Bill to disclose Noem’s travel security costs faces backlash
PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota lawmaker said fellow Republicans are pressuring her to withdraw a bill that would require Gov. Kristi Noem to disclose taxpayer funds used for her travel security on the campaign trail.
Rep. Taffy Howard, the Rapid City Republican who introduced the bill, said she has faced backlash including text message attacks and fellow Republicans rescinding support after hearing from the governor’s office.
Noem, a close ally of President Donald Trump, traveled frequently on his behalf last year and also made appearances for the two Republicans running in Georgia’s Senate runoff elections in January. Noem has denied having presidential aspirations, but has also made moves to keep herself in the conversation of 2024 nominees. She has said she intends to run for a second term as governor next year.
Her administration has refused to disclose to media outlets how much it costs to send Highway Patrol troopers with the governor as she has traveled the country campaigning for Trump and fundraising for her campaign. The governor’s office has cited South Dakota law exempting security details from open records to deny the requests.
Howard wants to change that law, arguing it would not compromise safety to know how much is spent on her travel security.
“I just think it’s important the taxpayers know where every dollar goes,” she said.
But Howard said that two fellow Republicans who co-sponsored the bill withdrew their support after being “called down to the second floor,” legislative parlance for being summoned to the governor’s office that sits a flight of stairs down from the Legislature’s third floor.
Both Reps. Rhonda Milstead and Marli Wiese, Republicans who withdrew their names from supporting the bill, declined to comment.
Howard also found herself the subject of a texted meme that pasted her image alongside Democrats Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Kamala Harris.
Howard called the attempt to associate her with Democrats “ridiculous.” It was not clear who originated the meme or text messages. The governor’s office declined to comment on the bill and on whether staffers pressured lawmakers on Howard’s bill.
After the attacks, Howard said she received notes of encouragement from people across the state. But in the Legislature, she has so far found little support outside of an unlikely alliance between fiscally conservative Republicans and Democrats.
“This is truly a non-partisan bill. This is about transparency,” said House Minority Leader Jamie Smith, a Democrat from Sioux Falls.
The governor at a news conference last week said she does not comment on security when asked about the bill.
“I don’t believe any governor ever has in this state, and we will continue to follow that legislation,” she said.
It came to light that the South Dakota Highway Patrol sends officers with the governor on out-of-state travel after a man was arrested at an October Trump rally with Noem in Maine.