Kevin Woster reviews Kristi Noem’s easily mocked Galloping Ghost of a Governor ad and finds she’s deceiving voters about the location of her family farm—er, “ranch”:
It features video of Noem on horseback — I assume that’s her favorite horse, Ice Man — galloping across gorgeous green grasslands, often with what appear to be rolling river breaks in the background.
…The timing of “our ranch was saved” and the beautiful visuals leave the impression that she was riding on the one that was saved. She wasn’t. I don’t know where she was, but it wasn’t on the Noem place near Castlewood.
I’ve been there. The Noems have an attractive, modern home on a fetching old farmstead with a nice, East-River-type pasture nearby. Good grass in that pasture when I was there for a profile on Noem late in 2010. But nothing there said “ranch” to me. She used to call it a farm, and sometimes a ranch, but lately has settled on ranch.
I guess it fits better with the image she wants to project these days.
What I can tell you for sure is there’s nothing around Noem’s place like the sweeping grasslands in the ad. I’d like to know where it was filmed. So I sent an email to Noem’s campaign staff. I received the same response that I got earlier when I sent the campaign an email asking who made the ad. None.
I’m beginning to think outreaches from me to the campaign this cycle will be underappreciated [Kevin Woster, “Hold on to Your Hat for a Wild Ride in Governor’s Race,” SDPB, 2022.08.04].
Team Noem will likely appreciate even less Woster’s reminder that Noem’s hoary old story that her family almost lost their farm because of estate tax is a bigger deception than her creative visuals:
The idea that the Noem family “nearly lost our livelihood,” as the ad says, after her father’s death is certainly disputable.
During her years in Congress, Noem used the tragedy as an example of how the inheritance tax could harm farm families and others. She has said on a number of occasions that the inheritance tax, which she preferred to call the “death tax,” threatened the survival of the Arnold-Noem family farming operation.
In truth, the main threat came through a failure to update her dad’s will.
A number of reporters in the state and beyond looked at that issue, discussing it with tax experts and estate-planning professionals. Their conclusion was that the tax posed an additional difficulty at a difficult time, but was hardly one that threatened the family operation.
One of the reporters who wrote about this issue is Christopher Vondracek. His story for Courthouse News Service, which was referred to me by SDPB reporter Seth Tupper, was perhaps the most thorough and understandable that I saw. And it formed the basis for my understanding of the issue.
When Ron Arnold died in 1994, he had an estate worth more than $2 million, primarily in land, livestock and grain supplies. But like most farmers, especially younger ones, he also had debt on most of that estate. And because he hadn’t updated his will, his family faced $169,000 in federal taxes, money that didn’t need to be owed to Uncle Sam.
Had the right update been made to Arnold’s will after 1981 changes to the law that provided surviving spouses with a tax exemption, the estate could have passed on to Arnold’s wife Corrine, without any tax liability.
Instead, the family did have to deal with that $169,000 in owed federal taxes. But it didn’t hurt that Arnold had a life-insurance package that paid his wife $1.2 million. So even with existing debt and the new tax burden, they had plenty of options that didn’t have to include selling land to pay off the taxes.
It certainly made things more complicated. And they had to work harder to get right with the federal government. But it’s unlikely the family livelihood was ever seriously jeopardized [Woster, 2022.08.05].
You can review the story of the Noem/Arnold family’s estate tax, life insurance windfall, and Ronald Arnold’s will in my December 2017 posts: