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They Come to Sturgis (and South Dakota) for Freedom

August 13, 2021

The Sturgis Rally is one of the biggest gatherings for motorcycle enthusiasts in the world. While the rally has always promoted an independent spirit, these past two years have taken on a new meaning of freedom.


The Sturgis Rally is about hopping on your bike and exploring this great country through our open roads. Bikers come here because they want to be here. And we love to see them!


Outside of the Fourth of July, the Sturgis Rally must be one of the most iconic celebrations of freedom in the country. And where better to celebrate than in South Dakota, the freest state in the nation?


While the rally has yet to end – the last day is August 15th – the numbers have already shown that we are on pace to far surpass our 2020 attendance. This is on the heels of what has been the best tourism season ever for South Dakota. Record numbers of Americans are flocking to the Mount Rushmore state, seeking small towns, state parks, and national monuments as their chosen destination.


Many of the visitors to whom I’ve spoken say they’re coming to South Dakota specifically because it reminds them of the America they grew up in. Free. Independent. Unburdened by the constraints and headaches that big cities and liberal ideology force upon them.


Mount Rushmore is certainly one of the most recognized symbols in America. But few know our state's motto: Under God the People Rule. That’s an easy standard to live and serve under. The rights of individuals are what birthed this nation, and that independent spirit is what drove America to become the leader of not just the free world, but the whole world.


And it’s that same spirit that is driving South Dakota tourism and business growth, making us the number one state in the nation for GDP growth. At the same time, we currently have some of the lowest COVID case numbers in the country. We have also worked hard with counselors to provide services for substance abusers, leading the nation in decreasing the number of deaths from overdose by 15.9 percent.


These are all signs that what we are doing in South Dakota is working and helping our citizens.


And yet, bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. and the media cast aspersions on the Sturgis Rally while ignoring concertgoers, lavish birthday parties, and the continuing crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s a double standard that gives a free pass to so-called elites to do as they please and mandate others to do as they say. It’s a failure in leadership on their part and why more and more Americans are fleeing big cities and blue states for places like South Dakota.


As South Dakota’s governor, I have remained within the bounds of my authority and empowered citizens and businesses to make decisions for themselves. Rather than mandating they do as I say, I have chosen to let people take personal responsibility for decisions the government has no authority to make. There's a risk associated with everything that we do in life. Bikers like those attending the Rally this year get that better than anyone.


It's no surprise that when I rode my horse through downtown Deadwood at the start of the Legends Ride on Monday, I was greeted with cheers for freedom and for the American flag I carried. At that same event, we auctioned off a painting and that flag I carried for a total of $80,000 to support the Treasured Lives charity, which helps victims of human trafficking.


This trip to Sturgis and the Rally was one to remember. When the auction was over, I hopped on a motorcycle and helped lead 300 bikers on a ride from Deadwood to the Buffalo Chip in Sturgis, where the celebration of freedom continued.


Under God, the people rule – and ride free on the open roads of South Dakota!


This column originally appeared as an op-ed on FoxNews.com