Get Kristi Noem off her culture-war horse and make her stand up for practical projects, and her failure to lead becomes crystal clear.
Governor Noem threw her support behind a Game Fish and Parks proposal to spend $12 million (and some unknown amount of National Guard labor) to build a 440-acre shooting range northeast of Rapid City on Elk Vale Road. GF&P asked the Legislature to spot them $5 million—$2.5 million straight from the general fund, $2.5 million in additional spending authority to disburse pledged private dollars—in immediate funding.
But when that proposal, House Bill 1049, came up for discussion in House Agriculture and Natural Resources this morning, Noem lost what should have been an easy vote. The state is flush with federal cash; the state could spot the entire $12 million construction bill and still be deep in the black. The proposal had the support of Rapid City’s economic developers, the Izaak Walton League, local gun accessorizers, Noem’s good Vegas friends from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, and the all-powerful National Rifle Association.
Who was able to beat those powerhouse lobbyists? Why, the very ranchers in whose garb Kristi plays dress-up all the time. Rancher Joe Norman and a bunch of his neighbors testified in opposition to the shooting range and proved that, on this issue, Cowgirl Kristi is all hat and no battle.
The local ranchers’ own Representative Kirk Chaffee (R-29/Whitewood) got up and said God, Guns, Country, and economic boosterism be darned, this shooting range plan was not ready for prime time. Likening the shooting range to a landfill, Rep. Chaffee said this additional government acquisition of land would burden Meade County with more trash, traffic, and law enforcement and disrupt the rural neighborhood.
Rancher Joe Norman, the closest landowner to the proposed range site, asked the committee to envision sitting on their front porch and hearing gunfire eight hours a day. Norman said that disruption would lower property values for the folks living in earshot of all those gunshots. He said the range would violate the state’s own law forbidding discharge of firearms within 660 feet of livestock. He said Rapid City and Pennington County would benefit while Meade County would pay for the law enforcement and road maintenance.
Rancher Matt Kammerer, who said he lives in a house his great-granddad built in Meade County in 1892, complained the backers of the Rapid City shooting range took too long to engage local landowners and Meade County officials in conversation about the costs of the range. He said the plan would require vacating a section line, which would open up a huge can of worms with other local developers and require even more road building. All the Kammerers I know are tough cookies, but Matt Kammerer got busted up when he said this project would effectively take away from him 1,700 acres of good grazing land behind the shooting range.
Rod Putman, an avid shooter, lives on the east side of the Norman property. He said the noise could be harmful to neighbors’ health and suggested that the proximity to Ellsworth and Rapid City airports could require a formal firearms risk study.
Tyler Woods, who owns adjoining land on the north side of the proposed shooting range, said water flowing downhill from the bullet-littered range to Elk Creek would contribute to lead pollution and harm neighbors’ water rights. He said the shooting would disrupt waterfowl habitat improved by Ducks Unlimited; he testified that when he raised that issue to Game Fish & Parks, the GF&P rep just shrugged off that harm and said the critters would just have to move.
Larry Reinhold, who ranches just north of the proposed range and operates Rainbow Bible Ranch, says his ranch brings kids from around the country for solitude and peacefulness. They take kids out on horses to ride the quiet range and see the antelope and the deer and the ducks. He said that building what GF&P promises will be one of the largest firearms ranges in the nation just 3.5 miles from his facility would destroy that opportunity for those kids. Reinhold said he does not look forward to taking the kids out on horseback to the top of the ridge with a shooting range in his backyard. The shooting range, he said imperils his hopes to hand down his heritage to his family and to future kids who may visit the ranch.
Reinhold also expressed frustration that the folks from Pierre never contacted him when they were drawing up this plan; he said one GF&P rep said he wasn’t even aware of the Reinhold’s operation until recently.
One of Reinhold’s frequent campers, Taylor Finck from Delmont, said the camp is a peaceful experience where kids can get closer to God. Finck said gunfire will distract her and other campers from their Bible study and prayers and spook the horses.
To top off the opponent testimony, the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association sent lobbyist Jeremiah Murphy to note our general antipathy to federal acquisition of South Dakota land because the feds lock down the land forever and don’t feel accountable to their local neighbors. Murphy said what’s troubling about this shooting range is that the state seems to be acting like the way his clients perceive the federal government, bulldozing in with its grand scheme of a “world-class” facility but failing to give world-class treatment to the local landowners who will have to deal with all the externalities of the project. “It’s not ready,” said Murphy. “It’s not ready for taxpayer dollars. Demand more from a state department before this thing gets set in amber and is ever unchangeable…. We have a lot of money right now, and they talked about a lot of big sponsors for this, so I suspect the money’s there to do it right. Demand that. Demand they do it right. Demand they go back, get concrete answers to neighbors’ questions, and then come back for taxpayers’ dollars.”
The ranchers won the day. House AgNR voted 8–5 to kill House Bill 1049. Republican Representatives Blare, Finck (Caleb, possibly a relation to testifier and evident neighbor Taylor), Marty, Overweg, York, Wink, and Ladner all voted against the NRA (note that on your report cards!) and against funding the shooting range, as did Democratic Representative Lesmeister. Republicans Chase, Goodwin, Schneider, Vasgaard, and Hoffman stuck with the Governor.
The collapse of HB 1049 epitomizes why Kristi Noem is a bad governor. She can throw together some talking points and dutifully recite them from under her hat and Fox News make-up. But image is no substitute for substance: when a plan requires actual research, actual work to communicate with regular citizens, identify real concerns, and make adjustments to serve the best interests of the community, Cowgirl Kristi can’t get the job done. She’s just another duded-up doll who doesn’t understand real ranchers or real ranch life.