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South Dakota Governor’s Race a Case Study in Circular Firing Squad Politics

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Steven Groves

Republicans primarying Republicans has become the norm in the past few years. Conservatives support the idea of primarying candidates who have deviated from core Republican principles, yet there are some who have jumped into races for all the wrong reasons. The South Dakota race for Governor is a case study in an upstart candidate trying to take down a nationally recognized Republican leader who has been a great governor by nitpicking at her record.


South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem has had a stellar conservative record as governor. When governors, both Republicans and Democrats, throughout the nation were implementing mandates to shut down state economies, Gov. Noem was doing the opposite. Noem refused to issue a shutdown order and never closed one church nor one business. The very first bill the governor signed after being sworn in was a constitutional carry bill that allows South Dakota’s law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms. In September the governor issued an executive order to limit abortions in South Dakota. No conservative in the state of South Dakota has done more to protect life and expand freedom, yet one man is picking two issues he has with the governor to trick the people of South Dakota into voting in a new governor.

A little-known state legislator, Rep. Steve Haugaard, has decided to run against Governor Kristi Noem because he thinks she is not a pure conservative. The Argus Leader reported on November 17, 2021, “Haugaard, the 65-year-old private attorney and former speaker of the House in the state Legislature who filed his candidacy Monday, told a crowded room of supporters at his office that Noem has repeatedly sided against conservatives in controversial debates around topics like sports participation by transgender athletes and COVID-19 vaccine mandates.” While Noem was a leader in opposing mandates, Haugaard is mad at the governor for not mandating that all businesses in the state provide access to those who are unvaccinated. Although the governor has publicly stated her agreement with the idea that businesses should not make it a condition precedent to wear a mask or have a vaccine card to enter a business, she does not believe in government mandates. If one supports the power of government to mandate conduct on the part of businesses, imagine the power that will give to Woke Democrats who want speech codes and to ban Trump supporters from entering any store in a liberal state.


When one looks at Rep. Haugaard’s record, it raises a few eyebrows. He drafted up House Bill – 1241 that would require parents who filed for divorce to attend a four hour “education program” on “the impact of divorce, the restructuring if the family.” With his support of mandates, he joins a growing number of populists on the right who want to use the power of government to impose their views on citizens. Most limited government conservatives support the idea of leaving people alone. He also voted no on the impeachment of South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg who was involved in a crash that killed a pedestrian resulting in two convictions for making an illegal lane change and using a phone while driving. The A.G. called 911 after the crash and said he did not realize he had run over and killed a person until he drove back to the scene the next day, 12 hours later, and discovered the body. A sitting attorney general who ran over another human being and did not go back to check until a day later to discover a dead body probably should not be the chief law enforcement officer of the state. A vote to impeach that guy seems like a no brainer for most who believe in law and order.

It is very likely that Rep. Hagaard will be stomped by the governor, yet the primary battle is going to hurt Republican chances to hold onto the governor’s office. One issue that has become an Achilles heel for Governor Noem is the accusation that she is in the pocket of corporate interests because of her hire of lobbyist Atty. Matt McCaulley as counsel. It is clear that one reason for the primary challenge to Noem Atty. McCaulley who has client interests that have come into play on controversial issues. 


When Governor Noem pushed back on legislation banning biologically male transgendered athletes from competing in South Dakota female youth and college sports, fingers were pointed at McCaulley. Fox News reported on September 24, 2021, that a conservative outlet “published an article last week that raised legislators' concerns with McCaulley and highlighted the $40 million that his client, Sanford Health, directed towards its sports complex on the same day that Noem announced her veto.” The concern is that his extensive lobbying impact his advice to the governor and lead opponents to characterize her as in the tank for corporate interests instead of the well-being of the state.

Maybe a better idea for Rep. Hagaard would be to agree to drop his primary bid if Noem drops McCaulley as her lobbyist lawyer. That would make more sense than a Kamikaze mission to give the South Dakota governor’s office over to a Democrat.

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