Primary challenger says Noem hasn’t sided with conservatives

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A Republican primary challenger to South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said Wednesday that the governor is bound to corporate interests and has repeatedly sided against conservatives.

State Rep. Steve Haugaard, a Sioux Falls lawyer, told a crowded room of supporters during his formal campaign announcement that Noem has been on the wrong side of issues like sports participation by transgender athletes and COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Noem earlier this year blocked legislation that would have prohibited transgender women from competing in high school sports designated for females. She said it would make South Dakota vulnerable to civil rights litigation and could prompt college tournaments to be pulled of out the state. Noem has also refused to block private employers from requiring their workers be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Noem, who has traveled the country meeting with political organizations and other supporters, formally announced her reelection campaign last week. She has raised $10 million since she was elected three years ago and has more than $6.5 million in cash on hand, her campaign said.

Haugaard, 65, said Noem has been hobnobbing with the wrong people, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported.

“We need a full-time governor who puts South Dakotans first. Period,” Haugaard said. “Kristi Noem has been beholden to special interests, from the NCAA, to big business, to corporate lobbyists.”

Noem’s office did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

Haugaard is known for being one of the House’s most ardent conservatives on both fiscal and social issues. He clashed with the governor on several occasions while he was House Speaker in 2019 and 2020.

He has also raised eyebrows with some of his actions in the legislature. Haugaard once suggested that creating a Spanish-language driver’s test would “dilute our population with a second culture and encourage that second culture.’ Another time he tried to implement a dress code in the House that drew objections from women in the legislature.

South Dakota’s primary election is in June.