Kristi Noem will take the oath of office at noon Saturday to become South Dakota’s 33rd governor.
It will be a crowning moment for a 47-year-old mother of three who grew up on a family farm in Hamlin County in northeastern South Dakota. Nobody handed Noem this historic achievement of becoming South Dakota’s first woman governor. She worked hard and she fought for it.
If there’s one quality that is most respected by South Dakotans, it’s the will to work hard every day in relentless pursuit of a worthy goal. If there’s a lesson for the state’s boys and girls, it’s that believing in yourself and working hard to accomplish something still matters. Achievement in South Dakota is not a gift of birth, or a result of lineage, location or gender. No obstacle is insurmountable for those who smartly work long and hard for it.
It’s been a dozen years since Noem first entered the Legislature, climbed the ladder of South Dakota Republican Party leadership, tested her mettle in the forever frustrating U.S. House, punched out a Republican primary victory against Attorney General Marty Jackley, and then overcame an unexpectedly strong challenge from Democrat Billie Sutton.
There’s no doubt that each of these accomplishments have left her better prepared her for what undoubtedly will be the biggest challenge of her life. The state’s population is closing in on 900,000 people, its gross domestic product on $50 billion, and the state budget on $1.6 billion.
Like in most states on the Northern Plains, South Dakota’s metropolitan areas have grown, mid-sized cities have held their own, but rural areas continue to shrink. Educational challenges keep growing. Drug addiction remains a vexing problem. A lack of mental health services complicates everything. And progress on the tough nut of relations between Native Americans and other state residents has been agonizingly slow.
Now it’s Noem’s turn to do her best at keeping the good while making progress on our longstanding challenges. It will require her to draw on her experiences in agriculture and government. She will be required to inspire, command respect and deliver real successes.
She will undoubtedly weather strong winds of opposition – some of them undoubtedly coming from here. There will be economic and political uncertainties. That all starts Monday.
Now is a time for celebrating earned achievements, toasting new hopes and offering respect for personal accomplishments. One of our own, a girl born on a South Dakota farm, has climbed to a pinnacle by sheer force of effort. It’s a remarkable victory to behold. We should all celebrate it.