No matter who wins, the next governor of South Dakota will make history. On Tuesday, Republican Kristi Noem and Democrat Billie Sutton answered your questions during a live KELOLAND debate.
If Noem wins, she would be the first female governor in the state’s history. If Sutton wins, it’ll mark the first time in 40 years a Democrat has been governor. Noem and Sutton are considered the two frontrunners, but there is a third candidate who could make history. Kurt Evans is running as a Libertarian candidate. If he wins, he would be the first Libertarian to lead the state of South Dakota.
On November 6, voters will see a question. Who should lead South Dakota? The two frontrunners each hope she or he will be the answer.
Noem and Sutton say they’re spending a lot of time talking with voters as we get closer to the big day.
“We’ve seen just an incredible grassroots movement that people want something different. They’re tired of politics as usual,” Sutton said.
“It’s going really good. We’ve been busy traveling the state, meeting with folks and answering a lot of questions. On November 6, they’ll make a big decision,” Noem said.
Noem has spent the last seven years filling South Dakota’s lone U.S.House seat. If she wins the gubernatorial election, she would become the first woman to hold the office in the state.
“I think it’d be incredibly special to be the first female governor in South Dakota, but I want people to vote for me because of my experience and the background I have and the knowledge I would bring to that role,” Noem said.
Beyond her time in D.C., Noem says low taxes, workforce development, and boosting business are key issues she’s been talking about during the campaign.
“Some of the biggest challenges are we have a lot of empty jobs in the state and we need to give those kids the opportunity to fill those jobs in the future,” Noem said.
Though Noem hasn’t really focused on gender during this election, Augustana University political science professor Emily Wanless says it will be a significant factor if Noem wins.
“Typically, states that have women in positions of power, whether it be governor or senator, we see that trickle down to the candidate pool. So, more women in the state legislature,” Wanless said.
“I hope they do. We need more women involved,” Noem said.
Sutton’s name could also go down in the history books. The last time the state had a Democratic governor was when then Lt. Governor Harvey Wollman stepped into the role in 1978. He filled in for South Dakota’s last elected Democratic governor. Voters picked Dick Kneip, who held the office from 1971 to 1978. Sutton also isn’t making a big deal out of this.
“We’re working for all voters, not just the select few. We need to work for everybody, and that’s what we should expect from our leaders and that’s how I’m going to govern as governor,” Sutton said.
The Senate Minority Leader has spent the last seven years in the South Dakota Legislature. Sutton says some of his biggest focuses are creating jobs, supporting agriculture, and strengthening rural communities.
“We want to keep our kids here. To not give them to other states, but to grow their own and give them opportunities to raise their families here and get jobs here,” Sutton said.
Wanless says if Sutton wins, that could also have a significant ripple effect on the future of politics in a primarily Republican state.
“Democrats who maybe felt a little bit hopeless see, you know, the state’s most prominent statewide position being held by someone in their party, it makes people think, ‘maybe I could do it too,'” Wanless said.
“We’ve attracted people from all different political persuasions: Democrats, Republicans, Independents,” Sutton said.
Both Noem and Sutton say this election isn’t about the first woman ever or the first Democrat in quite some time; they agree it’s about who is choosing the next governor — you, the voters.
“Meeting voters, and getting them to know me and looking forward to a lot of excitement on November 6,” Sutton said.
“It’s been wonderful. People have been very supportive, and we’ve really enjoyed being out there, talking with all of them,” Noem said.