You know that 2019 flight where Governor Kristi Noem gave her son, two nephews, and another teenage boy a free ride on the state plane to Custer State Park to attend her younger daughter’s wedding? She says that was official state business:
In response to a request for details on the May 30, 2019 flight in question, the South Dakota DOT provided the following info regarding who was on the flight on each leg of the journey.
All legs of the subject flight occurred on May 30, 2019. The legs of the flight and the passengers on board are as follows:
Leg 1 – Pierre to Custer – no passengers on board;
Leg 2 – Custer to Vermillion – Gov. Noem, Beth Hollatz and Ryan Tennyson;
Leg 3 – Vermillion to Aberdeen – Gov. Noem, Beth Hollatz, Ryan Tennyson, Booker Noem,
Nash Grantham, Hunter Arnold, and Jack Ferguson
Leg 4 – Aberdeen to Custer – Gov. Noem, Beth Hollatz, Ryan Tennyson, Booker Noem, Nash
Grantham, Hunter Arnold and Jack Ferguson;
Leg 5 – Custer to Pierre – no passengers on board.
The DOT also provided a justification for the flight, echoing [Governor’s spokesman Ian] Fury’s language from 2021, stating that “if the Governor had not been able to use the state plane that day, hundreds of teenage future community leaders would have been deprived of the opportunity to hear from their Governor and ask her questions.”
The wedding in question occurred three days after Noem was dropped back off in Custer. Along the way, she picked up her son, two nephews and a family friend [Jacob Newton, “Governor’s Office Says Flight to Daughter’s Wedding Was Part of Official Business,” 2022.09.16].
First and rear-most, depriving hundreds of teenagers of the opportunity to hear another boring Kristi Noem speech would have done them all a welcome favor.
Second and rear-more, Noem has deprived hundreds of thousands of South Dakotans of the opportunity to hear from their Governor in the traditional multiple debates with her election opponent as well as in interviews with local reporters whom Noem has stonewalled throughout her administration, so apparently she does not view communicating with her South Dakota constituents as necessary state business.
But third and fore-more, we’re not questioning whether the Governor can use the state plane to attend Girls State and Boys State. We’re questioning whether she can say, “Come on, boys! Let’s go the Hills!” and pile a bunch of teenagers into the state plane for a fun and totally private family event at Custer State Park.
And fourth and foremost, the law says no, the governor can’t take teenage boys joyriding. Senator Reynold Nesiba helped write and pass that 2006 initiated law, and he reminds us that the law we passed, as explained by Attorney General Larry Long in 2006, has no exceptions:
Nesiba points to the AG’s use of the phrase “no exceptions” as reason enough to believe that no personal element should infringe on a trip made on a state plane, even if a personal event were to be in the same location as an official event.
“I just think that the state airplane should not be used for personal business. And if people are, you know, getting free flights at taxpayer expense, and if not directly a taxpayer expense at the potential liability of — if God forbid an accident would happen — the state would be liable,” said Nesiba.
This point of liability fell directly on the idea of whether non-government officials (such as members of the governor’s family) should be flying on the state plane.
“There’s no exceptions. It can only be used for state business. It cannot be combined with pleasure or any other personal or political benefit,” Nesiba said. “That’s what the people voted for, and that is how that law should be enforced” [Jacob Newton, “Nesiba Talks State Law, Complaint Filed Against Noem,” KELO-TV, 2022.09.19].
Even if the UPS man has to deliver packages to the school, we don’t see the UPS man picking up his kids and taking them out for ice cream in the UPS truck. The law sets the same limit for the Governor in the state plane. Even if we accept the idea that we can let the Governor reduce the interruption of her wedding planning by flying on our dime from Custer State Park to Vermillion and Aberdeen and back to the wedding venue, the law makes clear that she cannot have taxpayers pick up the tab for her family and friends to fly to the wedding.