On a brisk January day in South Dakota’s packed Capitol Rotunda, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem made history as she took her oath of office, becoming the state’s first female governor.
Though Noem didn’t focus on her gender during her campaign, she said in her address on Saturday, Jan. 5, that she “(could not) let this day go by without also commenting on the historic nature of it.”
She noted that 100 years after South Dakota voted for women’s suffrage, it elected its first female governor, saying, “I am proud of how far we have come.”
She continued, “It is a distinct honor to serve as our state’s first woman governor, first and foremost because of the message it sends to our state's girls and young women, but really boys and young men as well.”
Noem said in her address that it’s such young people that drive her forward as a politician, saying that she hopes to be remembered as “a governor for the next generation.”
"Nothing motivates me more in public service than solving problems for our next generation," she said.
Citizens of South Dakota and the larger nation face several such issues, Noem said, from the state’s methamphetamine epidemic, to education reform, taxes and regulation and wildlife conservation.
“In poll after poll, we see data showing that many Americans believe that our greatest days are not ahead of us, that the next generation won’t have the same opportunities that we had,” Noem said. “That might be the national sentiment, but I won’t let that become the reality in South Dakota. Not on my watch.”
Since defeating Democratic opponent Billie Sutton in November’s midterm election, Noem and her team have stayed tight-lipped about what policies they plan to push forward in the 2019 legislative session, which begins Tuesday. She told media following the inauguration ceremony that her first priority is crafting a balanced budget without raising taxes and following through on her campaign promises.
One of her campaign platforms was to bring new industry to the state. Following the inaugural ceremony, she told media that she sees “huge opportunities” in bringing biotechnology and technology industries to the state.
Following Noem's inauguration, South Dakota Democratic Party Executive Director Sam Parkinson congratulated Noem in a statement.
"Now that she has taken office, Governor Noem has a responsibility to recognize she wasn’t elected with a big mandate and needs to reach out to the half of South Dakota that didn’t vote for her," Parkinson said, referencing Noem's narrow 51-48 win over Sutton. "If she does, there are many things we can do together to make life better for the working people of our state."
Several of Noem’s former colleagues from her eight years in Congress came to Pierre to watch her take the oath of office: South Dakota U.S. Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds, House Minority Leader and California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Oklahoma Rep. Markwayne Mullin and Missouri Rep. Jason Smith. All are Republicans.
Thune said Noem understands “what makes our economy tick here in South Dakota” and will work to build the economies of the state and its local communities.
“Across the board, she’s somebody who has the right qualities and leadership skills for this time in South Dakota’s history,” he added.
Noem wasn’t the only elected official to officially take office on Saturday. Her running-mate Republican Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden also took his oath of office, as well as Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, Secretary of State Steve Barnett, State Auditor Rich Sattgast, State Treasurer Josh Haeder, Commissioner of Schools and Public Lands Ryan Brunner, and Public Utilities Commissioner Kristie Fiegen. All are Republicans.
With just a few days before they convene for the 2019 legislative session, legislators also came to Pierre to take their oaths of office in their respective chambers before the afternoon inaugural ceremony.
Rounds called South Dakota’s legislature “true representative democracy in action ... the way the Founding Fathers wanted it to work in the first place.”
“This is where people come in, they make laws and then they go home and they live with those laws for the rest of the year,” Rounds said. “They’re not full-time legislators. They’re part-time and they do it because they want to be part of public service, not because there’s any money in it for them.”
Legislators will see a substantial pay raise this year, though. According to the Associated Press, a law approved by the legislature last year takes effect for 2019, bumping legislators' salaries an approximate 90 percent to $11,378.80 per session. Legislators' previous $6,000 stipend was in place since 1998.
The legislature is expected to take up a number of issues this session, including special education funding, abortion access, concealed carry permitting and energy. Noem has stated before and since her election that she would support bills tightening abortion access and allowing for concealed carrying without a permit in special cases.