Editor's note: This is the third in a four-part series on the candidates for governor of South Dakota.
Kristi Noem is South Dakota’s one member in the U.S. House of Representatives and is a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor in 2018.
Why she’s running: When Noem defeated U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin in 2010, Noem made a promise. “I said I wouldn’t be in (Washington) D.C. in 10 years,” she recalled Friday.
She had already made the decision she wouldn’t seek re-election to the House after 2016. Last November, three days after winning the House seat again, Noem received a phone call.
The message: If Noem wanted to transfer funds left from the U.S. House contest into a state account for governor, she had two days under federal regulations to get it done.
At 4:59 p.m. on Nov. 14, 2016, Noem filed the organization paperwork for Kristi for Governor. That same afternoon, the Kristi for Congress account shifted $1.6 million to the governor account.
By Dec. 31, Kristi for Governor accumulated had $1,834,259 and spent $27,124, according to the year-end report for 2016 activities filed Feb. 6.
Noem was, as her slogan says, all in. “I believe governor’s races are about experience — who has the background to hit the ground running,” she said.
Born in 1971, Kristi was one of four children of Ron and Corrine Arnold. They farmed and ranched in rural Hamlin County. She won the South Dakota Snow Queen pageant and went to Northern State University.
She married Bryon Noem at age 20. Two years later, her father died in a farm machinery accident. She left college and went home to work on about 10,000 acres.
Under deep debt from taxes on her father’s estate, the family started a hunting lodge. Kristi took on more duties working at a restaurant that her mother ran. Bryon opened an insurance agency where Kristi helped too.
Noem said those experiences helped form her. In 2006, she won election to the state House of Representatives, and re-election in 2008. That was significant, too, she said.
“I think it’s important for a governor to know how legislators feel and what it’s like to take votes,” she said.
Noem won a three-candidate primary election in June 2010 for the Republican nomination for the U.S. House seat. In the November general election she beat Herseth Sandlin, a Democrat and a four-term incumbent.
The tally: Noem, 153,703 votes, Herseth Sandlin, 146,589 and independent Thomas Marking, 19,134. Noem won 36 counties. Herseth Sandlin swept all 66 two years earlier.
Noem has won re-election three times since. Midway through she accepted a seat on the House Ways and Means Committee, which she said meets daily and is where 80 percent of the House’s work occurs. “It’s very intense,” she said.
She said the House has passed 270 pieces of legislation to the Senate so far this year. But after 2018, she’s walking away.
“I was coming home anyway,” Noem said. “I think I have something to offer the state.”
How she’s organized her campaign: Noem said that 10 to 12 weeks before the June 2018 primary she’ll focus, week by week, on specific topics.
“People will know what I’m doing,” she said. “There will be no doubt when people vote on primary day. I think people deserve that.”
She added, “The priority is my job in D.C. right now.”
Her first legislative session as governor would feature ideas such as pre-selection of development sites and tying aid with skills — “the quickest way to turn our budget around.”
How she’s raising money: It’s “going great,” she said.
Visits to South Dakota are scheduled months ahead. That doesn’t allow much for campaign appearances.
The day before, she attended congressional events in Watertown, Webster and Aberdeen. She jammed in an Aberdeen campaign fundraiser that evening.
How she plans to pick her lieutenant governor: “It has to be somebody I can trust,” she said. “We do have some tough decisions to make.”
How she greets people: Noem was a natural at listening and helping others relax. “I’d rather run on my merits,” she said.