Kim Vanneman is leaving her post as South Dakota’s Secretary of Agriculture, in part because she misses farming. Governor Kristi Noem is replacing Vanneman, at least temporarily, with Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden, who says his immediate focus will be going to Hy-Vee and asking, “Where’s the Beef?”
Appointing the LG to run a whole state department seems odd. It’s not like we don’t have a deputy who could step into Vanneman’s place. Kyle Holt is the current Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, and he’s been there for nearly five years. Holt is also a former Noem staffer, so he has experience in the office and in the politics necessary to keep the boss happy. But rather than pick an experienced deputy to oversee Agriculture on an interim basis, Noem double-duties her Lieutenant.
Also interestingly, Rhoden is not stepping down from his LG post. That raises the prospect of two scenarios:
1. The Fun Explanation: Sidelining Larry over the Drunken Senators Fiasco. The Legislature and Marty Jackley had to work really hard to contain the damage caused by the drunken legislating of Senate Majority Leader Kris Langer and Senate President Pro-Tem Brock Greenfield. Lt. Gov. Rhoden witnessed Langer and Greenfield’s tomfoolery, did nothing to stop it, and looked a little ragged around the edges himself during his feeble attempt to cover up his fellow Republicans’ misconduct. Governor Noem is pretending to ignore Rhoden’s scandalous failure, knows that if she stands a chance of winning her appointment to the Trump Cabinet, she has to move Rhoden way out of the way and appoint a new LG who’s ready to take the reins when she goes to Washington.
Instead of hamhandedly firing Rhoden, which would publicly affirm that the guy she picked screwed up on a pretty easy call and thus impugn her own brand, Noem is cleverly finessing Rhoden’s ouster, demoting the ranch man to lower-profile job for which he’s much better suited in experience, appearance, and demeanor. He’ll hold both jobs, LG and interim Ag Secretary, for maybe a month, then read a prepared statement saying he loves being Ag Secretary and believes he can better serve the Governor and the state in that position. With an expression of regret as programmed as a beauty queen’s parade wave, Governor Noem will accept Rhoden’s resignation from the Lieutenancy and name none other than her former primary opponent Marty Jackley to replace him at her immediate side.
Then she will turn to Trump on July 3 and, under the din of the fireworks and fire truck sirens, say to him, “See? That’s how you get rid of your running mate for someone better. Get someone in the Cabinet to resign, like Alex Azar, slide Mike Pence into that job (he was in charge of coronavirus, right? Perfect fit!), and slide yourself right in next to the partner you really want.”
By August 31, Kristi Noem is Trump’s running mate, Marty Jackley is South Dakota’s 34th Governor, and Larry Rhoden never makes another headline. Perfect!
2. The Boring Explanation: Padding Larry’s Pockets: Kim Vanneman was pulling down a healthy $126,075 a year as Ag Secretary (and she’s giving that up to work on the farm? Either she really anticipates skyrocketing prices for livestock, or she just really loves farming.). Larry Rhoden gets $56,375 a year for his work at Governor Noem’s side. Statute guarantees that the Lieutenant Governor gets extra pay for extra duties assigned by the Governor. His interim salary doesn’t need any approval other than the Governor’s; she can wave her magic wand and divert Vanneman’s old checks straight to Rhoden. The most famous man from Union Center could more than triple his salary for however long the Governor lets him ride both horses.
While we try to figure out the inside game, we’ll also need to figure out what to call Rhoden for the next few weeks of his double duty. Mr. Lieutenant/Secretary? Maybe something more Politburo-ish, like LieuGovInSec? Loogie Insect? Take your pick… and keep an eye on how long Rhoden keeps both name tags.