With her President trying to take away South Dakotans’ air service, rural water, and food security, Kristi Noem is going to have to spend a lot of her gubernatorial campaign trying to make South Dakotans forget about all the time she’s spent in Washington. Her primary opponent, Attorney General Marty Jackley, has been here in South Dakota, deeply involved in day-to-day South Dakota issues. How does Noem overcome her detachment from South Dakota?
Aside from not doing the job we elected her to do, Noem will probably look for a good South Dakota running mate who doesn’t have Washington on the brain. Specifically, she’ll probably look for an old pal from her Legislative days to serve as her Lieutenant Governor.
One possibility would be Brian Gosch from Rapid City. During Noem’s second term in the State House, when she served as assistant majority leader, Gosch served under her as whip. He went on to serve as Speaker and majority leader before declining the term limit challenge last year of switching to Senate. Gosch can catch Kristi up on most of what she’s missed while in Washington without having to take heat for the most recent missteps of the Legislature (like repealing IM22, allowing corporations to contribute directly to candidates, and writing religious discrimination into state law).
Another possibility is Representative Larry Rhoden from Union Center. Rhoden was Noem’s majority leader during her rookie term in Pierre; he then bounced over to the Senate to serve as whip. Rhoden would bring statewide campaign experience to the Noem ticket: he finished an arguably surprising second in the 2014 U.S. Senate primary over a more voluble, base-stirring Stace Nelson on a relatively thin budget. Rhoden would make the perfect cowboy partner for Noem’s ongoing cowgirl act.
Of course, having run for D.C. before, Rhoden might be a harder horse to tame than Gosch for a Pierre sidekick spot. A genuine West River rancher, he might outshine Noem’s part-time, pageanty spurs; she might prefer to be the country girl complemented by Rapid City lawyer Gosch.
Noem doesn’t need to make this choice until and unless she beat Jackley in the 2018 primary. However, if the race is tight, Noem might derive some advantage from naming her lieutenant early, to court allies and prove she can pick good people to help her do the job. Whether Gosch, Rhoden, or someone else, Noem will need someone with Pierre experience to fill in the gaps in her memories of Pierre. And for this executive position, she’ll need someone who, unlike Noem, is used to accomplishing something beyond simply winning an election.