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Facing awkward questions, Gov. Kristi Noem does damage control

The trouble with the South Dakota governor's pitch was that much of her defense missed the point of the ongoing controversy.


For much of last week, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem acted as if her abuse-of-power controversy would go away if she ignored it. By the end of the week, the Republican governor seemed to realize that it was time for a different public-relations strategy. The Associated Press reported:

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem on Friday defended her administration's handling of her daughter's application for a real estate appraiser license, attempting to brush aside questions about a meeting she held last year that included her daughter, Kassidy Peters, and the state employee who was overseeing her application.

For those who may need a refresher, the Associated Press reported a week ago that the governor's adult daughter applied to become a certified real estate appraiser. When the relevant South Dakota agency moved to deny the application, Noem "summoned to her office the state employee who ran the agency, the woman's direct supervisor and the state labor secretary." The governor's daughter also attended the meeting.

Soon after, Noem's daughter ended up getting the certification she sought, at which point the state labor secretary allegedly demanded the retirement of the relevant agency head.

As we've discussed, you don't have to be an expert in government ethics to see this story as a legitimate abuse-of-power controversy. Making matters worse, at least at first, the governor didn't even try to deny the core elements of the story, choosing instead to accuse the media of "trying to destroy" her children, which was a bizarre response.

Noem's YouTube video from Friday, which was roughly three minutes long, appeared to be her attempt to put the matter to rest. The governor and her team had several days to figure out precisely what they wanted to say, and how best to say it, suggesting this defense was the South Dakotan's strongest defense.

But the trouble with Noem's pitch was that much of the defense missed the point. The governor argued, for example, that her adult daughter was qualified to be a certified real estate appraiser. That may be true, but the controversy is about Noem's efforts, not her daughter's qualifications.

The governor also made the case in the video that South Dakota needs more appraisers, and the bureaucratic system was due for an overhaul. That may also be true, but again, the question is whether Noem improperly intervened, not whether the certification process needed reforms.

The Republican, who did not specifically reference the 2020 meeting in question, got closer to point when she told viewers, "My daughter went through the exact same process that others did in South Dakota to become an appraiser. She was treated no different. And I never asked for her to get special treatment."

Whether that assertion is accurate or not remains to be seen. The state's Republican attorney general, Jason Ravnsborg, issued a statement last week saying he's "actively reviewing" the matter. (He may need to hurry: Ravsborg is also facing possible impeachment about an unrelated scandal.)

Noem, meanwhile, is preparing a 2022 re-election campaign, though she'll be doing so without a prominent political advisor: The governor announced last week that she has cut all ties with Republican operative Corey Lewandowski, following allegations that he made unwanted sexual advances toward a GOP donor.