Can South Dakota Be Proud of Kristi Noem?
Email share
White House Tax Reform Annoucement, Dec. 20, 2017
Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images

When we argue about politics, we largely quarrel about one of the following: the role of government, the effectiveness/integrity of public servants, or what, if anything, average citizens can do about policy that affects them.

Sometimes, more often than one might hope, we are forced to grapple simultaneously with all three.

At times, one quarrel can muddy conversations about one (or both) of the others. Take, for example, the much-analyzed candidacy of now-President Donald Trump. Recall during the 2016 campaign when Congresswoman Kristi Noem said she didn’t need a candidate to serve as a role model. What she needed was a Republican in the White House who would sign impactful legislation.

In other words, ideas about the role of government held sway over concerns about the integrity and potential effectiveness of the candidate.

The electorate agreed. And now we have a president with tarnished integrity who continues to re-imagine the role of government in the 21st Century. Which is pretty much what America signed up for.

So here we are.

We roll into January alongside the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, a sweeping GOP tax reform package touted by the President as a Christmas present for American families, vilified by opponents as lining the pockets of the wealthy to the tune of a trillion-dollar-plus addition to the national deficit.

Proponents of the tax cuts promise a blossoming economy – more jobs and fatter paychecks, businesses tumbling over themselves to invest, once again, in the American dream. Opponents warn of a new Gilded Age and – more starkly, the brutal cuts in spending they say surely lurk around the corner.

What does all this have to do with Congresswoman Noem?

Well, as you may have heard, Noem was instrumental in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. She serves on the influential House Ways and Means Committee and, when it was time to hammer out the differences between the Senate and House versions of tax reform, Noem and U.S. Senator John Thune were, to lean on a well-worn phrase, “in the room where it happens.”

As President Trump announced pending victory on tax reform, Noem stood just feet away, in some camera angles peeking over the shoulder of Vice President Mike Pence. She looked worn but happy, one of very few women in the shot.

That’s the moment I started hearing about her earrings.

People texted me. People talked about it. I heard from one person who said Noem has “zero” influence in Washington. Another who said she lacks intelligence. Some pointed out, with a wink and a nod, that she is running for governor in her home state in 2018. (Presumably this means she winkled her way closer to President Trump so she could remind voters back home to head to the polls in 2018?)

I heard more than once about those earrings she chose to wear – wide, gold, heavily ornamented drops. Why would she wear them? Don’t they hurt her earlobes? What does this all mean?


I’ll say it again. People asked me about Congresswoman Noem’s earrings.

This is not as marginalizing as it appears at first blush. Sure, some people prefer to talk about what the woman wore than what she did in Washington, but I’d offer that we are often stunned by what women in power wear because we see so few examples of women in power.

Do the earrings Kristi Noem chose to thread through tiny holes in her earlobes send a message? Not particularly. But since we’re looking for clues here as to what tax reform means to the GOP, and what the GOP says tax reform means to the average American family, I’ll go ahead and call her jewelry choice . . . celebratory.

So why wouldn’t South Dakota celebrate Kristi Noem?

Here are the facts. A rancher, businesswoman, and mother from the state, our only voice in the U.S. House of Representatives, was instrumental in pushing through the first major legislative win of President Trump’s administration and the first major tax reform upheaval in 30 years.

You don’t have to like what she says to appreciate the resonance of her voice.

Even if you loathe the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, don’t you have just a little “you go girl!” in your heart for Kristi Noem, standing on those steps, weary but victorious?

Maybe you should.

Because here’s what happens when you marginalize the impact of Congresswoman Noem regarding tax reform: You relinquish the opportunity to hold her accountable for it.

Republicans have bet big on this reform, and we’re all on the hook for it. There are real changes coming from this plan, changes that impact farmers and ranchers, small business owners, artists, working class Americans, South Dakota children.

Let’s acknowledge her role (and the role of U.S. Senator John Thune, though, interestingly, I’ve received far few comments on that) and her influence. Let’s pay very close attention to what happens next.

Because, make no mistake, this is a conversation about the role of government and not really an argument about the effectiveness of this particular lawmaker or what happened when her father died, or what she reached for in the jewelry box on any particular day. We’d be wise to measure how this policy impacts South Dakota in the months ahead, for good or for ill . . . and prepare for the next big argument: What are you willing to do about it?