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Gov. Noem, Dennis Quaid headline first night of FreedomFest
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Gov. Noem, Dennis Quaid headline first night of FreedomFest

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Gov. Kristi Noem and movie star Dennis Quaid helped kick off the first day of FreedomFest 2021, a libertarian conference usually held in Las Vegas but moved to Rapid City in 2020 due to South Dakota’s lack of COVID-19 restrictions. Organizers say it is the largest event yet with more attendees, sponsors, speakers and events.

Noem, the second speaker at the opening ceremonies of the four-day event, talked about how she resisted imposing mask mandates or business closures during COVID-19. Quaid participated in a pre-recorded interview with Valerie Durham, executive director of FreedomFest, and discussed playing Ronald Reagan in an upcoming film.

The governor couched herself as a salt-of-the-earth public servant and brought First Gentleman Bryon Noem and Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden and his wife, Sandy, to the stage.

“We’re kind of a laid-back crew here in South Dakota,” Noem said. “Have you noticed that we’re just normal, everyday people who appreciate a wonderful way of life?”

She noted that no one at the conference knew who she was before the pandemic and liberal news outlets began chastising her COVID-19 response. Noem said 2020 was “a challenging year,” but South Dakotans relied on each other and exercised personal responsibility in making decisions for themselves and their families.

“I want you to know that the people of South Dakota are happy, and they’re happy because they’re free,” Noem said.

The nation can see South Dakota as a “pilot project” for conservative reforms and prove that conservative values and policies are beneficial to citizens, she said.

Noem praised the state’s lack of COVID-19 regulations and touted its economic laurels, citing the low unemployment rate, fastest-growing GDP, and lack of an income tax. She  promised to continue to promote a low-regulatory business environment in the state.

Noem, repeating a sentiment she made at a Texas Conservative Political Action Conference, said the current state of American politics is “destroying the country” she grew up in. However, she remains optimistic about the future.

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“When you wake up every single morning, I just want to ask you to do one thing: I want you be happy. You woke up this morning in the United States of America. You are better off than 99% of the people across the world just because you woke up right here in this country,” Noem said. “I will do all that I can; you need to do all that you can to make sure that we protect [America] for our kids and grandkids.”

Noem said having a seat at the table is “more important than ever” because the people who take action are changing America. She asked the crowd to continue to show up and remember how special the country is because the United States needs them.

“It feels like we’re outnumbered, but we’re not. And we’re on the right side of history,” she said.

As Noem left the stage, she received a standing ovation.

Quaid’s interview with Durham was pre-recorded due to a scheduling conflict and broadcast after Noem’s speech. It included clips from the upcoming movie “Reagan.”

Quaid said Reagan has been his favorite president since childhood and he found through his preparation for the role that the former president had a lot in common with him. He visited the Reagans’ ranch, Rancho del Cielo, in California and said it looked exactly as it did when they lived there, complete with a note from Nancy Reagan with instructions on how to use the TV remote.

“He was really a humble man, actually, you could just feel it,” Quaid said. “It was really who he was, that was really reflected there, and that’s the place I felt him the most.”

Quaid said the current political climate is one of extreme partisanship, but that it is nothing Americans can’t overcome.

“We’ve always been able to come together as a country in the end, and I believe that’s who we still are,” he said.

In addition to Noem and Quaid, the opening ceremony of FreedomFest featured a number of speakers, including Jeffrey Hayzlett, a South Dakotan and global business celebrity; a Ben Franklin impersonator; Antonella Marty, associate director at a think tank’s Latin American center; 2020 Libertarian vice president nominee Spike Cohen and comedian JP Sears. Libertarian comedian and podcast host Dave Smith emceed and performed a short stand-up segment at the beginning of the festivities.

FreedomFest continues through Saturday.

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