You’d think governing with bicameral supermajorities would be easy. If I were Governor, and if my fellow Democrats held 89% of the House and 91% of the Senate, I’d be caucusing with my Legislative leaders every week before Session and every day during, establishing our shared policy objectives, loading the hopper with practical and popular bills, and making sure that everything I identify as a priority for my administration and my party receives the proper treatment—i.e., passage—from our caucus to make clear to the public that, from the top of the ticket to bottom, Democrats say what they mean, do what they say, and govern effectively.
Yet given this easy political environment, Kristi Noem is once again proving she can’t manage her own party to push basic elements of her policy agenda. Republicans shot down Noem’s $12-million shooting range on first contact with committee. Republicans killed Noem’s big Custer State Park Campground plan a week before it came to committee, then trashed Noem’s hastily drafted much smaller replacement plan this week. Noem has lost her marquee school prayer bill. She got her flashy signing ceremony or another marquee bill, her ban on transgender athletes, but that “victory” is marred by her unforced error among conservatives in vetoing a similar bill last year.
And now Noem gets national headlines for fumbling her vaunted mimicry of the odious Texas abortion ban, all because she couldn’t check in with her caucus and line up just one more Republican to second the motion to introduce the bill:
The state lawmaker who made the motion for the governor’s proposal for a heartbeat-based abortion ban to be introduced for South Dakota legislators to debate says that no one else on the House committee wanted the panel to be its official sponsor.
Representative Chris Johnson, R-Rapid City, gave his perspective to Capitol reporters during the weekly legislative leadership news conferences Thursday. They came in the wake of the House State Affairs Committee seeing Governor Kristi Noem’s anti-abortion language die, because no one else would second Johnson’s motion for it to be an official bill [Bob Mercer, “Johnson Explains Governor’s ‘Heartbeat’ Ban Rejection,” KELO-TV, 2022.02.03].
I’d quote Rep. Johnson’s “explanation”, but the Rapid City Republican doesn’t really explain anything; he just talks himself in meaningless circles trying to avoid stating the obvious: Noem muffed what should have been an easy play with rabidly anti-abortion Republicans.
Speaker Spencer Gosch (R-23/Glenham) assesses Noem’s failure on this abortion bill more straightforwardly:
“They [the Governor’s office] showed up late to the game last minute, even last hour type stuff and it didn’t pass,” said House Speaker Spencer Gosch, a Republican. “Simple as that.”
Gosch said he shared Noem’s goal of banning all abortions but that the language she proposed would “jeopardize” the state’s involvement in a separate legal battle with Planned Parenthood, which operates the state’s only clinic that regularly provides abortions [Stephen Groves, “Gov. Noem’s Abortion Ban Stifled by Republican Lawmakers,” AP, 2022.02.02].
Noem whimpered some narcissist avoidance to the press today about Gosch having “an issue” with her, “and I don’t know what it is”. The problem seems pretty obvious: Gosch was listening to the caucus and its favored radical theocrats and Noem wasn’t. Dale Bartscher, who represents the influential anti-abortion lobby in South Dakota, lays out the basic strategic error in Noem’s proposal:
Dale Bartscher is the Executive Director of South Dakota Right To Life. He says their number one goal is the case Planned Parenthood [vs.] Noem.
“We believe that the passage of a Texas-style heartbeat bill will moot the litigation we currently have in the 8th circuit court,” Bartscher says. “For that reason we cannot support a Texas-style heartbeat bill verbiage. That’s what the draft was. So, we’re waiting for her bill to drop to see if she’s altered it and we can get behind it and support it. Support a heartbeat bill” [Lee Strubinger, “Republicans Reject Governor’s ‘Fetal Heartbeat’ Abortion Ban,” SDPB, 2022.02.02].
As with the shooting range and the campground, Noem’s fundamental error appears to be that she failed to pay attention to members of her own base. She’s evidently so busy flying around the country, raising money from coastal elites, boosting her brand on Fox News, and listening to all of the out-of-state advisors whom she’s imported to work on her Presidential bid that she is forgetting to talk to the friendly South Dakota lawmakers and lobbyists who can tell her what will pass and what will not.
Maybe Noem thinks that, with her massive cash flow from Texas and Florida, she doesn’t have to listen to South Dakota Republicans any more. Maybe she thinks she’s such a shoo-in for reëlection as Governor that she can turn her attention entirely to the White House she wants to make Whiter in 2024. Maybe she really has forgotten that politics isn’t just a pageant; sometimes, you have to do the work.
Observers less self-obsessed than Kristi can see a Republican Governor in a safe Republican state failing to persuade Republican legislators to vote for her Republican priorities… and in that failure, they can see a Republican who ought to be replaced by a Republican with basic management skills.