In Custer, SD.
I had had it with my state’s liberal Democrat governor and his Covid-19 lockdown edicts, so I headed for a much-needed vacation in South Dakota. Now that I’ve been here a few days, I invite you to join me. Freedom is still valued here in the heart of the Heartland!
Kristi Noem is the governor of South Dakota, as most people are now aware. Her visibility has skyrocketed because of her opposition to any corona lockdown and her determination to keep the state open for business. She hosted President Trump at his July 3 Mount Rushmore speech, she addressed the Republican convention, and she’s a favorite guest of Tucker Carlson. It’s paid off. Articulate and attractive, she has even ignited speculation that in 2024 she could be elected as the first female President of the United States.
Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Stacey Abrams, Oprah Winfrey—eat your heart out.
A lot can happen in four years, of course, but Kristi Noem is riding high in the saddle as I’m watching the annual buffalo roundup here in the Black Hills. Nobody has much faith in political polls after 2016, but in her case, she can’t complain.
Back in the final months of 2019, before the pandemic changed the political world, she supposedly was the sixth most unpopular governor in the nation according to the Morning Consult. That sounds worse than the actual numbers: Her job approval rating was 43% favorable, 45% unfavorable among South Dakota voters, with a 3% margin of error. But by July 2020, thanks to the high visibility and approval of her no-nonsense conservative policies, Public Opinion Strategies reported 62% approval and only 32% disapproval.
The breadth and depth of her support are also impressive. Her approve/disapprove ratings with Republicans are 89%-7% (very few Never Noems around) and 48%-43% with Independents. Even 26% of Democrats like the job she’s doing. She polls 71%-26% with senior citizens and 86%-9% with conservatives. And there is no significant gender gap, as she polls 63%-31% with men and 61%-34% among women.
Kristi must also have given heartburn to researchers at Harvard, Northeastern, Northwestern, and Rutgers—no conservative bastions there—when their major survey found that only five governors have seen their approval ratings rise during the pandemic, led by Noem, with a 9% jump in approval to 54%.
Governor Noem’s success is all the more remarkable given the strident opposition of the education and public health elites in the state. In preparation for my escape to freedom, I read the online Rapid City Journal for a month before I departed, and I soon realized that the attitudes of those elites in South Dakota are not that different from the attitudes of their cohorts on the East and West Coasts.
One story, in particular, stuck out. The Rapid City school administration sent a cease and desist letter to Florence Thompson, a retired school psychologist and president of South Dakota Parents Involved in Education. Her crime: critical comments at board meetings against school policies, including mask mandates and other pandemic responses. As Thompson retorted, sending such a letter to critics can have a “chilling effect” on free speech. (I suspect it won’t work with her, however.)
Despite the enmity of these elites, the state’s official motto seems to prevail: “Under God the people rule.” And for my fellow travelers, there’s the state’s unofficial tourist motto: “South Dakota: Closer than North Dakota.”