SD governor criticizes Kelly, defends own veto

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem spoke at the Kansas Republican Party's convention. She's considered a potential candidate for president in 2024 and is known for her hands-off approach to the COVID-19 pandemic.


State News

April 26, 2021 - 9:05 AM

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem Photo by Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector

MANHATTAN — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem shared a personal and political account of how South Dakota served as a laboratory for conservative government and hit back at detractors frustrated with the Republican’s refusal to sign a bill limiting participation in women’s and girls’ sports to people declared female at birth.

The South Dakota Legislature’s transgender sports bill was scuttled under Noem’s demands for an exemption of college athletics, the refusal of GOP legislators to narrow the ban to K-12 students and the persistent hostility to any type of ban among Democrats, dozens of corporations and the NCAA.

Noem, who spoke Saturday night at the Kansas Republican Party’s convention as a potential candidate for president in 2024, gained national prominence for her hands-off approach to the COVID-19 pandemic. She endured withering criticism as the virus claimed more than 500,000 Americans, but held firm to a belief she didn’t have the authority or desire to let her decisions infringe on rights of South Dakota residents.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi NoemPhoto by Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector

In terms of South Dakota’s transgender sports bill, the governor initially endorsed the idea but later shifted course and demanded changes to narrow the measure’s impact. She wavered when confronted with the reality of potentially costly litigation and severe economic repercussions from companies opposed to the prohibitions.

“I know that some in the media have been lying to you and telling you that in South Dakota I vetoed a bill that would have protected girls’ sports,” Noem said. “That is absolutely not true. That is a lie.”

In March, Noem riled social conservatives in South Dakota by declining to sign the bill. She issued a partial veto striking sections to limit the ban to elementary, middle and high school students.

“Your governor is a mess, isn’t she? The public, the people in your communities have paid the price. That’s what your governor did. That’s why she’s going to lose her job.”

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem

She defended at that time use of the state’s “style and form” veto typically reserved for technical fixes based on her belief “vague and overly broad language could have significant unintended consequences,” including the NCAA’s withdrawal of tournaments from states enacting comparable barriers to participation.

The South Dakota House rejected her proposed adjustments, effectively killing the bill. The governor responded by signing two executive orders viewed by critics as political face-saving gestures. The first asked high school sports associations to require girls who wanted to participate in girls’ sports leagues in public K-12 schools to present a birth certificate or affidavit demonstrating they were born female. The second recommended public universities adopt a similar ban.

Noem urged lawmakers to convene a special session to address the transgender sports controversy, but prospects of a redo in the next couple months were downplayed by legislators in South Dakota.