Noem, criticized for remarks, passes on 2 media sessions

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Facing criticism for falsely accusing two Democrats who won Georgia’s Senate election of being communists, Gov. Kristi Noem has been avoiding taking direct questions from reporters in South Dakota.

The Republican governor said she would not be talking to reporters after Tuesday’s State of the State speech, and she cancelled a planned news conference on Monday. Noem, who held news conferences after her State of the State speeches each of the last two years, has been less accessible this week just as the Republican Party faces a reckoning over the riot at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump.

The governor has been a close Trump ally, campaigning for him and lending credence to his efforts to contest the results of the presidential election. But she has limited her comments on the Capitol attack to a pair of tweets.

Last week, she falsely called Raphael Warnock and Jon Osoff, Democrats who won U.S. Senate seats in Georgia, “communists” in an opinion article that was adapted from a speech at the Republican National Convention’s winter meetings.

In a tweet the day after the Capitol insurrection, Noem wrote: “There are consequences for how we talk to each other in this country. Today, let’s all pray for healing and peace for our nation.”

Noem’s office on Monday canceled a news conference to announce plans for construction of an Asian food production plant in South Dakota. On Tuesday, her office indicated she would break from tradition and not answer questions from reporters after her State of the State address.

Noem’s spokesman Ian Fury said the media could hear from Noem during the address, but did not explain why she was not holding a news conference Tuesday. He said her office would field any follow-up questions.

Fury said the cancellation on Monday was due to a schedule change.

Noem also decided not to have a news conference after her budget address last month as the state faced a rising rate of deaths from COVID-19.

Democrats in South Dakota have shot back at Noem’s comments on the Georgia senators.

“We cannot let the recent comments by Governor Kristi Noem go unchecked,” House Minority Leader Jamie Smith and Senate Minority Leader Troy Heinert said in a joint statement. “Branding the newly elected Senators from Georgia, the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, as Communists is simply not true.”