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Where Does Noem Call home? And Does It Really Matter?

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Governor's Mansion in Pierre
Governor's Office

The woman approached me as I took pictures of state Senators Jeff Partridge and Troy Heinert following the Black Hills Forum and Press Club last week.

They’re quite a team, as members of opposing parties — one a dominant super majority, the other a sort of not-so-super minority — and they remind me of the good old days in South Dakota politics, when reason tended to rule and political differences weren’t the stuff of Luke Skywalker-Darth Vader-level good and evil.

But that’s another story. And I’m going to write the Partridge-Heinert story soon, here on this blog.

For now, back to the woman at the Press Club, who was clearly upset when she called me aside.

“Can you tell me why the media isn’t covering the fact that Kristi Noem doesn’t live in the governor’s mansion, but her daughter and son-in-law do?” the woman asked.

My initial response was probably unsatisfactory: “Um, what are you talking about?”

She said: “I’m talking about Kristi Noem. She lives at her ranch, not at the mansion. And her daughter and son-in-law live in the mansion. Why isn’t that being covered?”

I tried to do better with my second response: “Well, first, I don’t know if any of that’s true. I know Noem gets back to the farm near Castlewood regularly and her husband still lives there. You know, their son is still going to school there. So that’s not surprising, I guess.”

And the daughter-son-in-law thing? I said: “You’re saying that the governor’s mansion is their full-time residence? They don’t have a place of their own? If that’s true — and again, I don’t know if it is — I guess I’m not sure whether that’s wrong.”

The woman scowled: “Of course it’s wrong! The governor’s mansion is for the governor, nor for a daughter and son-in-law.”

I thought about that, then responded: “I guess you could argue, though, that the governor’s residence is for the governor and her family, and her daughter and son-in-law are certainly part of the family. I don’t know if that’s a legitimate argument. But, again, I also don’t even know if what you’re saying is true.”

She was emphatic: “It’s true! People in Pierre have told me about it. And they’re really unhappy about it.”

As a reporter, even an old one, I tend to be skeptical of pretty much anything that pretty much anybody I don’t know well tells me, pretty much anytime. That’s especially true if they’re highly emotional about it and they say things like “people in Pierre” have told them. Nothing against “people in Pierre,” or “people in Rapid City” or “people in Veblen” for that matter.

But they’re not exactly a confirmed source. Still, skepticism does not mean dismissing the question, or the assertion. Skeptical reporters should also be inquisitive reporters. So, I told the woman I’d do some checking. She seemed to accept that, grudgingly. Although I don’t think she liked my skepticism, or my apparent lack of outrage.

There’s a lot of outrage around, and not nearly enough skepticism, especially on social media. But that, too, is another story.

And I did some checking on what the woman said. What I found out is kind of what I expected. Kristi Noem lives in the governor’s residence during the week and is home on the farm near Castlewood many weekends.

The governor’s daughter, Kassidy, and her husband, Kyle Peters, who works for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, have their own residence in Pierre. It’s not the governor’s mansion.

The governor’s other daughter, Kennedy, who works in the governor’s office, also lives in Pierre. I’m not sure where she lives exactly. And I guess that’s her business. I’m not too worried about it.

But I often don’t worry about things that some people seem to obsess over, especially on social media, where truth and half-truth and assumptions and speculation and outright fiction all get mixed up in kind of a steaming, unsavory stew of unreliable communication.

You don’t have to go to social media to find misinformation. Old fashioned rumor passed in conversation still works pretty well, too. especially if you have a bit of an ax to grind.

And, man, there’s a lot of grinding going on these days.

The truth in terms of Kristi Noem’s residency is that she’s in the governor’s residence in Pierre a lot, and home on the farm regularly. She probably spends less time in Pierre than I would prefer as someone who likes the idea of a governor and her family making a commitment to live in the governor’s residence full time and be full-time residents of the Capital City.

But I also think people who go to Congress should live in the D.C. area, rather than becoming half residents of South Dakota and half residents of D.C., who spend the better part of a couple of days a week commuting back and forth.

I could be in the minority with such beliefs, however. I’m an old reporter who pounded out his early news stories on a manual Royal typewriter before graduating to the ultra-modern IBM Selectric, so I might be increasingly behind the times in certain things — like the notion that living where you work is important.

People live all over the place now, often far from where they work. They also don’t carry much cash in their billfolds, if they have billfolds at all. Things change. Boy, how they change. I have trouble keeping up.

So, if Kristi Noem’s residency is more fluid than a governor’s residency might have been at one time, she’s probably living closer to the modern realities than I am. Her new chief of staff, Tony Venhuizen, for example, will continue to “live” in Sioux Falls while commuting and telecommuting to his job in Pierre.

I have no doubt that he can pull that off, or that the state will get its money’s worth. Nor do I have any doubt that Noem will put in the time she needs to do the job she was elected to do.

You can disagree with her, and I have, on points of policy or political philosophy or administrative decision making. But you can’t deny her effort.

She shows up. And she’ll give you a full day’s work, no matter where she happens to lay her head that night.

Kevin Woster and Lori Walsh discuss this blog post: