PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — When she ran four years ago, Kristi Noem’s campaign for governor featured “Four Pillars of Protection.” One was a pledge to fight government secrecy, promote transparency and give citizens unprecedented access.
But as now-Governor Noem seeks re-election this spring, those words no longer seem to be as important to her. She has refused so far to engage her Republican primary opponent, former House Speaker Steve Haugaard, on any kind of public platform, aside from appearing at private county Republican dinners.
That’s left Haugaard frustrated with time running short before the June 7 primary. A recent poll of self-identified Republicans by South Dakota State University faculty showed Noem leading Haugaard 61-17%.
In 2018, then-Congresswoman Noem and then-state Attorney General Marty Jackley shared a public stage together at least three times leading up to the Republican governor primary. After she won the nomination, Noem committed to two public debates against Democrat Billie Sutton in the general election campaign.
This spring is a different story. Governor Noem hasn’t responded to requests from at least three news organizations that she debate or even be on the same TV program with Haugaard. Her strategy instead seems to be to ignore him and run on her record as governor.
Her current campaign spokesman, Chris Hupke, said Wednesday he had no comment. Her first TV re-election ads launched this week.
“I can understand why the governor would not want to debate me because she cannot defend her record,” Haugaard said Wednesday. “She campaigned on ‘Transparency’ but she has been anything but transparent. An honest debate of all the issues will be the best remedy for a lack of voter awareness.”
South Dakota Public Broadcasting invited Noem to take part in its upcoming meet-the-candidates series. Her campaign initially said yes, but hasn’t responded to set a time for an interview.
South Dakota Newspaper Association invited Noem to debate Haugaard at its recent statewide convention in Mitchell. Haugaard said yes but there wasn’t an answer from the Noem campaign. The debate wasn’t held.
KELOLAND News invited Noem and Haugaard to participate in individually taped segments for Inside KELOLAND last weekend. Noem’s campaign declined the opportunity. Haugaard’s piece aired.
KELOLAND Media Group vice president and general manager Mari Ossenfort said, “KELOLAND Media Group has a long tradition of hosting candidate debates and forums to help inform South Dakota voters. The exchange of ideas is an important part of discourse prior to any election, which helps voters make informed decisions on election day. That is why we dedicated four weeks of Inside KELOLAND to the statewide races and issues. Every candidate except Governor Noem accepted our invitation and we are disappointed by her decision.”
Haugaard suggested Wednesday that he and Noem would be at a June 1 candidates event hosted by the Miller Press. Hupke, however, said Noem’s campaign had only recently learned about it and likely would send a representative rather than the governor.
Noem has made time to travel outside South Dakota to speak at political events and collect contributions to her campaign this spring. On Friday she will be featured at the National Rifle Association annual meeting in Houston, Texas.
Just last week, Noem tweeted, “As folks continue to look to South Dakota as an example of liberty, we will continue to be a sanctuary for the 2nd Amendment, as well. Read more about what we’re doing to protect gun rights in my column: South Dakota is a 2nd Amendment Sanctuary.”
The 2022 Democrat candidate for governor, House leader Jamie Smith, responded with a tweet Wednesday criticizing her for still planning to go to the NRA event, in the wake of the Uvalde, Texas, classroom massacre Tuesday.
“Speaking at an NRA conference in Texas just days after a mass shooting that saw 19 children senselessly slaughtered is the kind of tone deaf and divisive leadership that has defined Gov. Noem. SD deserves a leader who cares more about people than climbing the political ladder,” his tweet said.
Smith’s campaign spokesman Alex Matson said the Democrat candidate hopes to face off against the Republican primary winner as soon as September.
“We welcome that opportunity, and believe the State Fair could be a perfect venue to make that happen. If it is possible, we will look into setting that up and inviting the nominee to join us for that event,” Matson said.