Tourism Secretary Jim Hagen thought he struck just the right chord when he announced recently that rock 'n' roller Joan Jett would grace the state's Mount Rushmore American Pride float at this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
But what Hagen apparently didn't know is that Jett is a vegetarian and poster child for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, which promotes meatless diets in its quest to protect animals from what the organization considers cruel acts.
And now that decision is being questioned by members of the livestock community, including state Sen. Larry Rhoden, who said the choice of Jett for an agricultural state's float "seems pretty odd."
"Her agenda through PETA does not represent South Dakota," the Union Center rancher said. "The organization is obviously very anti-ag. They are very misinformed on the ag industry and the animal ag industry."
Jodie Anderson, the executive director of the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association, was surprised to hear of Jett's activism and worried that she might project the wrong image for a state with a proud and robust agricultural heritage.
"South Dakota Cattlemen's Association is very concerned that the South Dakota float would be featuring a prominent vegetarian on the Thanksgiving Parade float," she said Tuesday. "We hope that future floats would support not only the tourism industry but also agriculture."
The PETA website has a number of pages featuring Jett promoting vegetarianism. She also was quoted at the celebrity giving site looktothestars.org saying “I am a vegetarian. So, I avoid contributing to the major environmental damage that the meat industry creates. I hope that soon we can make sure that everything we do is earth-friendly.”
Hagen, who noted that Jett has performed at the Deadwood Mountain Grand in Deadwood, said her presence on the float is all about bringing attention to the state.
"For us, it's not about the talent on the float," he said. "It's about having Mount Rushmore featured before 3 million live viewers ... more than 100 million people around the world who are seeing that float."
So far, the publicity has emphasized her status as a rock musician. Last year, the state's float featured Don McLean, who is most known for the song "American Pie," and in 2011 it was Neil Diamond who helped promote the state in the parade.
Hagen said the 55-year-old Jett is a popular musician who should appeal to the generation the state hopes to attract as tourists.
"The feedback through the years has just been immensely positive about the float and South Dakota as a vacation destination," he said. "I don't know the personal opinions and viewpoints of a lot of these artists."
Hagen also said that Jett's political views are really not an issue when it comes to marketing the state to a national audience.
"She holds views that I don't, but there are a lot of people who love her as an artist," Hagen said. "It puts the focus on Mount Rushmore and South Dakota."