PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — For the past seven weeks, Governor Kristi Noem’s deputy chief of staff has quietly been on unpaid leave from her $117,500 job.

Beth Hollatz said Friday the change came at the governor’s request.

She went to work on the Noem 2022 campaign.

Noem, a Republican, spent four terms as South Dakota’s only member in the 435-seat U.S. House of Representatives, from 2011 through 2018, after two terms in the 70-seat state House.

In her 2018 run for governor, Noem defeated state Attorney General Marty Jackley in the Republican primary and took the November general election, over state Senate Democratic leader Billie Sutton, by about 11,500 votes.

Noem’s win against Sutton was closer than many expected — and closer than tradition suggested it should have been for a Republican nominee for governor in South Dakota. Republicans have won the South Dakota governor’s office every four years since 1978, and only three Democrats and one Fusion candidate have won since 1889 statehood.

But an independent national survey, conducted by Morning Consult and covering the final quarter of 2019, put Noem among the bottom of the 50 governors coming into 2020. The survey showed her with 43 percent approval and 45 percent disapproval.

On December 23, Noem announced that her second chief of staff, Joshua Shields, and her communications director, Emily Kiel, were leaving her office. Noem meanwhile had brought in Maggie Seidel from Washington, D.C., to be policy director. Since those departures, several other members of her top staff have left, including press secretary Kristin Wileman on March 13.

Hollatz, who lives near Watertown, said Friday she began her unpaid leave February 3. She had been part of Noem’s decade-long ride into two statewide offices.

“Over the years, I have worked on the Noem campaigns as well as in her congressional and governor’s offices,” Hollatz said Friday. “Governor Noem had a need for some work on her campaign and asked me to take an unpaid leave to carry that out. I do plan to return at some point, but I have not set a definite date.”

Hollatz said that, until recently with the COVID-19 situation, she had been traveling around the state on the Noem campaign’s behalf. Noem would face re-election for governor in 2022, U.S. Senator John Thune, a Republican who toppled U.S. Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle in a history-making contest in 2004, would also be up for re-election that year.

Thune’s ratings in the same Morning Consult survey for the fourth quarter of 2019 put him at the 10th-most popular of the 100 U.S. senators, with 52 percent approval and 35 percent disapproval.

Hollatz has worked for Noem since the now-governor was first elected to the U.S. House, taking out Democratic incumbent Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin.

Hollatz initially was Noem’s field director for the northeast area of South Dakota starting in 2011. In 2013 she became the congresswoman’s state director.

During her leave, Hollatz has been focusing on “campaign-related matters,” according to Tony Venhuizen. The governor named Venhuizen, an attorney, as her latest chief of staff March 2.

He had been chief of staff during the second term of the previous governor, Dennis Daugaard. Venhuizen is married to one of the Daugaards’ daughters. Venhuizen joined a Sioux Falls law firm anchored by former legislator Matt McCaulley.

The Redstone firm currently has:

A $58,775 legislative consulting contract for Governor Noem;

A $71,400 addendum for legal services for the governor’s office;

A $50,000 contract for the state Bureau of Administration, to represent state government’s various departments and agencies;

A $44,040 contract to provide legislative lobbying services for the state Board of Technical Education, whose members the governor appoints;

A $50,000 contract to represent the state Board of Regents, whose members the governor appoints;

A $50,000 contract to represent the regents on technology contracts; and

A $30,000 contract to represent Northern State University, which the regents oversee.

McCaulley also represents private clients on legislation.

Venhuizen served as a senior adviser on Noem’s staff during the 2019 legislative session and returned for a similar but ultimately broader role in the 2020 session.