Dana Bash’s first question to Governor Kristi Noem on CNN Sunday was, “Would you support, for example, South Dakota providing paid parental leave and state-funded child care, so mothers can work and care for their children?” Read Noem’s response and Bash’s follow-ups and see if you can tell what Noem’s answer is:
BASH: And I want to start with something that I have heard you say many, many times over the past few weeks, which is you are going to walk alongside mothers and their children after this decision.
I want to ask you what that looks like. Would you support, for example, South Dakota providing paid parental leave and state-funded child care, so mothers can work and care for their children?
GOV. KRISTI NOEM (R-SD): Well, family leave policy is something that I addressed as soon as I became governor in South Dakota.
I do think it’s important that we walk alongside people when they enter into a situation where maybe they have an unplanned pregnancy. And many women feel as though, when they get — have a pregnancy that’s not planned, that it’s a crisis situation. And we need to do a better job of supporting them.
I launched a Web site called Life.SD.gov that makes those connections, helps with medical care, financial services, connects them to nonprofits or even adoptive parents that may choose to parent their child, if that’s the choice that they make [Gov. Kristi Noem, interviewed by Dana Bash, transcript, CNN: State of the Union, 2022.07.03].
As seems usual, Noem’s first response is not to respond. Bash opens with a hard policy question, and Noem’s coach has told her not to talk policy (because she can’t talk policy honestly or correctly). Corey Lewandowski gets her gigs to fire up the base with chants of Life™! (and to make sure she mentions the website of the week).
The new website about which Noem brand-brags says not one thing about paid parental leave. It has one link to the state’s federally funded Child Care Assistance Program for low-income families. That diversion thus does not answer Bash’s question.
Noem says she addressed family leave policy “as soon as I became Governor.” Her first year in office came and went without any new policy on paid family leave. It wasn’t until 2020 that Senate State Affairs put forward Senate Bill 186 to grant paid family leave to state employees after six months on the job. The state’s new policy pays state workers with new additions 60% of normal salary for eight weeks. 2020 SB 186 did nothing for private-sector employees. More South Dakota employers are offering paid family leave, but that’s because of market forces, not any great push from Governor Noem or her fellow Republicans. So Noem didn’t address paid family leave as soon as she became Governor, and she hasn’t addressed it for 96% of South Dakota’s workers.
Recognizing that Noem hadn’t addressed her question, Bash redirected the Governor:
BASH: And, Governor, I went through that entire Web site. And I’m going to ask you about that in a second.
BASH: But on the notion of family leave, do you support and will you support, when the special session comes in there in South Dakota, paid family leave or greater access financially to child care?
NOEM: That’s a discussion we’re going to have. I think it’s important that we back up exactly what I have been saying since I’m governor, that we want stronger families, that I think it’s important for children to have families around them and be with them.
And that’s something that we will continue to talk about as a priority for our state, yes. I think what’s interesting in South Dakota is that it’s very much a legislative process. We get input from legislators. I file bills. They file bills. We debate, have session, and we reflect what the people of the state believe and support [Noem/Bash, 2022.07.03].
Have a discussion… want stronger families… continue to talk… wow—Noem still hasn’t rambled her way to a simple yes or no on supporting the two specific policies that Bash has asked about, paid family leave and state-funded child care. Noem squeezes in one yes, but that affirmative is tied to a vague pronoun, that (“that‘s something that we will continue to talk about…”). She doesn’t follow that with a clarifying noun (e.g., “that policy of paid family leave” or “that state funding for child care”). Thus, that is left referring to the nebulous declaration of principles in her preceding sentence—back up what I’m saying…want stronger families…important for children to have families around them…. Noem structures her response to avoid committing to any policy.
Bash tries twice more to get Noem to commit to telling voters she will push for paid family leave:
BASH: Yes, it’s a very dynamic situation. I have been following it closely.
You have a pretty powerful bully pulpit. What is your position paid family leave? Will you push for it?
NOEM: It’s something that I have supported in the past and talked about, so giving that flexibility to family.
So, South Dakota has not had a broad, expansive policy, like several other states do. And I think that’s a debate that will continue to have.
BASH: So you’re going to push it?
NOEM: Many times, it’s the financial cost, the medical cost and the leave policy that many people have a tough time supporting.
But I think, in South Dakota, that the time is right [Noem/Bash, 2022.07.03].
CNN and others are headlining those last words—”the time is right”—as evidence that Noem will back paid family leave legislation. But she did not say what the time is right for. She definitely did not say, “The time is right for me to propose and push legislation to make sure every South Dakota worker can get paid family leave, just like workers in every other wealthy nation.” She definitely did not say, “President Biden had a great idea with his plan for paid family leave in the Build Back Better package; we ought to bring that back and pass it!”
All Noem promised on Sunday TV was all she gave Dana Bash: talk, talk, talk.