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What's the Future of Kristi Noem's Political Career? Sign the Bill or Noem May Not Be Seen As a 'Fighter'

AP Photo/Stephen Groves

As recently as Sunday afternoon, Kristi Noem is trying to still claim support for HB 1217, which bans transgender athletes from competing in women's sports. 


Nevertheless, she still sent shockwaves throughout South Dakota and the country when she indicated she was not yet ready to sign the bill. Conservatives were appalled and liberals weren't buying it; they were ticked off she didn't veto it outright. 


In other words, Noem tried to have it both ways and, like is usually the case when one makes such an attempt, she failed. What did she expect to come out of such a rookie mistake? 

Jon Schweppe, the direct of policy and government affairs at the American Principles Project, spoke to Townhall when the news came out. On Sunday, he also directed us to a blog post of his, "The Kristi Noem Veto, Explained." The post focuses on Noem's political future, with the subheadline reading, "A victim of bad advice, the South Dakota governor is inexplicably destroying her own political career." His last line emphasizes this point, in that "Whoever advised her on this issue did her a great disservice."

Schweppe also spoke to Townhall to discuss Noem's future further. He explained he referred to Noem as a "victim" there, in that he is "trying to leave the door open to praise her if she reversed." He emphasized that main premise, continuing with "I do think she got bad advice. The buck stops with her of course. But if she owns the mistake and does the right thing, and takes on the institutional power trying to stop this bill, I’m happy to forgive her and call her a champion of women’s sports!"


What Schweppe has emphasized throughout our multiple conversations and in his blog post is that the APP's sources say Noem is using her "Style and Form" argument in an improper way. He's referenced how "unconstitutional" and "a misuse of her executive power" as well as an "abuse of [it]." This time he goes further, in that it's "Not even close" to being constitutional. He writes:

It will be fascinating to see what happens in the coming days. From what we’ve heard, the bill sponsors will not be consenting to these changes — and there may even be a legal challenge as to whether this was a legitimate use of the “style and form veto” or not.

In a lengthy tweet thread and on the South Dakota news website, Noem tried to claim her changes fall under that "Style and Form" provision outlined in the South Dakota Constitution. It's supposed to be used for stylistic changes, however. In his blog post, Schweppe provided the relevant excerpt from that Constitution, Article 4 - Executive Department § 4 to illustrate:

Bills with errors in style or form may be returned to the Legislature by the Governor with specific recommendations for change. Bills returned shall be treated in the same manner as vetoed bills except that specific recommendations for change as to style or form may be approved by a majority vote of all the members of each house. If the Governor certifies that the bill conforms with the Governor's specific recommendations, the bill shall become law. If the Governor fails to certify the bill, it shall be returned to the Legislature as a vetoed bill.


In fact, Noem wants changes made to entire sections, to the point Schweppe has indicated repeatedly that this would "gut" the point of the bill. This includes:

I am also concerned that the approach House Bill 1217 takes is unrealistic in the context of collegiate athletics. In South Dakota, we are proud of our universities’ athletic programs, and in particular the great strides we have taken to gain national exposure and increase opportunities for our next generation over the past two decades.

South Dakota has shown that our student athletes can compete with anyone in the country, but competing on the national stage means compliance with the national governing bodies that oversee collegiate athletics. While I certainly do not always agree with the actions these sanctioning bodies take, I understand that collegiate athletics requires such a system – a fifty-state patchwork is not workable.

Does that sound like something along the same lines as needed to remind the bill's author there needs to be a comma in the text? Of course not. Noem uses the term "Style and Form" so many times it's easy to lose count, but somebody really needs to quote "The Princess Bride" to her and mention "you keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means."

What is clear is that Noem caved to pressure from opponents such as the Chamber of Commerce, powerful corporations like Amazon, and the NCAA. Schweppe offered this take as well, and encouraged Noem to stand up to these opponents. 


Schweppe concluded in part with a sort of rally cry for Noem:

It’s still possible — if she changes course quickly — that Noem could move past this and salvage her political career. Own the legislation. Show Amazon that South Dakota won’t be bullied. Tell the NCAA to shove it. But I’m not optimistic that’s going to happen, which is a real shame.

Schweppe also expanded upon his take for Townhall on Noem's political career:

Republican voters want fighters to lead them into 2024 and beyond. I think it will be challenging for Noem to be seen as a “fighter” if one of her most high profile bouts ends in her capitulating to Amazon and the Chamber of Commerce. 

If she wants to run for [p]resident someday, she needs to reverse this decision and instead champion the women’s sports bill. There’s still time for her to do that. And if she does, I’ll be her biggest cheerleader.

Even while offering a take of grace, Schweppe is still trying to send a message. The governor has listened to APP before. In fact, she even retweeted the organization to announce she supported and would sign the bill.


Then, she went dark, for two weeks. Perhaps she'll listen to APP once again, though. 

Schweppe told us "Our hope is that Governor Noem will dialogue with the legislature and sign the original bill into law as soon as possible." 

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