Noem’s security costs will remain secret

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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Republicans used their 11-2 advantage over Democrats on a legislative panel Friday and rejected a Republican lawmaker’s attempt to force the South Dakota Highway Patrol to disclose how much has been spent on security and protection for Republican Governor Kristi Noem and other state and public officials.

The House State Affairs Committee spent about an hour taking testimony and asking questions before voting 11-2 along party lines to kill HB 1089. Republican Representative Taffy Howard of Rapid City wanted to rewrite a portion of South Dakota’s public-records laws to make security costs for the governor or any other state or public official open to public inspection.

State Public Safety Secretary Craig Price, an appointee of the governor, and retired South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson testified against it. Among those speaking in support was Dave Bordewyk, executive director for the South Dakota Newspaper Association.

Price’s argument was that disclosing the information would provide an opportunity for someone to gauge the level of security around Noem. Howard, who serves on the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Appropriations that puts together state government’s budget every year, disagreed.

“Claiming that security is a reason to oppose this is simply not true. The real reason is a lack of desire for transparency, because that’s all this bill is about,” Howard said. She added, “We are not asking for any security details. We’re asking for an aggregate cost, a total cost, after the fact.”

Price, who previously was head of the Highway Patrol and now oversees the agency, gave no ground.

“The governor is the governor 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, so it’s our responsibility. Anytime I’ve seen the governor travel, I’ve seen her on TV like many of you have, she’s always introduced as the governor of South Dakota. We’re proud of that, and it’s our responsibility to protect her,” Price said. He added, “So that’s the trouble with aggregate numbers. They indicate how sophisticated the level of security is you might be providing.”

Howard’s current co-sponsors included four Republicans and five Democrats. A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate by only Democrats. The goal for both was to let the Legislature and the public know how much Noem has spent on security, including trips out-of-state to campaign for the re-election of President Donald Trump and two Georgia U.S. Senate candidates.

Howard gave examples from other states where the information is publicly available. Bordewyk said South Dakota’s public-records laws were rewritten in 2009. He said they previously put the burden on the public to prove why they should have access to information. “The 2009 reform law turned that burden into a presumption of openness,” he said.

Gilbertson, testifying by telephone, said that as chief justice he was responsible for arranging security for South Dakota’s justices and judges. He said using what was known as the Capitol Police Force, who were unarmed, didn’t work out and in 2009 he contracted with the Highway Patrol.

Gilbertson said his “epiphany moment” came in 2011 at a statewide judges’ meeting when a person who claimed to be a driver for a non-state judge pulled a knife on the Highway Patrol trooper who wouldn’t let the man into the meeting.

“There were three of us judges within 10 feet of that person holding the knife (and) every other judge in the state on the other side of that unlocked door,” Gilbertson said. “The trooper didn’t panic, and although he was armed, he was able to disarm this driver without violence or the use of weapons.” Gilbertson said he and members of his family have been threatened and he knew of “numerous other judges” who have been.

Said Howard, “How do we have any discussions about what is appropriate for this (security) detail, and what is not, if we’re not even allowed to know what is spent?” Howard referred to the governor’s 2018 campaign website where Noem promised transparency in government. “She was right then,” Howard told the committee, “and you can ensure we stay right now.”

The committee’s two Democrats, Jamie Smith of Sioux Falls and Oren Lesmeister of Parade, tried to get the bill passed. One of the Republicans, Marli Wiese of Madison, joined them. Their attempt died on a 3-10 vote. Wiese, who had been a co-sponsor but removed her name a week ago, then voted with the 10 other Republicans to kill the bill.

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