It’s a month of change in the South Dakota state capitol, and in addition to new legislators and a new legislative session, the state has a new leader in the governor’s office. South Dakotans have known Kristi Noem as a state lawmaker, U.S. representative, gubernatorial candidate, and governor-elect. But her current title, governor, is new. She took the oath of office just 12 days ago.
“People do know me,” Noem said. “But I’m hopeful that now that I’m in the state full-time, that they’ll get to know me on another level. I want them to see my heart. I want them to see me as a mom and as a wife and caring about our families in South Dakota.”
Noem also wants to draw a connection between policy and people. She wants you to understand the reasons behind her decisions.
“So while we’re directing policy, we’re focusing on economic development. I want them to know the reason why we’re focusing on these issues,” Noem said. “And that the end game is is that it’s all about the next generation. That it’s all about keeping those generations here in South Dakota and giving them every opportunity that they could ever want here close to home and close to their families.”
She says being back in the state she loves will help her make that connection.
“I’ll be able to travel the state more, visit with people, be very engaged on a level that just the distance and time in Congress made it more challenging,” Noem said.
Noem and her Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden are confident in their new roles.
“I would say that because Governor [Dennis] Daugaard brought me in so much during the transition time, he prepared me very well,” Noem said. “For a lot of the decisions I would need to be making for a lot of things that would come my way immediately.”
“Governor Daugaard was extremely helpful in the transition,” Rhoden said.
“All of those things that he did to put us in a good, sound financial position as a state is a wonderful launching point for me,” Noem said. “Coming in to a state that is this financially sound gives us an incredible opportunity to be innovative and to make investments.”
When reflecting on what’s surprised her about the governorship, she looks back to that previous job.
“I’d say the biggest surprise is is the ability of a governor to have influence,” Noem said. “When I was in Congress, I was one of 435. So convincing someone to care about South Dakota was a little bit challenging out there. A lot of them were focused on their own districts. Here, yeah, a governor has an ability to really direct policy, but also direct conversations.”
Dan Santella: What do you think is going to be your biggest challenge as governor?
“I’m not certain, I try not to try to focus on what my challenges may be,” Noem said. “Maybe time management. There’s a lot that I want to do.”
During her State of the State speech on Jan. 8, Noem talked about transparency. She wants people to trust her administration.
“Today I’m committing to work towards building the most transparent administration South Dakota has ever seen,” Noem said during the speech.
“I think we do have an issue with the trust factor, the public trust of government,” Rhoden said. “And the best way to build trust is to shine a light on state government.”
Dan Santella: Do you expect the public and the press to have steady access to you and your cabinet?
“I do. Absolutely,” Noem said. “And that’s been a directive that I’ve given to my cabinet, and to my staff, that we want to be responsive.”
Noem has traded in her Washington office for one in Pierre. But her focus isn’t just local.
“I intend to be very aggressive in helping set us up for success in the next generation,” Noem said. “And then talk about it, and use it as an opportunity to tell the rest of the country what we’re doing right, and how we can be an example for them.”
The more things change, maybe the more they stay the same for Noem. She’s changed her official title, but the pursuit of representing South Dakota on a national scale remains.