SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has yet to make herself available to the Capitol press during the first three weeks of the state’s legislative session, breaking with a decades-old ritual of South Dakota governors holding a weekly news conference to publicly discuss their policy initiatives and take questions from reporters.
The Republican governor, who is a potential 2024 White House contender, has granted numerous TV interviews to national outlets. But in her home state Capitol, where she is proposing a historic tax repeal, new rules for foreign entities purchasing farmland and a batch of bills aimed at aiding new parents, she has not personally taken questions from reporters.
Noem’s retreat from a forum that allows her to face public scrutiny — as well as make a case for her proposals — comes after a campaign season in which candidates nationwide skipped out on debates. The practice deprives the public of a chance to hear politicians respond to questions they may not want to answer. Many officials, such as Noem, have instead made their public case on social media, where they can control their message.
Noem’s spokesman, Ian Fury, declined to say whether she will hold any news conferences this year but said they would be announced in advance. He did not respond to a request for comment on why she has not held any this year.
The governor’s weekly news conferences have been occurring for decades during the state’s 40-day legislative session, said Kevin Woster, a journalist who has covered South Dakota since the late 1970s. And some former governors, such as the bombastic Bill Janklow, seemed to relish the opportunity to spar with the press over the legislative debates of the day, he said.
“The governor and her office are right in the middle of (the legislative session) and should be talking about it,” Woster said, adding, “It’s a denial of something that the public certainly deserves.”
Traditionally, South Dakota’s Democratic and Republican legislative leaders have held half-hour news conferences on the week’s final day when the Legislature is in session. They usually discuss their priorities — and sometimes exchange a few digs at each other — before answering questions from reporters. Then, the governor gets her turn.
While both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have continued the practice this year, Noem has not. She also did not attend a meeting this week with the state’s top newspaper editors — an annual gathering she attended in years past. The editors, who drove hours from around the mostly rural state, did gain audiences with Republican and Democratic legislative leaders.
Michael Card, a retired Republican political strategist and political science professor, said that skipping direct interactions with the press is a missed opportunity for the governor to explain her agenda and creates an information vacuum that leaves room for speculation.
“It is not a good thing for our democracy,” he said.