With June primaries looming, Noem puts fingers on the scale

Noem has faced several allegations that she is working to remove conservative lawmakers from the state legislature.
Governor Noem is throwing her weight behind several state legislative races, leaving many hard-right "conservative" lawmakers confused by her endorsements.
Published: May. 25, 2022 at 8:26 AM CDT
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PIERRE, S.D. - As candidates from across the state vie for 105 different seats in the state legislature, Governor Kristi Noem is throwing her weight behind several different candidates.

However, the candidates that Noem is backing have some traditionally hard-right lawmakers wondering what the Governor’s motivations are.

“I think it is an overreach of the Governor, who is looking to garner and gather as much authority and power as she possibly can,” said State Rep. Tony Randolph (R-Rapid City).

In state legislative races across the state, Noem has made endorsements, the lion’s share of those being against incumbents with conservative voting records, according to the American Conservative Union.

For those familiar with the legislature, they say that Noem’s endorsements are not based on adherence to the Republican party platform.

“She is endorsing candidates that will be loyal to her, and when push comes to shove, will advance her agenda,” said Sen. Marsha Symonds (R-Dell Rapids). Symonds is not seeking re-election in 2022. “When she wants her gun range bill to pass or anything else, she’ll know that she can have it.”

Symens and other hard-right lawmakers point to remarks made by Senate President Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck (R-Watertown). According to finance reports, Schoenbeck and his PAC “South Dakota Strong” have spent over $100,000 this election cycle looking to oust certain lawmakers.

“It is not fair to the voters that they don’t know about these strange people, they need to know about them,” Schoenbeck said at a candidate forum in Watertown earlier this month. “I will not shy away from that... and by the way, the Governor is helping me too, and she is not afraid of that fight either.”

However, Noem has denied allegations that she is working with Schoenbeck to remake the legislature by replacing too many “conservative” lawmakers. Through her PAC, “SD Strong Leadership,” Noem has also made donations to a handful of candidates across the state.

“I get to have opinions, and I can say if I don’t like Fred Deutsch, or if I do not think that Spencer Gosch should be Speaker of the House or be elected, I get to say that because I get to have opinions,” Noem said in a phone call.

“The Governor and I support normal conservative Republicans. It is inevitable that we’d be pulling our oars in the same direction in the legislative races,” Schoenbeck said in a comment to Dakota News Now/KOTA Territory News.

But for lawmakers like Randolph, now running against the endorsement of one of America’s more popular governors, Noem’s denial rings hollow.

In Randolph’s race for a Rapid City seat in the House, Noem endorsed two Republicans running against hard right incumbents. Both candidates Noem endorsed were Democrats within the last several years, one as recently as December 2021.

“The legislative races are for the people in each district to decide who they want,” Randolph said. “When the executive branch decides that they want to weigh in on that, that can only point to one thing.”

The primary election takes place on June 7th.

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