Bob Mercer, who has reported on the Legislature for 38 years (and worked downstairs from the Legislature for four years under Governor Bill Janklow) calls the 2022 Session the “longest, weirdest” he’s seen, due primarily to the intense split among Republicans:
There’s the three-way fight underway in the House of Representatives. One side is Governor Kristi Noem’s Republican backers. Another side has the Republicans aligned behind her primary-election challenger, Representative Steven Haugaard of Sioux Falls, and House Appropriations chair Chris Karr of Sioux Falls. Then there’s the small group of eight Democrats, who suddenly as a bloc have the decisive votes on many issues [Bob Mercer, “S.D.’s Strangest Legislative Session in Decades,” KELO-TV, 2022.03.06].
This split comes largely from Kristi Noem’s failure to govern. Past governors have managed to keep the Republican caucus mostly in line. Noem, perhaps weakened from the start by her narrow 2018 victory over the more capable and likable Billie Sutton, Noem has lived up to Sutton’s warnings, working for herself, her campaign chest, and her national celebrity status far more than for the people who elected her. Her focus on national campaigning has caused her not to attend to Legislative affairs. It’s as if she thinks she’s entitled to Legislative agreement the same way she’s entitled to pageant victories and farm subsidies. She assumes the Legislature will just automatically do what she wants, without any hard work on her part. She throws sloppy, ill-thought-out bills at the Legislature before jetting off to her next out-of-state fundraiser, and she is shocked and vituperative when the Legislature does not merely obey her edicts.
Kristi Noem evidently still thinks her only job is to win elections, not carry out the basic, unglamorous duties of the job she’s elected to do. Her inattention to duty may have been easier to cover up during her eight years in Washington, when she was just one of 435 United States Representatives voting the way her caucus told her and fundraising half the time like everyone else in the House. But now in the unique position of Governor, Noem can’t hide her inability to do real work. The fracturing of her own Republican caucus in Pierre, a mostly loyal bunch with few big ideas or ambitions, a group that past Governor’s have found relatively easy to control, is further evidence that Kristi Noem isn’t cut out for real work.