When she was a candidate, Kristi Noem promised to run the most transparent administration ever. Governor Kristi Noem has delivered a lot of things to South Dakota residents, but transparency isn't one of them.
It certainly isn't completely Gov. Noem's fault. After all, when Attorney General Jason Ravsnborg killed a man during a stretch of what can best be described as a period of distracted driving, the governor released more evidence from the investigation than any local law enforcement agency ever would.
To take government secrecy to a new level, Speaker of the House Spencer Gosch won't even release the results of the petition to see which legislators called for impeachment proceedings to begin against Ravsnborg. A petition signed by two-thirds of the House of Representatives is being hidden from the public.
That is unconscionable.
The Sioux Falls Argus Leader and South Dakota Newspaper Association have filed legal action to try to open that information to public view.
"It's inexcusable for Speaker Gosch to continue hiding this information from the public," Argus Leader News Director Cory Myers said, after attempts to work with Gosch and his attorney failed. "There's a constitutional requirement to record legislative votes, and at the very least, an obligation of elected servants to be transparent about their processes. This is basic accountability, and that's something we will always fight for."
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Another area where the state fails Noem's transparency pledge is when it comes to how much state tax money goes to fly the governor around to campaign events and fundraisers across the country. When the Rapid City Journal and other news agencies sought to release those records to the public, her office hid behind the curtain of her security. The only thing transparent about that is how easy it is to see through that excuse. Of course, most states make this information available as a public record because people have a right to know how their money is spent. No security issues have arisen in any of these states based on releasing the cost of executive branch travel.
It is time for that to change. But call me a skeptic. When Rapid City legislator Taffy Howard tried to get the bare minimum number released last session, her bill was killed in committee. All Howard tried to make public was the annual total released once a year. Secrecy prevailed.
That's hardly an outlier in South Dakota. Senate Majority Leader Gary Cammack faced charges in Meade County in 2020. Not only did he get a sweet plea deal to have a driving under the influence charge dropped to careless driving, but his case was also sealed by a friendly judge. The case reeks of political privilege and is nowhere close to transparency.
The Journal is preparing to ask another judge to reopen those files in the interest of public trust. Even in a state with relatively few open records, the court system should operate in full public view with no winks and nods and no political favors.
In a few months, legislators will be back in session. A blank slate will welcome them with another chance to reveal more secrets to the people of South Dakota.
It is time to stop hiding information in the shadows and let the sunshine of public access give people more confidence in their state government.
Gov. Noem can be a driving force in that action and help keep her campaign promise of additional transparency. She is a national figure with a cadre of legislators who are more than willing to do her bidding and praise any proposal she makes.
If she wants to create a more transparent South Dakota, she has few roadblocks in her way.
Kent Bush is the editor of the Rapid City Journal. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org