Who is benefitting from Governor Kristi Noem’s absence? Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden.
According to data from the Bureau of Finance and Management, when Larry Rhoden rode into Pierre with the Noem Administration to take his post as Lieutenant Governor, he took the post at the same sensible part-time status as his humble predecessor, Matt Michels, who had fiddled with full-timing early in the Daugaard Administration but decided after a year that his family and the rest of South Dakota should stick with our tradition of part-time second-fiddles. Rhoden’s starting salary as of January 5, 2019, was $55,000 a year, a bit less than half of the Governor’s salary and 20% less than was proposed in Daugaard’s FY2019 budget. Rhoden received the 2.5% state-employee raise on June 9, 2020, bringing him up to $56,375 for banging the Senate gavel and helping Senator Langer find her shoes.
But when Governor Noem promoted Rhoden to moonlight as Interim Secretary of Agriculture, Rhoden’s pay jumped, as of May 24, 2020, to $126,075. That’s the Ag Secretary’s salary reported in Noem’s FY 2020 budget proposal plus 2.5%… which says that Rhoden wasn’t doing anything as Lieutenant Governor anyway, so just give him the full Secretary’s salary for his interim rein at Ag, and that’s fine.
On June 9, Rhoden received the 2% state-employee raise to $128,596.50.
But when Noem ended Rhoden’s lucrative interim-acy by putting Hunter Roberts in charge of Ag and announcing her devious plot to bury the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources in the all-business Ag Department, she did not end Rhoden’s lucre. She has evidently decided that she needs a full-time right-hand man. As of October 9, Rhoden was designated in BFM’s books as “Full-Time Lt. Governor” and given an annual salary of $104,000. That’s 87.6% of Noem’s salary (but she also gets free housing, unlike Larry, who has to call or truck in from the ranch at Union Center).
During the 2018 campaign, Noem and Rhoden distinguished themselves from the Democratic opponents by saying a part-time Lieutenant Governor makes for better government:
“South Dakota has long benefited from a citizen legislature, with individuals who serve the public part-time but continue working outside of Pierre. In a Noem administration the lieutenant governor would serve part-time,” Noem spokeswoman Brittany Comins said.
“Larry Rhoden would fulfill the lieutenant governor’s duties in presiding over the state Senate and play a key part in helping advance Kristi’s agenda. He would do so while continuing to operate his family’s ranch near Union Center,” Comins said [Bob Mercer, “Sutton Noem Have Different Plans as Lieutenant Governor Takes Office,” Rapid City Journal, 2018.07.08].
Funny: Noem promised us a full-time Governor and a part-time Lieutenant Governor; now, apparently, we have the reverse.
It’s hard to say what Rhoden is doing in his new full-time capacity. He’d probably be more useful and would have more fun serving in Noem’s security detail. He’s supposedly going to spend more time promoting ag, but has Rhoden ever had much of use to say about anything else? If Rhoden is doing anything like full-time work, it isn’t making much news. He presided among the maskless meatheads at the Special Session October 5. Rhoden drove down to Wall for some business hobnobbing this month, and he’s supposed to speak to the Stockgrowers’ Convention in Rapid City next weekend, but that’s all the mention of Rhoden I can find in the Google news search.
Rhoden’s Facebook feed shows more disregard for indoor masking and social distancing, so he’s at least keeping up the Governor’s determined public relations campaign against taking action against coronavirus. He went maskless at the Governor’s big Sioux Falls flop last weekend and at a Codington County GOP event on October 9. But Rhoden makes no mention of any real work as Lieutenant Governor.
I’d like to think that Rhoden’s boost in salary of his actually picking up the slack his boss is leaving in Pierre as she campaigns around the country to boost her celebrity and her campaign kitty. But it appears Rhoden’s promotion to full-time, against the promises of his and Noem’s 2018 campaign, is simply an acknowledgment within the Capitol that if Kristi deserves a full-time salary for part-time work, so does Larry.