South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has rightly made a national name for herself courageously standing, almost alone, for science, sanity, and constitutional rights during the COVID panic. Yet it appears she’s hoping to use the goodwill she earned through this courage to hide her cowardly and deceptive choices about transgender politics.
Like the governors who should have learned from her example on lockdowns and have instead doubled down on their leadership failures, Noem could decide to come clean, change course, and pursue common-sense policies about sex. Or she could continue to eviscerate her credibility and earned goodwill by selling out her own constituents on behalf of sexually debauched corporatists, as Mike Pence did when governor of Indiana.
Rolling over to leftists in the culture war is certainly what voters have come to expect from politicians with an R after their names not named Donald Trump. But it also would be what Trump taught voters we don’t have to put up with anymore. Any standard-bearer of today’s right must fight the culture war, not hide from it. Unless reversed, her capitulation has disqualified Noem from national leadership.
Based on her tweets, a Monday press conference, and media appearances, Noem appears to be insisting people believe she’s acting to “protect girls’ sports” while actually abdicating her power to do so. She appears to be expecting that the people listening are so easily fooled that she can say what she knows they want to hear while doing what undermines what they want done. Let’s look at her arguments and the context to see this is clearly the case.
Expecting People to Believe Plainly False Assertions
As Margot Cleveland detailed in these pages Monday, the South Dakota legislature sent Noem a bill that would have forbidden males from playing in female sports from kindergarten through college in South Dakota, including mechanisms for verifying student-athletes’ biological sex and allowing for legal redress against anyone who broke this would-be law.
Noem sent the bill back to the legislature, demanding significant changes in a veto message. Her desired changes would allow men to compete in women’s sports at the college level — and potentially K-12, based on birth certificate rules — and eliminate penalties for violating it. Essentially, Noem’s changes would make the law toothless.
In attempting to defend her actions to Tucker Carlson, Noem made false and misleading claims. At least three times in the Carlson interview alone, Noem tried to blame the NCAA for her refusal to sign a bill to protect women’s sports. Here’s one:
The entire point of this bill is to help women have legal recourse against being forced to compete against men. Noem says she's TERRIFIED to allow legal fights (?) much less spend time on them, and instead offers, and I'm not joking, a petition governors can sign. YIKES. https://t.co/cbEJMBoVYt
— Mollie (@MZHemingway) March 23, 2021
Here’s number two: “This bill would only allow the NCAA to bully South Dakota, and it would actually prevent women from being able to participate in collegiate sports.”
Third, she also said: “It would put a law on the books that would allow the NCAA to take punitive action against our state. And we’re a small state, Tucker. We’ve had to fight hard to get any tournaments to come to South Dakota. When they took punitive action against us, we would have to litigate, and legal scholars that I have been consulting with for many, many months say that I would very likely lose those litigation efforts.”
It is deliberately misleading to assert the NCAA would retaliate for this bill’s passage when states including Idaho and Mississippi have passed similar laws and their college women still play NCAA sports. As Cleveland explains, Noem is attempting to make the public believe that the NCAA requires participating sports teams to allow transgender athletes, when this is false.
Nothing in NCAA policy is an obstacle to this bill, despite Noem’s attempts to portray otherwise. If the NCAA threatened her with legal action, she should show the receipts, and NCAA should be pressed to account for why they threatened South Dakota but not Idaho or Mississippi with legal action — not mean press releases, legal action.
Who Are These ‘Legal Scholars,’ Anyway?
Noem repeatedly claimed she was scared of lawsuits brought by the NCAA, parents of daughters forced to compete against transgender boys, and unnamed others over this bill. She attributed this alleged fear to claims from “legal scholars.” Did she consider competing legal opinions, or is this another misdirection? Because other legal experts are publicly disputing Noem’s claims of a lawsuit bonanza and offering free legal aid against such a specter.
By “legal scholars,” does Noem mean her chief of staff, Tony Venhuizen, a lawyer who also sits on the board of the Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce, which listed H.B. 1217 as a “tier 1” priority “of the highest importance” to oppose this legislative session? Or perhaps she means her “top advisor,” Matt McCaulley, a lawyer and lobbyist whose “clients include Sanford Health, which owns Sanford Sports Complex, a Sioux Falls arena that hopes to lure NCAA tourneys”?
Sanford Health also performs transgender treatments on minors, according to testimony before the South Dakota legislature in 2020. It therefore opposed a bill to ban transgender child mutilation last year, testifying and lobbying against it. Its lobbyist, McCaulley, is also getting hundreds of thousands of dollars to advise Noem, in an obvious conflict of interest state lawmakers have voiced concerns about.
“McCaulley is also the managing partner of Redstone Law Firm in Sioux Falls, which has been hired to provide outside legal counsel to the Noem administration,” noted in-state outlet Capital Journal shortly before Noem reversed her position on this bill.
Venhuizen is a former partner in McCaulley’s firm who left to work for Noem. Are these the legal advisors she’s talking about?
Even if NCAA is more than one of Noem’s intended fall guys for her refusal to sign this bill, the NCAA is not elected to control South Dakota laws. Noem and the state legislature are. South Dakotans don’t elect Kristi Noem to tell them she can’t sign laws their representatives want because some unelected leaders of private sports and business organizations insist their state indulge sexual insanity.
Culture War Capitulation Disqualifies Right Leaders
To Carlson, Noem also alleged, “The bill my legislature gave me is a trial lawyer’s dream. It creates more and more litigation and regulation that’s impossible to comply with for families and school districts and for people going forward.” Cleveland and the Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious liberty legal nonprofit, both say that is clearly false. The notification requirements of the bill are within the normal disclosures parents sign for students already.
A few minutes later, Noem wildly claimed of the bill:
If a child doesn’t make a team they up to a year later can come back and sue every member of that team and the K-12 system and the entire school district as well, and continue suing, so that they have an opportunity to play. If we put the collegiate athletics on there, then we will get punitively challenged by the NCAA and then we’ll have to continue to fight them, and a court district that is not friendly to winning. That’s what the legal scholars have told me for many, many months, that my chances of winning in court are very very low.
It is apparent that Noem is getting and spreading bad information about the potential consequences of this bill. In addition, this recent explanation contrasts curiously with her previous public statements.
If “legal scholars” have told her these terrible things about the bill’s consequences “for many, many months,” why did she pledge to sign just two weeks ago? She didn’t find these kinds of claims persuasive for “many, many months,” but now suddenly does? Why?
Noem Has a History of Pro-Trans Policy
It seems pertinent to note that Noem has not been a reliable ally of vulnerable women threatened by transgender politics. On July 13, 2020, the Noem administration okayed placing male prisoners in women’s prisons if the male claimed to be female. Signed by Noem’s secretary of corrections, a state cabinet member, the policy states:
- “Inmate housing is not based exclusively on external genital anatomy of those housed in the unit or facility.”
- “Requests by a transgender, intersex or gender dysphoric inmate to transfer to a facility inconsistent with the inmate’s external genital anatomy (sex), may be considered.”
- “Inmates may contact unit staff to request to be addressed with gender-neutral forms of direction by staff (e.g. ‘Inmate Smith’ or ‘Smith’) or ‘he’ ‘she’ ‘him’ ‘her’, consistent with their identified gender.”
- The basis for housing a male prisoner with female prisoners, the document states, could be solely the male’s “strong desire.”
- The policy also allows male prisoners to demand to be physically searched — including genital “patting” — by a female prison guard: “Transgender, intersex and gender dysphoric inmates may contact the unit manager to request staff who are the same gender as the inmate conduct pat searches of the inmate. The inmate’s preference for same-gender staff will be accommodated whenever reasonably possible. Female staff may pat search male or female gender inmates.”
That’s bad enough, but there’s more. As Jon Schweppe of the American Principles Project notes of the 2020 attempt to ban transgender child mutilation in South Dakota, Noem kept quiet on the bill publicly but did “tell one media outlet that she had ‘concerns.’ (Sources within the state have told my organization that she effectively killed it.)”
State Rep. Fred Deutsch said of this bill, “The bill had strong support in the House with a 46-23 majority, but the behind the scene’s [sic] effort by Gov. Noem to kill the bill combined with Senate capitulation put the final nail in the coffin.”
So possibly more honest things came out of Noem’s mouth when she told Carlson, “I’m not interested in picking a fight” and “I’m not even going to let conservatives on the right bully me.” Her course of action will clearly end in denying protection to vulnerable girls while giving Noem the ability to shift the blame for it from herself to the state legislature.
Noem says if the legislature doesn’t pass her preferred version of this bill, she will call them into special session. But the legislature already passed the version of the bill they want, and if Noem had objections, like every other governor she could have made them known during the normal bill process. That is how passing a bill works — when governors actually want a bill they’re willing to sign.
She tweeted her promise to sign the bill with these provisions in it before it passed. A friendly Gov works with the Leg. to raise concerns before a bill passes. Then the Leg. can make changes. She said nothing. She could have easily cured the supposed technical problems. 2/4
— Kristen Waggoner (@KWaggonerADF) March 20, 2021
Instead, all this political theater with the celebrities at a press conference for the “coalition” she’s started are all aimed at making Noem look like a champion for “girls’ sports” while she effectively does nothing to protect girls or sports. She wants credit for talking big and signing no effective bills. She shouldn’t get it.
The Mike Pence Rule: Smile While You Sell Them Out
This would only be a better orchestrated political con than the one Pence pulled off as the first Republican governor to bend over and cry for his mommy when the LGBT left decided Indiana was the place they would start openly using private companies as political assault weapons.
In 2015, Indiana’s lawmakers accidentally became the test case for a new leftist political strategy. When big business threatened the Republican-run state if they did what their constituents wanted by passing mild protections for religious people sued by LGBT activists, the legislature, led by Pence, capitulated so far that they made Indiana “the most hostile state in the country to the conscience rights the original law was designed to protect.”
Ever since, Pence has gone around ridiculously proclaiming himself a “religious liberty” champion, when the truth is the opposite: Hoosiers had stronger religious freedom before he took office. Just like Noem, Pence told his legislature to “fix” the original religious freedom bill that made lefties who don’t vote for them angry, and his “fix” ended up being a corporate-designed crap sandwich. It was a complete lie designed to let them save face and go on TV proclaiming to still stand for principles and voters they had just shivved in the back over 30 pieces of corporate silver.
After his capitulation, Republican governor after governor after governor crumpled like doggie waste bags as LGBT activists accelerated what they had learned from his cowardice was a spectacularly successful tactic. It’s no stretch to say that if Pence had not been so weak, today’s oppressive cancel culture would not be what it is. It’s clear that refusing to bow to the mob is the most effective way to defeat them.
Noem shouldn’t be proposing fake “fixes” to this girls’ sports legislation, she should be calling a special session to demand that South Dakota immediately ban cutting off children’s breasts and penises and sterilizing them for life. That’s a human rights violation of monstrous proportions, and her own advisor works for people who profit from doing it. If she doesn’t, we’ll all know it’s because she’s something other than a “champion of girls” who “won’t be bullied.”
Thought experiment for Noem staffers: what if your boss just signed the bill she promised to sign instead of allowing herself to be bullied by Amazon, NCAA, and the Chamber and then trying to con other people into adopting her cowardly stance to save face? https://t.co/StNcz06AgE
— Sean Davis (@seanmdav) March 22, 2021
This article has been corrected with respect to Venhuizen’s departure from Redstone to work for Noem.