Holy cow! Did the Noem Administration just say that Kristi Noem will finally shut up about fireworks at Mount Rushmore?
“Due to ongoing litigation on this subject, she will not be commenting further at this time,” said Noem’s newly promoted “chief of communications” Ian Fury this morning. (Say, what’s the difference between a $115,122.80 “chief of communications” and a $125,000 “senior communications advisor“? Since when do the advisors get paid more than the chief? And given the Governor isn’t commenting, how much communications chiefing and advising does she need?) Alas, Fury wasn’t talking about Noem’s ill-advised and federally rejected Mount Rushmore pageant. He was talking about racist hotelier Nick Uhre’s request that the Governor illegally remove Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender from office for outing the Uhre family’s desire to ban Indians from their Rapid City hotel and bar:
Nick Uhre, co-owner of the Grand Gateway Hotel, sent a lengthy email to Gov. Kristi Noem on Wednesday asking, in part, for her help to remove Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender from office.
Uhre’s request follows the revelation of racist comments posted by his mother, Connie Uhre, where she said the Grand Gateway Hotel would ban all Native Americans from the property because she can’t tell “who is a bad Native or a good Native.”
Ian Fury, Noem’s chief of communications, said her office normally does not respond to media requests about these types of emails but condemned the racist remarks.
“The Governor’s office generally does not comment to the media on correspondence received from private citizens. The Governor is opposed to all racial discrimination – there is no room for racial discrimination in South Dakota,” Fury said. “Due to ongoing litigation on this subject, she will not be commenting further at this time” [Nathan Thompson, “Hotel Owner Seeks Gov. Noem’s Help Following Racist Comments Fallout,” Rapid City Journal, 2022.03.24].
There are two lines of baloney here.
Line 1 is this fiction that the Governor does not comment on ongoing litigation. She is not party to the civil rights lawsuit Uhre and his mom got themselves into by refusing to rent rooms to Indians this week. The lawsuit is in federal court, not state circuit court, so it’s not as if the Uhre case will be decided by members of the state judiciary appointed by Noem.
And pending litigation doesn’t shut Noem up when she wants the mic. Noem sure hasn’t clammed up about fireworks at Mount Rushmore, over which trivial subject there is ongoing federal litigation. She is the plaintiff in that lawsuit, and she has issued official state press releases to press her case. Noem is the defendant in pending federal litigation over abortion. She has commented voluminously on the topic, touted enacting restrictions identical to those enjoined in the lawsuit she’s losing, and written into law a provision saying that her new restrictions on abortion pills will take effect the moment she convinces the judge to change her mind and vote Noem’s way.
But throw a case at her where the proper response would requires acknowledging systemic racism against Native Americans, and incredibly, Noem’s well-oiled communications machine goes dry.
Even with a federal civil rights lawsuit underway, there’s no reason for elected officials and other public figures of good conscience to speak up and vigorously condemn the Uhre family’s blatant racism and the black eye it gives to the good people of South Dakota. The American Civil Liberties Union, which knows a whole lot more about proper conduct amidst federal litigation than Governor Noem, commented on the case this morning. The South Dakota Democratic Party, led by former U.S. Attorney Randy Seiler, participated in the Unity March Against Racism in Rapid City on Wednesday and issued this public statement on the Uhres’ unacceptable racism yesterday. The Great Sioux Nation’s tribal chairmen are having a special meeting and rallying in Rapid Saturday, and they’re going to say all sorts of things about this subject without any false concern that their public condemnation of racism will foul any pending litigation.
Even if all that matters is that bad press from the Uhres’ war on Indians might hurt South Dakota’s tourism industry, the Governor should be using her eagerly sought celebrity to condemn this instance of racism, as Mayor Allender did, as an aberration not representative of our community’s values. She should be going to Rapid City tomorrow to stand shoulder to shoulder with the tribal chairmen and say Nick and Connie Uhre deserve to lose every penny the plaintiffs can win from them in their civil rights lawsuit, but instead, as she preps for another big out-of-state fundraiser, we get nothing.
There lies Line 2 of the Snow Queen’s baloney. She says—well, wait, she doesn’t say. With the world at her thumbtips, Governor Noem tweets about doctoring in South Dakota, dodging responsibility for South Dakota’s high rate of covid deaths, expanding DSU to Sioux Falls, watching basketball, blocking access to abortion pills (again, Kristi, ongoing litigation!), working hard on the farm, making it cheaper to put a pistol in your pants, being ALEC’s favorite governor, and loving her big dog, with lots of photos of her own smiling face, but on a matter of grave offense to far more than just the Lakota people of our fair but not yet fair enough state, a matter drawing outrage from big business and government in the Black Hills, Noem mutters not one word. She sends her spokesman out to speak for her on this matter and to speak only vaguely, not directly.
Sure, her spokesman says, “The Governor is opposed to all racial discrimination – there is no room for racial discrimination in South Dakota.” But note her distracting ploy: she waves an obvious general principle to avoid making any comment on the specific crime at hand. She says she opposes all racial discrimination, but she declines to say that the Uhres are engaged in racial discrimination and should knock it off.
That’s like me saying, “I’m opposed to all messy yards,” but not going outside, starting the mower, and cutting down the jungle around the shed. That’s like me saying, “I support lower taxes!” but then voting not to lower the sales tax on food. (Oh, wait, that’s not like me; that is Al Novstrup!)
It would do the Lakota and the whole state good to have Governor Kristi Noem herself come to the mic and say, as so many other people are saying, “Nick, Connie, banning Indians from your hotel is racist. It’s illegal and it’s immoral. Quit insulting our Lakota brothers and sisters, and quit hurting the great state of South Dakota. (And quit asking me to oust Mayor Allender, because that’s illegal and dumb.)” She could send a strong signal to everyone in this state, including the conservatives who tend to idolize her, that we’re not going back to 1950 or 1890. Noem’s vocal moral leadership on this issue could spare some South Dakotans from some overt and harmful racism.
But Kristi hasn’t shown that kind of leadership. On the thin pretense that her forthright condemnation of an egregious instance of racism in Rapid City might somehow impact ongoing litigation, she chooses to respond to evil with silence.
Maybe if the tribal chairmen seek a permit to shoot fireworks at Saturday’s rally, then Kristi will speak up.