South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem has attained national recognition in recent years for her staunch conservative leadership, which has made her a distinct voice among many Republican leaders nationwide. Noem’s upbringing on a ranch fueled her ambitions to serve her local community, and she now tells that story in her new book, “Not My First Rodeo: Lessons From The Heartland.” Noem and I discussed where her conservative values originated, lessons in leadership, and current affairs.
Noem mentioned how the book varies from other political memoirs because it focuses on her upbringing in the Midwest. In addition, she noted how the pandemic was a turning point for her state’s growth and tourism, as well as what she hopes the future holds for her and the country. An audio version of the interview can be found at the bottom of this transcript.
Cameron Arcand: Can you share a little bit about this book, and what makes it different from a typical political memoir?
Gov. Kristi Noem: Yeah, I think it is. This is a book about my life lived so far. It’s not really a book about politics, although there’s plenty of political stories in there. I think people first heard my name because of the COVID pandemic in this country. But what this book does is tell my background, growing up in the Midwest and how I became the person that I am, and where I make my decisions from. So people should really enjoy it. It’s a lot of stories of my family, how I learned different value systems and then how I ended up in an elected office and how I make my decisions today for the people of South Dakota.
CA: What’s interesting about you as governor is you’re very much someone who stands by your convictions, but you take a gentler yet very convicting approach. As a young American like myself, I find that dynamic very interesting, because you’ve managed to get a lot of people to move to your state as well because of your leadership in recent years. So what’s a lesson from the book that young Americans like myself should take note of?
KN: I would say one of the things that my dad did that was the most beneficial for me growing up was giving me impossible things to do – hard, hard jobs that taught me how to become a problem solver. When I would complete them, [it] built my confidence. So I wanted to tackle the next biggest thing. There are quite a few stories like that in the book.
But what I would say is most young people in today’s day and age think going through something hard is bad for them. I would say the exact opposite: Challenges are good; challenges make us better. They give us the opportunity to overperform do something historic, do something that’s memorable. So it’s all about how you see your life and what comes your way and how you view it. Everything in this day and age now is about perspective. We saw during the COVID pandemic that so many people just lost perspective and I encouraged people over and over again to consistently turn off your TV, go for a walk, spend some time with your family. Your perspective on what’s coming your way makes a big difference based on how you’re prepared for that challenge and what you’re able to do with it to make yourself a better person.
CA: Something that I noticed growing up in Southern California was this complete disconnect with Heartland America. What’s your message to people that live on the coasts, whether they’re liberal, conservative, or people who just do not know what it’s like to live in Heartland America. What’s your message to those people? What do you want them to know about South Dakota?
KN: Well, I would tell them they should come visit. They will absolutely love it. And I think that’s really what happened during the pandemic was in 2020 when the rest of the country was shut down and South Dakota was the only state that was still completely open, people did come visit. They came and spent their vacations with us and then they went home, packed up their families and moved here because they love it. They loved it so much. It’s so refreshing.
All that’s good in America is still can be found in the middle of the country. In fact, what’s interesting, Cameron, is that for many, many years, when people would go online and search or Google where they wanted to vacation, where they wanted to live, it was always tropical destinations. It was always warmer climates. For the first time in history that changed in 2020 through today. Now, it is rural America and small towns. So I think you’re exactly right. So many people are curious [about] what’s happening in the middle of the country. What’s happening in states like South Dakota and to really experience it, you just need to come and see us and meet our people, and you’ll find that it’s an incredibly important and special place.
CA: One thing that makes South Dakota unique, especially right now is the role that the pro-life movement plays in the state… .We can talk politics all day about all of that, but for you personally, you’ve been a very vocal advocate in the pro-life movement and we just had Roe v. Wade overturned. But for you personally, what shaped your pro-life values?
KN: I would say my faith is very… it’s where the basis of all of my decisions come from. So the valuing every single life and believing that every life is precious has been something that I learned in church, that I learned growing up with my family and how we lived. I tell people when I run for election, that this is who I am, this is what I believe. I hope you’ll support me. I’ll be honest and truthful with you and hopefully, I’ll do a great job and you’ll choose to support me again. That’s really in this issue too. I’ve been very open about the fact that I wanted to be the most pro-life governor in the country, this decision coming out of the Supreme Court, righted a wrong that happened many, many years ago.
Now it’s returned the power to make these decisions back to the state level, which is where it should be closer to the people where elected officials can hear from the public and then make the decision on what it looks like in their states. So, South Dakota had a trigger law on the books in our statute that said as soon as Roe was overturned, we would have no abortions in the state of South Dakota that they would be illegal except to save the life of a mother. So that is the story today, and we are going to continue to support mothers and women who have unplanned pregnancies or feel that they’re in a crisis situation to make sure they do have resources and that we can connect them with adoptive families if they choose to do that path for their family, or if they want help with parenting or financial skill training that we do that as well, so that they can build their family on a better footing than what they do if they’re not supported.
CA: What is something looking forward to the future that you see as a goal for either yourself or for the people of South Dakota and the United States? What makes you hopeful for the future?
KN: If I wanna be optimistic about the future, all I have to do is look at my granddaughter. I’ve got a granddaughter that just turned one year old, and my goal every day is to get up and make sure that I’m giving her a country just as great as the one I was blessed to grow up in. All you have to do is spend some time with the youth of this country to see how much promise we have for the future. I would also say that after the last several years fighting for our freedoms is critically important.
That is a number one goal of mine. I need to protect my people from an intrusive federal government every day, but also I feel like it’s important that all of us show up and that we weigh in to make sure we’re protecting the United States of America and the foundation that our leaders gave us so many years ago. What makes me optimistic is how many people are finally paying attention. I’ve been talking about some of these issues for 10, 15 years, and now we finally have people engaged who realized that they have to start showing up at school board meetings. They have to start showing up at city councils and state government and the federal level. And I think that’s fantastic. I think the more involved people are the better off and the better served they’ll be by their government.
CA: Could you see yourself returning to that national stage? Or are you primarily focused on that South Dakota level right now?
KM: I’m not focused on returning to any kind of a job, except for hoping that the people of South Dakota will support me to get re-elected as governor. I’m on the ballot this year. I hope that they know how much I would love to continue serving them and that they would trust me to do so for another term.
CA: Anything else you’d like our readers to know about your book or your governorship?
KN: I just hope they enjoy it, and that it is something that makes them think about their role in this country in a different way to step up and to say “Yes.” Every day is a new opportunity to get involved and to say yes to things in front of you that need to be addressed.
Please note that this interview has been edited for grammar, length, and clarity.