South Dakota Representative Noem says farming background will help in governor’s chair
July 27, 2017
Before Kristi Noem was South Dakota's congresswoman, she was a farmer and a mom. Her favorite event of the year, when her kids were small, was vacation Bible school week.
"I used to love that time. It was a lot of work but it was worth it."
Perhaps coordinating a broad group of busy moms and their energetic kids was good preparation for the job she's seeking now – governor of her home state of South Dakota.
While Noem loved helping organize Bible school, she has also appreciated her tenure in politics.
“We got hit with death taxes. We sat down and had to figure it out, we ended up adding a hunting lodge. It turned out good but it might not be the answer for everyone. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could call up the department of agriculture in the state and say, ‘we want to diversify. We have land, cattle and machinery, do you have a need in the state that we can help fill?’” Rep. Kristin Noem, R-S.D.,South Dakota governor candidate
Having served two terms in the South Dakota House of Representatives, beginning in 2006, and her third term in the U.S. House of Representatives, Noem says she doesn't want to be a career politician.
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"I don't think I'm meant to be here forever. I think that's the wonderful part about this country, we have this process for election. I believe in citizen legislators. I've supported term limits. If we start worrying more about being re-elected than about our constituents, we make poor policy decisions."
Noem said she didn't want that to happen to her.
"It became more clear to me the longer I was out there – the politicians worry about the politics." I think you should go, work as hard as you can to get as many things done as you can, and then come home." People know what her principles are, Noem said. "When they vote for me, they know what kind of person I am."
Noem is excited to be moving home and, she hopes, taking on a new and maybe even bigger role in serving her state.
One issue she has addressed and plans to face head-on is property tax reform.
"We have a big burden on property owners to fund a lot of state and local government."
Noem said that she fought, along with other legislators like Jim Peterson, a democrat from the Brookings area, to achieve "actual use" for ag property taxes years ago. While the tax law has changed to consider income-generating potential, she still supports the "actual use" concept because she believes ranchers who are grazing livestock on what the government considers "good" soil types are taxed at too high of a rate.
"I believe we need a component that is adjustable. If people are grazing, they shouldn't be taxed at a (much higher) crop rate." Noem said her family farm grazes livestock on some "good" soil that is taxed at a crop rate.
Noem supports country of origin labeling but said as far as a state COOL law, she would have to see what it looked like before pledging her support.
"I think consumers want to know where their food comes from, if we can do that in a way that we don't make our beef less valuable or damage our markets." Congress repealed COOL funding because of the WTO ruling that would have allowed retaliation by the Canadian and Mexican governments, she said. "But we look at other foods and it's hard to imagine that we can't do it, too."
Another legislative change that could help the local cattle industry would be to legalize interstate shipment of state-inspected beef.
"Right now, if it's processed at a state inspected facility, you can't market out of the state. We need regulations that allow us to ship our beef nationwide."
Noem said she supports de-regulating school nutrition programs. "Most schools were cash flowing (before former First Lady Michelle Obama's 'healthy lunch' initiative) and now they are using money out of their general funds. "Regulations that tell us how to feed our kids are out of line," she said, adding that "guidelines" should be just that.
Economic development is something that every governor candidate promises to excel at. Serving on the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee has given Neom the unique opportunity to learn what other legislatures do to deal with or prevent poverty in their states, she says.
"There are wonderful things other states are doing to help people through difficult times – giving them opportunities to get skills to get a job and lift their families out of poverty." While South Dakota does well in implementing programs, it hasn't been innovative, she said, and she hopes to also address the state's employable graduate deficit, and to keep young people in agriculture.
"We consistently lose kids, and when you lose families that are contributing to the tax base, it's a huge loss to the community."
Mentoring and financial advice for beginner farmers and ranchers could be helpful, she thinks, as could added processing to ethanol by products, added revenue sources such as humane medical research on livestock. "More affordable feed sources – things like that need to be pursued."
Farmers and ranchers don't need to feel isolated and alone – the state could help them brainstorm new ideas for added revenue, she said.
"We need to focus on economic development. It's not very specific to the individual. I think right now, it's about bringing big companies to the big cities," she said.
Addressing the death tax and making it more fair would provide economic relief to farmers and ranchers, she believes.
Noem knows firsthand how unforeseen challenges can devastate a family operation, having hurried home at the age of 22 to help manage her family farm in Hamlin County, near Watertown, after her dad died unexpectedly. The state could help others in tough situations, she believes.
"We got hit with death taxes. We sat down and had to figure it out, we ended up adding a hunting lodge. It turned out good but it might not be the answer for everyone. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could call up the department of agriculture in the state and say, 'we want to diversify. We have land, cattle and machinery, do you have a need in the state that we can help fill?'"
Noem said that she and her siblings made a lot of mistakes in creating extra income streams in an effort to save the family farm. Some of those mistakes could have been avoided with some government assistance or advice, she said.
Besides serving at one point as the general manager of her family's 10,000 acre farm and ranch, Noem has also managed a restaurant, helped her husband with his insurance business, and helped manage her family's hunting lodge – all experiences that would be helpful for a future as a governor, she believes.
As a lifelong farmer and rancher, along with her political experience Noem believes she could "hit the ground running" as South Dakota's chief following the 2018 election.