Governor Kristi Noem’s 2nd Inaugural Address
January 7, 2023
Remarks as Prepared
Four years ago, I stood in front of you with my left hand on my dad’s Bible and my right hand raised, swearing an oath to uphold the Constitution of both the state of South Dakota and the United States of America. I had won a competitive campaign on election day and was honored to be chosen to be the 33rd governor and the first female governor of our state. We had spent the previous months planning for the day I would take office – learning from previous administration officials and former Governors. We had hired cabinet and staff – worked on a budget plan – and considered legislation to implement the vision I had committed to following through on for the people of South Dakota.
That day, I spoke about the fact that when I was done being Governor, I wanted to be remembered as a Governor who worked for the next generation. I wanted to create opportunities for our kids and grandkids to stay here in our state, live their dreams, and be happy. I talked about the fact that we would no doubt face hardships and challenges, but that I believed our best days were still ahead of us.
I thought I was prepared to be Governor. Done my homework. Asked for advice and taken it. And was ready to go. Standing here today… it is clear there have been a few surprises along the way. A few unpredictable events, storms, policy fights, and even a pandemic. I’m not sure I saw all of those coming, and who could have? But we took on these challenges together and came through them stronger than before. Today, we have the strongest economy and financial foundation that we have had in decades. We have created new careers and jobs here at home. We have made historic gains in economic development and growth. Through our difficulties, we never lost sight of the fact that our power is in our people, and here in South Dakota, “Under God the People Rule.”
The book of Daniel in the Bible talks of how God puts leaders into place, and it is He who removes them. The responsibility of leadership weighs heavy at times on those who are tasked with it, especially during conflict or difficulty. But it is an honor and a trust that I am so incredibly humbled by. There is serious work to be done the next four years. Work that includes protecting our freedoms, investing wisely, and creating opportunity for families to thrive. But there should be some fun, too. We should celebrate all that is good that is happening around us – cheer up and encourage those in our communities and laugh together.
That is why I have chosen to title this speech “The top ten things that surprised me about being Governor.”
Those of us of a certain age will remember David Letterman, a late-night talk show host. Every night, he would unveil his top 10 list of whatever topic was in the news that day, or the latest gossip, or whatever it was that would make people laugh. It was the most popular part of his show each night. Even if we were tired from a long day, we would wait up to see what the top 10 list was before heading off to bed each night. So, I decided a top 10 list here today just might make me popular with all of you! Here we go.
Top 10 list of things that surprised me about being Governor:
Number 10: People care where I am. Now this may sound funny to you, but remember the job I had before I became your Governor – I was a member of Congress. Disposable – forgettable – and easily replaced. I never unpacked my carry-on suitcase for 8 years, slept on my couch in my office in DC, and got stranded in airports hundreds of times, at the mercy of the airline industry. Many times, I would have a flight canceled and miss a prom, play, or ball game of one of my kids. Instead, I would spend the night trying to find the cleanest and quietest spot in an airport to scour the available flight options and try to get where I was supposed to be. Or I’d rent a car and drive all night to get home – many times my staff or family wouldn’t even know there had been issues until everyone woke up the next morning and thought, “I wonder where she is?”
Not as Governor, though. Now I have Highway Patrol officers who track my every move. And yes, I know some of you think they probably should have done that before I was Governor, too! A staff who insists on having every moment of every day planned and scheduled – and a Lt. Governor who seems to care where I am as well. Hmmmm… I used to wonder why Larry called me every morning after we were sworn into office. Then someone reminded me what the Constitution says the duties of the Lt. Governor are: to preside over the state Senate and take over as Governor should something happen to me. When I answered the phone each morning, after he heard my voice and that I was hard at work, Larry went back to bed. Today was not the day….
So number 10 on the list of things that surprised me about being Governor – people care where I am.
Number 9 – Number 9 on the list of top 10 things that surprised me about being Governor: I can wear jeans if I want to. Listen, those who know me best know I’m not a fan of dressing up. Life is hard enough without having to be uncomfortable, cold, or stumbling around in silly shoes every day. Because we work in a professional environment – of course I dress accordingly for each day in front of me. But it took almost a year of me asking the folks I work with, “Can I wear jeans?” and them saying “of course you can, you’re the Governor,” before I really believed it. Then, I found out that I rarely get questioned on my attire… unless I have holes in those jeans – THEN I get lots of questions. People ask, “do you need me to take up a collection to buy you some new jeans, Governor?” Yes Larry, yes – always take up a collection.
Number 8 – Number 8 on the list of top 10 things that surprised me about being Governor: The diversity of our high school mascot names throughout history. Now, most of you know the First Gentleman is passionate about the smallest communities in our state. He has spent many days traveling to meet folks from Lemmon to Winner, from Centerville to Ipswich. He hears about their challenges and also what problems they may need the state to help them solve. He shoots a basket in every town and enjoys the local food or ice cream. Every night when he comes home, I hear about the fantastic people he met and the exciting things that are going on in these communities. And I can guarantee you the one thing he is always going to say to me is “do you know what their school mascot used to be?” We have the Edgemont Moguls, Newell Irrigators, Monroe Wooden-Shoed Canaries, Centerville Tornados, Vale Beetdiggers, Keystone Dynamiters, Gregory Gorillas, and Claremont Honkers. How fantastic are those?
Number 7 – Number 7 on the list of top 10 things that surprised me about being Governor: How quickly decisions can be implemented. Remember now, I’m a farmer and a rancher. I ran several small businesses before – I was used to making decisions and getting work done. Then, I went to Congress. In Congress, we could make decisions or pass bills, but rarely did we see significant change quickly. In fact, it was incredibly frustrating how hard it was to enact real reforms to help people here at home. It could take months or years to fix something that seems just commonsense and easy to do. As Governor, I get the chance every day to be the CEO of the state. We set an agenda and make decisions. I can activate the National Guard, ban TikTok for national security reasons, and order the flags to be lowered to remember important leaders. And while we always look at the consequences of everything we do for the next generation, it surprised me the amount of good we can accomplish just by making the right decision.
Number 6 – Number 6 on the top 10 list of things that surprised me about being Governor: I was more inspired than I thought by the hard work and dedication of our state employees. Now, I always knew that they were committed to South Dakota. But I used to think of state employees as having 9 to 5 jobs with lots of holidays – that’s just not true. In fact, very few of them get to go home at 5 pm each day and forget about their responsibilities. There are roads to plow, communities to keep safe, programs to run, health information and resources to deploy, projects to complete, infrastructure to fix – and most of the challenges we have faced over the past four years dramatically increased their workload. Federal funds and programs, accountability and audits, bomb cyclones, flooding, tornados, a derecho, inflation, supply chain issues, COVID – every one of these have meant much more workload on the people who work for the state of South Dakota without a promise of more money or time off. They are dedicated and work extremely hard around the clock to keep our state thriving.
Number 5 – Number 5 on the list of top 10 things that surprised me about being Governor: No naps – I was promised some naps. I still haven’t gotten one. And I admit, I’m a little ticked about it. And more fishing – I was promised more fishing, too.
Number 4 – Number 4 on the list of top 10 things that surprised me about being Governor: I was shocked by all the items people mail to me at the Governor’s office or at home every week. I love to receive the thoughtful notes, encouraging cards, and see pictures of your families. It is amazing that people take the time to sit down and handwrite a letter of encouragement and wisdom to me. Thank you – I save so many of them. It is incredible how often that note of encouragement comes at just the right time to bless me. Now I’ll admit, I’ve also received some interesting things as well. Such as: a life size cutout of Wonder Woman with my face on it; someone’s birth certificate who wanted to prove to me that they were a real person, but I just keep wondering if they have an extra copy at home for themselves; a real live lobster from Maine; and a whip made from bull testicles. I also have been gifted many garden gnomes: gnomes riding horses, gnomes riding motorcycles, gnomes shooting pheasants, even a gnome riding a rocket named Liberty and carrying an American flag. No matter what the note is or the item that is sent – thank you. Thank you for thinking of me and taking the time to reach out.
Number 3 – Number 3 on the list of top 10 things that surprised me about being Governor: I haven’t had time to go elk hunting – I plan on fixing that in 2023.
Number 2 – Number 2 on the list of top 10 things that surprised me about being Governor: No one cares if you are Governor when you are tubing at the lake. I made the mistake of going tubing this summer. Yes, most of you here today are thinking right now, “Hey wait…I thought she couldn’t swim?” That is correct – I cannot swim. People have tried to teach me for years, but I just sink right to the bottom. In fact, my sister tried to teach me just a few years ago. And after attempting to swim across a pool to her, I sputtered to the surface to see how much progress I had made. I was surprised to only see I was even further away from my goal. My sister was laughing uncontrollably and described my swimming as “it looks like you are having a seizure.”
Well, despite my lack of natural ability to keep myself afloat, I still love to be on the water. This summer, I was talked into getting onto a tube with a couple of friends to enjoy what was described to me as a “tour around the lake to see the beautiful homes.” Then the driver of the boat proceeded to try to kill us. We asked to slow down, to no avail. He spun the boat in circles to create huge waves, only to reverse direction and launch us over them and into the air. I screamed, and yelled, and laughed, and admittedly almost cried in desperation. It seemed as though this particular driver may have been a Democrat, and he was out to settle a score or two. At one point I even yelled “ I AM A GOVERNOR!” There was no mercy. He didn’t care. Number 2 is: no one cares if you are Governor when tubing at the lake.
And number one… The number one thing that surprised me about being Governor is how much I love the job. When I first ran for this office, I knew it would be a great experience and a big opportunity to have a significant impact on South Dakota. I also thought maybe it might be a little boring, predictable, and uneventful from some of the advice that I had been given. For example, I had one person say to me when I told them I was going to run for Governor, “Well, if that’s what you want to do… deal with state aid to education, local issues, and taxes. But national issues are much more exciting and where the focus is.” I wondered if I would enjoy being Governor.
I do – I love the challenge of serving in this role. The opportunity to get up each day with a purpose. Every day is different. The people I work with – and I have the best boss: the beautiful people of the greatest state in this country. And I get to be here at home with my family. I am so grateful to all of you for trusting me to lead this state for another four years. May we always find joy in our work to protect our way of life and chart a path for the future of the next generation.
Today, we are here in this Rotunda where we are surrounded by four statues. They are named Courage, Integrity, Wisdom, and Vision. They represent the virtues and principles necessary to best serve the people of South Dakota. May we reflect those virtues as we work in this building each day for our people. God knows this world needs one place that can give the country hope – and that can do so with dignity and grace. Thank you for the honor of serving.
God bless you, and may God continue to bless the great state of South Dakota.