Card said.
What’s next for Noem?
With the headlines and scrutiny Noem has received this week, Card said it’s important for her to get past all the extra questions and put the reports behind her.
“We are a year away from the general election and given the speed with which the news moves, we’ll be onto something else,” Card said. “If I were the governor, I would have people talking about what’s going on in Washington, not what’s going on in South Dakota.”
Card specifically said he’d advise taking a break from tweeting and making media appearances. He said more comments likely only “inflame things even more.”
For South Dakota voters, Card said Noem’s popularity can’t be denied. She won her position as governor 51% (172,706) to 48% (161,171) in 2018.
“Some of the polls that have been run by state universities have indicated that she has a level of popularity that is higher than any other elected official in South Dakota,” Card said. “I also don’t see credible candidates coming out of the Democratic Party yet. I don’t see any Republican challengers for the governorship. There are lots of people who like Kristi Noem.”
South Dakota’s 2022 primary election is set for June 7 and the general election is set for Nov. 8.