Jobs, Family, Future: Gov. Kristi Noem Shares What’s on the Mind of America’s Heartland

Much of America is focused on something other than impeachment or whatever happens to be trending in the news cycle. Today on The Daily Signal Podcast, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem shares what is on the minds of her constituents in the heartland of America.

Cutting red tape for small business and helping communities to heal from drug addiction are two of the key focuses for the Republican governor’s administration, which logged its first year Jan. 5. When it comes to policy, the former congresswoman and state lawmaker says she looks beyond the present situation to asks herself: “How does this impact the next generation?”

Read the lightly edited transcript below or listen to the full podcast.

Virginia Allen: I am joined by South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. Governor, thank you so much for being here.

Gov. Kristi Noem: Oh, absolutely. Thank you for having me on.

Allen: Now, you recently appeared on Fox News and you said that—I love how you said this—the D.C. impeachment circus is not reflective of what is on the hearts and minds of the people of South Dakota or of the people in America’s heartland. So what are your constituents saying, first off, about impeachment, but then really what are those issues that they’re concerned about?

Noem: Well, I’d say most of the time if impeachment comes up, there’s two different emotional reactions that people have. They’re … very sad by what they see happening in our country. They feel like there’s something right now that’s breaking and they’re hoping that they can bring it back. Because this is the first time we’ve had a partisan impeachment in our country. And I think for some folks that really disturbs them.

For others, they start out making a joke about it. They don’t take it seriously because of the way the Democrats have conducted this whole operation and investigation. … It’s usually a 10-second conversation. They go on to, “Are these trade agreements really going to get done? How are we going to go into growing our businesses in our state?” They care a lot about what’s happening to their families.

So, we [had] a little bit of a unique situation in South Dakota [where] we had the largest natural disaster in our state’s history [last] year. The folks and families and agriculture in our state [are] kind of struggling. That’s obviously a big part of the conversation.

Allen: Tell me a little bit about that. How have South Dakotans come together in order to make it through that difficult time?

Noem: Well, we started [in office last year and got] through January, February. We were in our legislative session. We got to March and we were hit with what they called a bomb cyclone. I’d never heard that term before, but it really was a unique weather event that dumped about 5 to 6 feet of snow in the central and western part of our state.

The eastern half got about 6 inches of rain on frozen ground. So we had a lot of flash flooding, a lot of damage done. And really throughout the year it never stopped raining.

In many areas, we got almost 400% our normal precipitation. Our ground is saturated, a lot of damage. Many counties, 58 of our 66 counties, were declared federal disaster areas and some of them a couple of times over. So it was really a strange situation in South Dakota, and agriculture is our No. 1 industry. We had the most unplanted acres in the entire nation.

So I think when people thought about flooding events, they thought about Kansas and they saw what happened in Nebraska. But really, South Dakota has been pretty devastated by the impact on the economy and the amount of land and roads and bridges that had been damaged.

Allen: Wow. So looking forward, what are your hopes to recover from that?

Noem: FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency], obviously, is going to be helpful. We had five different FEMA declarations in the state, which is unprecedented for our state, and we’re partnering with them. The state is doing some financing for local counties and cities so that they can build back their roads and infrastructure. We’ll get through it. South Dakota does.

We have a constitutional requirement that we balance our budget. Our state revenues obviously are down, so I’ve cut tens of millions of dollars out of the budget. We’re still putting money into reserves, though, which is a priority of mine, and we’re not raising taxes.

So, we will get through it. It’s a difficult time for South Dakota families, but we’ve done hard things before and I think that’s one of the wonderful things about our state. Everybody works hard. They come together and they help each other get through.

Allen: That’s wonderful. Now, you are such a champion of family values in your state and you speak openly about how you hope that South Dakota does become a model for America in terms of upholding those traditional values of loving our nation and serving our communities. So how do you see South Dakota becoming this model state for America?

Noem: We are a small state. We don’t have a lot of people. Big land area. But I think that sets us up for a unique situation. In many ways, South Dakota can be a pilot project for a lot of reforms that need to happen in this country.

And so I’ve said from the time I served in Congress and then campaigned for governor, and now as governor, that we can do big things in our state. And I’ve seen over the years that for our next generation to be successful, they have to have strong families. It’s very difficult for a young person to grow up to have the ability to go after all the opportunities in front of them if they don’t have support.

A lot of things in our culture today are breaking down the family. I’ve talked about that we should be focusing on foster care, on adoption, on making sure that families are spending time together, giving them more opportunities to have flexible workplaces.

In fact, my staff has a question they have to answer on every single policy or bill that they bring to me. The last question on this form that they have to do on an analysis is: “How does this impact the next generation?”

I never want my decisions to be made [based] on “How does this impact us a month from now?” I want them to be thinking about, “What if I make this decision, what will happen 10 years from now? How will this set us up for success for our kids and for our grandkids?” And the ways that we tackle some of these big things really will stand out in the country.

We’ve already done some things that I think have gotten us to be noticed. That’s not really the goal—to get attention—but I think that we have a unique opportunity because we’re such a well-run state; because we don’t have a lot of people, we can do big things and really show the rest of the country what’s possible.

Allen: That’s so important, that forward-thinking. That’s huge. We need more of that in Washington, D.C.

Noem: Yeah. We do, we do. I spent eight years in D.C. I was in Congress for four terms and I think that frustrated me. Obviously, I served on [the House] Ways and Means [Committee], so I had the chance to do tax reform. That was one of my passions when I went to Congress, and I was so grateful I got to work with the [Trump] administration to do that.

[I] did farm bills, did a lot of important legislation. But the big reforms that I wanted to do, I really saw governors have the chance to do. We’re the CEOs of our states. We have the chance to set [agendas] and accomplish them. It’s one of the reasons why I ran for governor. I wanted to come home and be there all the time. I love South Dakota, but [I] also [wanted] to do some big reforms I think only governors can do.

Allen: One of the greatest challenges that our nation is facing right now is rising drug addiction. And in November you launched a new campaign to combat the meth epidemic in South Dakota. Can you give an update on how that campaign is going, and what your goals are for 2020?

Noem: It was a campaign that definitely got us noticed nationwide, not just in the state. And listen, we have a huge problem, not just in South Dakota, but across the country, with drugs and addiction. And a lot of times we don’t talk about it enough.

In South Dakota, we have doubled the national average of 12- to 17-year-olds that are using meth. So while a lot of the country’s talking about opioid addiction, and I worked on those bills when I was in Congress, our big problem still in South Dakota is meth. It’s cheap, it’s everywhere. And we’ve got a huge issue with it.

So for us, we had seen–and I did some research and my team did–that we had done campaigns in the past that hadn’t really worked. And so we knew when we picked our tagline, when we did this campaign, it would be provocative. We knew it would grab people’s attention, and it certainly did. But now that we’ve got people’s attention, we’re moving into phase two of calling people to action.

We can’t fight addiction on our own. My goal is to remove the shame of it, to get people talking about it, and really we’re already seeing results. We’ve seen more people get onto the website, call into the 800 number, and ask for help than we did in the previous years combined.

We’ve had more people go into treatment than we have in the past. People are calling and asking for help. And those involved in that area, helping people get healing from addiction, are saying that they haven’t seen a response like this before.

So I know that when the campaign first kicked off, a lot of people thought, “What does ‘I’m on it’ mean?” And people made jokes. And what I told folks is, if you’re making a joke about this, you probably haven’t watched the commercials.

You probably haven’t really paid attention to the message of it, because in order for us to beat this drug epidemic that we have, we’re all going to have to be on it. It’s going to take a community effort. It’s going to have to take families talking around the dinner table about it, and this campaign certainly has started that.

Allen: And why do you see tackling this meth crisis as so critical in order to see South Dakota flourish?

Noem: Again, it’s about giving people all the opportunity to be healed and healthy and to be successful. Meth does such damage to people. … This new meth is so pure and so potent, you do one hit, you’re immediately addicted. And it’s cheap. You can pick up a hit for $5 on the street, and it’s everywhere. That’s why it’s so prevalent. And now drug traffickers and dealers are mixing meth with other much more potent and fatal drugs as well.

So, unless we raise the awareness level of what’s happening in our small communities, people won’t really get on board to help solve the problem.

What changed my perspective? People ask me why I got so passionate about this. I spent some time with our law enforcement officers. I was watching some body-cam video of some situations where they came into a home, there’s three little kiddos crying and mom’s just beating her head against the wall because she’s high on meth and the kids are sobbing and there’s blood. … And this is in one of my smaller towns in South Dakota and rural America.

A lot of times we walk by these houses in these neighborhoods and [we don’t] even think about what’s going on inside that house. We need to start watching out for each other, and we can’t afford to let our kids grow up in those kinds of situations. It does damage, it’s traumatic for them.

Allen: Another issue that’s very important to you is strengthening the local economy through small businesses. And, of course, the economy and job creation is a priority that our president, Donald Trump, is very invested in. You were recently at the White House to talk with the president about how we can remove some of the red tape on businesses to strengthen the economy. What did the president have to say?

Noem: You know, he’s very passionate about getting the regulatory burden off businesses. He knows how much it costs our businesses and, of course, all those costs get passed onto the consumers.

So, South Dakota has for a long time been the least regulated state in the nation. Now, Idaho just passed us up. But Gov. [Brad] Little and I have a little competition going, [in] that I’ve told him I’m coming after him again because we have long been known for being a very easy state to do business in. And that allows our folks to pursue their passions, employ people, raise wages, and really create opportunities.

The president understands that. Of course, he’s run businesses. He started businesses. That’s very helpful to have in a president. I have run businesses, I have started businesses. It’s one of the reasons I got involved in government and politics, because of business structure and tax structure. We needed business people to be involved.

So, that insight and discussion with him was very helpful because we talked about removing regulation … whether it’s EPA [Environmental Protection Agency], OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] regulations, but also allowing those who are coming out of our criminal justice system to get back to work. …

I think to have some governors and leaders sitting around that table with the president talking about how we could partner [is] very helpful in getting rid of those regulatory burdens.

Allen: Governor, thank you for stepping up to the challenge in South Dakota. And we thank you for your time today.

Noem: Oh, thank you for the fun visit. It was great.