At the 55th Annual Governor’s Buffalo Roundup in Custer State Park in South Dakota, the bison aren’t the only draw this year.
Governor Kristi Noem, with an ever-rising profile in the Republican Party, joined cowboys and cowgirls on horseback for the September 25th festivities.
Wherever she turned, the former Congresswoman was met by adoring fans—including those who applaud her measured coronavirus response and equally appreciate her conservative bonafides.
Governor Noem was gracious enough to speak with me about the significance of this tradition, current events, and more.
‘Really The Best Day in South Dakota’
For South Dakota’s 33rd Governor, the Buffalo Roundup is arguably the best day in South Dakota.
“I love it,” she told me. “It’s great to have so many visitors, and I’m glad we have good weather too.”
This year’s event drew about 20,000 spectators to the state park, a 71,000-acre oasis home to about 1,300 free-range bison.
The American bison, or buffalo, is an integral part of the Mount Rushmore State’s heritage.
But in the 1800s, buffalo nationwide were on the verge of extinction. States like South Dakota soon recognized the need to preserve them and educate people about their importance.
During Friday’s press conference at Custer State Park, a charitable trust announced a $4 million grant to the state’s Parks and Wildlife Foundation to build the Custer State Park Bison Center. The new facility, slated to open Spring 2022, will help educate visitors about the herd’s history, management efforts, and value of the Buffalo Roundup and Auction.
Noem, a farmer and rancher, beamed with pride talking about this special day and her state’s many offerings.
“For years, I’ve said I believe South Dakota can be an example to the nation,” she said. “And that’s really what these last six months and year have offered us: The opportunity to lead.”
It’s In Her Blood
Governor Noem told me spending time outdoors and farming naturally came to her.
The first female Governor of South Dakota credits both her grandma and late father, who tragically passed away when she was 22, for instilling these values in her.
“My grandma was a big bird hunter,” Noem noted.
“She loved it. Her name was Grandma Dorris and so I learned that love for being outdoors and duck hunting, pheasant hunting. But it was really my dad that taught me game hunting...so it's just been a part of our life. I think every family vacation was a trip doing something outdoors, for hunting and enjoying the wildlife.”
Her favorite type of hunting? Elk hunting.
“I always love archery elk hunting with my brothers,” the Governor said.
“I think people just don’t understand our way of life or maybe were just looking for an opportunity to be critical,” she said.
“The one thing they could be critical of was my shooting,” Noem quipped. “It took me three shots to take that bird down. Apparently, I have no pride left.”
How Conservatives Can Be Conservationists
Governor Noem adamantly believes conservatives are losing out on opportunities to champion stewardship and true conservation.
“I think that maybe us, as conservatives, just need to talk about it [conservation] more ‘cause we’re doing it every day; we just don’t tell our story very well,” the avid hunter emphasized.
“We have incredible opportunities to showcase that. A lot of the states that are the most beautiful that you look across the landscape and see work being done—to stop erosion, to stop wind damage, to help make sure that we’re protecting our wildlife and outdoor way of life— is in Republican states.”
“Maybe we’re just not being effective enough in talking about it and educating people about all the good work that’s getting done.”
On SCOTUS and Why More Conservative Women Should Run for Public Office
At the time of our interview, President Trump hadn’t announced his female pick to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
I asked Governor Noem about the importance of nominating a textualist and originalist to the highest court in the land.
“We should follow precedent,” she added. “We have always followed this process. This should be no different.”
“This administration is following exactly the same process that’s been followed for generations.”
Following our interview, Noem released a statement affirming her support of Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court of the United States.
As for more conservative and Republican women getting involved in politics, Noem had this advice.
“Try it,” she offered. “You don’t necessarily have to do it forever but we need a diversity of voices at the table when we’re debating policy.”
“You may find that you’ve got gifts and talents that you didn’t know that you have.”