SAN DIEGO, CA – South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem made a quick pit stop in San Diego as the keynote speaker at the 2021 ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) conference. As an alumnus of the organization that focuses on free markets and limited government, it was a proud moment as ALEC crowned her state the #1 state in furthering those principles.
But it was Kristi’s down to earth moments that stole the show. Speaking of marrying into a Democratic family, then running as a Republican with her married last name and then ultimately converting her in-laws, Kristi gave us the roadmap for expanding the conservative movement beyond the current echo chambers.
As a wife, mother, lifelong rancher, farmer and small business owner, her background and small state stand in contrast to the big government that is growing by the day with “solutions” creating more problems. Noem’s message of individual liberty, and encouraging the exercise of responsibility, while trusting her own South Dakotan people, is a breath of fresh air. During the pandemic, she helped America understand that each state can and should respond differently to certain issues. She believes in good policy that thinks years and decades ahead.
In 2010, Kristi Noem didn’t just shock her own family of Democrat in-laws, but made national news as she defeated incumbent Democratic Congresswoman Stéphanie Herseth-Sandlin 48-46. But Noem had a strong four years in the state legislature and had become the assistant majority leader, a trusted name to her constituents.
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Now she comes back full circle, becoming the first female Governor in South Dakota in 2018, and now with a great track record of courage and bravery, keeping her state open during pandemic.
Here are some highlights from Kristi’s keynote speech.
Building Trust With Good Policy
“That means that when you do your work, when you do your policy, it needs to be good. It needs to be policy that is backed up with facts and true information so [constituents] know they can rely on you to give them something that they’ll trust in the future. Very few people trust public officials today. I think one of the greatest disturbances that we’re going to see come out of this pandemic is that we have politicized our health experts as well. Politicians can’t be trusted, the media can’t be trusted. The public is looking for people who will do the work to put forward good policies.”
On The Responsibility To Teach Constituents
“We live in an instant gratification society. People read headlines, they don’t read any further. I learned during the pandemic [that] I couldn’t just make decisions. I had to educate people on why I was making those decisions. I gave one whole press conference on just the Constitution of the United States of America, what it said my job was and what it said my job wasn’t. I gave a whole press conference on perspective, where people would go and turn their TVs off and go for a walk. So while you work on your policy, remember that people are also looking for someone who brings them back to reality and inspires them for why that policy is important and what it’s going to do for their kids and their grandkids.”
On South Dakota Being A Pilot Project For The USA
“The first time my name was mentioned [on a national scale] was when the liberals were busy kicking me in the head for all the decisions I was making in South Dakota. Rachel Maddow, Elizabeth Warren, doing nightly news shows calling me reckless, destructive, irresponsible, because I was trusting people in our state. When I ran for governor, I very clearly said in 2018, that I believe South Dakota could be an example to the nation, that we were a smaller state, we didn’t have that many people. And that would allow us to be nimble, that we could do things that maybe bigger states couldn’t do as fast. So we can be a pilot project for the country, on what our conservative principles could deliver success for the people that were there. I told them that I needed to build strong families. And we focus a lot on the consequences we see play out in the streets today that have detrimental effects [due to] the breakdown of the family. South Dakota would be an example of what we can do to solve those problems by doing it together.”
On Essential Businesses
“We were the only state that never once closed a single business throughout the pandemic. In fact, I didn’t even define what an ‘essential’ business was. Because I don’t believe that government has the ability and authority to tell you that your businesses is essential.”
On Mandates, Shelter-In-Place, Federal Assistance
“We didn’t mandate anything, we didn’t issue a shelter-in-place. Also, we’re the only state that didn’t take the elevated unemployment benefits that were offered by the administration. Today, I think we’re a testimony to what can happen when you have people that come together and say, ‘We have a challenge in front of us but we’re going to trust you and let you use personal responsibility to make the best decisions for your family. Be flexible, but we’re going to get through this together.’”
On Low Taxes
“South Dakota has always been a historically low tax state and that’s largely because of our good legislators. They recognize the benefits that [low taxes] propose and what that does for families. These are the leaders that make the tough decisions but also care enough to go and message to people about what keeps South Dakota [successful]. We do not have a personal income tax. No corporate income tax or personal property tax. What funds the state government [needs] is a four and a half cent sales tax. We are seeing historic revenues come into the state of South Dakota because of the economic growth that we have seen, people moving to our state. In fact, we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. I have less than 700 people in the entire state that are on unemployment benefits.”
“Our people want to work and they can work. They have incredible opportunities for new careers because we have 28,000 open jobs in the state of South Dakota [due to] hundreds of businesses [hiring]. We have had thousands of people move their families to South Dakota because they wanted to live somewhere where the government respected them, where they get to have a quality of life, and have their kids in the classroom.”
“We have seen growth in South Dakota that has created opportunities for us to put historic amounts into trust funds for the future. This will give us ongoing revenue going forward that will make our budget easier to handle, but also make sure we’re cutting taxes and that we are making the burden lighter on the families that live there. We have put historic numbers into our reserve funds as well. We have a AAA credit rating and we have the only fully funded pension plan in the entire country.”
On Public Programs
“When I came in as governor, I talked about the need for high speed internet access across the states to allow people to work from home and educate their kids, in even our most remote rural areas. Our legislators fully funded that last year in one year. It was intended to be a five or six year plan to get it done. We built a railroad last year across the state of South Dakota, repaired dams that needed to be repaired for the last seven years, and made long term investments to create economic success in the state. We wanted to make sure that we weren’t just impacting today or tomorrow, but we were doing it for the long term.”
On Government Crushing Lives
“Other economies in this country have been crushed, but it wasn’t COVID that crushed the economy. Government crushed the economy. The government quickly turned around and held itself up as the Savior, and said it was there to save everybody from all the devastating effects.”
On Media’s Fear Mongering
“If you turn on the news at night, you will hear newscasters ask questions constantly using the terms ‘Aren’t you worried? Aren’t you scared?’ None of that is an accident. Your words have power as policymakers. The words that you say impact people. My staff knows that I’m a bit obsessive about this. If they want to speak for me or have talking points for me, if it says ‘worried’ or ‘scared’, I take it out. I’m never worried. I’m never scared.”
On Verbalizing Negativity
“Be different, be strong, be clear, remove those types of emotional words from your language, because you’ll give people a reassurance that they really do need in this day and age, that some things never change. And what should never change in this country, is how we are established and the freedoms that were given to us by our Creator, not by the government.”
South Dakota’s Achievements
“We were the only state in the country that significantly decreased our drug overdoses as well as our mental health challenges. As long as you do the work to put forward good policy, you will see the ripple effect of more happiness as well. More success as families.”
Stop Being Offended!
“We live in a country that’s addicted to being offended. We may say, ‘Oh, I cannot believe that they said that. That’s so horrible. I’ll never forgive them’ or you quit talking to them. I need to get over yourselves. Because of politics, you quit talking to people in your family, it could be people that you served with, it could be people in your church, and you quit talking to them. That’s not how we’re going to win this country back. We need to get over ourselves and start having those conversations again.
Listen. Build Relationships.
“Start by listening, nobody feels like they’re being heard anymore. And listen to them. Build a relationship. And that is how you will start winning the hearts and minds of this country again.”
Her Former Democratic In-Laws
“When I married into the Noem family, most of them were Democrats. I took their name and I ran for Congress. Today, the vast majority of them are registered Republicans. In fact, my mother-in-law has gone off the deep edge. I tell her all the time, ‘Sharon, you be careful. You sound like a Tea Party true believer’. And she said ‘I am, Kristi’. We did not have a change of heart in our lives because I blew them up at the Thanksgiving day dinner table or because we fought and argued. It was because we built a relationship and we loved each other. And then we had good discussions on policy.”
“I understand the extent they’ll go to promote the agenda to control individuals. But that’s why we need to attract people to our optimism and tell our story. Provide the hope that we really do need in this country to get people recognizing what’s so special about this country. All we did in South Dakota was prove that what we’ve always believed for years works. Pull back the shades, get out of bed. You are here in the greatest country in the world and you are more blessed than 99% of the people in the world.”
Advice To Policymakers
While we have the best groups like ALEC to work with, on policy, and leaders that we can listen to, remember that this country’s also desperate for people who will inspire them. [People who] will tell them why it’s important that we follow these policies and what it can do for them fpr their family’s future. And they need some hope. They need to see someone that they want to spend time with. And that’s you. That’s every one of you. Don’t be individuals who seek headlines, be individuals who care about the strategy.
Be Strategic & A Fiduciary
“What kept me awake at night during a pandemic was that I knew that when leaders overstepped their authority, that’s when we break this country. And I didn’t want to be that governor. Know what your job is. Do your job. Don’t do more than your job.”
On Tough Decisions & Staying In Your Lane
“A government that is powerful enough to do everything for you and solve all the problems of all the people in your states, is also a government that is powerful enough to take all your freedom away. Be a thinker who’s thinking about the next 10 to 20 years and the world that we’re going to leave our kids and our grandkids. We need those kinds of problem solvers.”
Don’t Do Everything For Your Kids
“Best gift my parents ever gave me was that they gave us impossible things to do. We are crippling our children’s country. And we’re crippling them by doing everything for them. Your job is to give them an impossible thing to do, challenges so that when they accomplish them, they know how to be problem solvers. And they also build confidence to take on the next biggest thing that they have to do.”
On The Wonderful ALEC Organization
“This is an incredible organization during [my] years [in the legislature as] a resource that provided research, data, statistics, and economic feedback we needed to make policy. I started working with our majority leader to rewrite our property tax system. But we often returned to the tax policies, recommendations and information that we received from other states through ALEC. It’s setting the foundation of what the policy is, what federalism is, free markets. The collaboration in this room will benefit you and your policies for many years to come. This organization has leaders that have proven themselves over time.”