I guess vanity license plates aren’t enough for Kristi Noem’s narcissism. She has to have a vanity rodeo. And unlike vanity plate buyers, the Governor can’t even pay for her own indulgence. Instead, she raids the public treasury to pay for her public preening:
In September, Gov. Kristi Noem carried the American flag on horseback into a Sioux Falls arena full of fans.
It was the Cinch Playoffs Governor’s Cup, advertised as “the richest rodeo in South Dakota history,” with $1 million in prize money. Noem handed out awards, posed for photos with the winners, and shared the images with thousands of followers on her social media accounts.
Several months earlier, Noem had decided to use tax dollars from South Dakota employers to help pay for the event.
In June, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development awarded a three-year contract worth up to $2.5 million to rodeo announcer Rorey Lemmel’s Dean Entertainment Group, to promote and conduct the annual event. The contract said Sioux Falls would contribute additional matching funds.
The state money is from a special fund under the exclusive control of the governor. It’s called the Future Fund. Legislators created it in 1987 at the behest of then-Gov. George Mickelson, “for purposes related to research and economic development for the state,” according to the brief, two-sentence text of the law [Joshua Haiar, “‘Governor’s Cup’ Rodeo Among Recipients of Millions from Public Fund Controlled by Noem,” South Dakota Searchlight, 2023.12.28].
The Cinch Playoffs Governor’s Cup wasn’t Noem’s first rodeo with the Future Fund. She’s used that government slush fund to pay for Donald Trump’s fireworks and her bad-plumber ads. But this is likely the first rodeo in South Dakota ever subsidized to the tune of seven figures by state government.
Yes, that’s Freedom™ you smell all right—freedom from any sense of shame, fealty to law, or obligation to use public dollars for public good and not personal image-making.