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South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is one of the GOP’s most popular politicians. At 50 years old and running for re-election this fall against Democrat Jamie Smith, she’s expected to win a second term. And many believe after the governor’s mansion, she’ll become a candidate for the White House.
Noem has gained popularity with Republicans nationwide for her conservative bonafides. She refused to impose severe lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic, tried to pass a ban on abortion from the moment a fetal heartbeat is detected (it was blocked by legislators in her own party), strongly advocated for the Keystone Pipeline, and signed a bill banning transgender athletes from competing in high school and college girls’ sports.
She’s also an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump.
Last week, she published her memoir, “Not My First Rodeo: Lessons from the Heartland,” giving readers (and voters) a look at the life that made her who she is.
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Most of Noem’s life has been about three things: faith, family, and farming. Born and raised on a ranch, Noem describes a childhood that was rich with life lessons about self-starting, working hard, having grit, trusting God, appreciating the land, and loving thy neighbor. The corollaries from her ranching life to her political life are too obvious to miss.
No figure seems to loom larger over Noem than her father, Ron Arnold, whom she writes about with deep reverence and adoration. “Growing up with a father like mine was challenging, exciting, exasperating, and inspiring,” she writes. Her book is full of stories to prove it.
But when Noem was 22-years old and eight months pregnant with her first child, Ron Arnold died in a truly harrowing farming accident. “Dad was buried alive underneath tons of cold, damp corn,” she recalls in a jaw-dropping and heart-wrenching telling of the event.
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That tragedy became a defining moment in her life. “I vowed to never waste my time on things that do not ultimately matter,” she writes about the aftermath of his death. “I would live every day with purpose. I aimed to serve my family, my neighbors, my state, and my country in any way I could.”
With her father gone, it was up to Noem to keep the farm running; in learning how to do that, she unknowingly began her political journey.
“People ask how I got involved in government and politics, it was because of that tragic situation,” Noem told Fox News Digital in an interview. “My dad had consistently said ‘we don’t complain about things, we fix them.; when I lost him and almost lost everything, it made me start showing up and getting involved in policies that really do, tragically, crush families.”
She started attending farm policy meetings and got to know her state’s senator, former Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle, who invited her to attend an annual meeting meant to recruit and train South Dakota’s future leaders. “I knew the goal was to get me to run for office as a Democrat,” she writes.
Run she did in 2006, as a Republican for the state legislature. She won, and after serving for four years, she ran for and was elected to the U.S. Congress. In her book, Noem recounts the enormous pressure Republicans in and out of her state put on her to seek national office, and the difficult, prayerful process she and her family went through to get on board. It’s clear from Noem’s writing that she believes running for Congress was part of God’s plan.
“I am worried about us being disobedient to what God may be asking us to do,” she remembers telling her husband as they struggled with the decision.
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Once she got to Washington, much of Noem’s energy was spent advocating for federal agriculture policies that protected American farmers. In her book, she writes passionately about the importance of getting those policies right:
“Control of our food supply is a critical national security issue. … Having thousands of farmers in each state — instead of just a handful — ensures more competition and lower prices for Americans. Small farmers are just as valuable as large farmers, and they deserve a level playing field. … [W]e need to keep our domestic food industry diversified and not allow consolidation to occur to such a degree that we lose all of our family farms and have one large corporation or interest control the production of our food.”
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Noem served in Congress during the Tea Party era when all spending measures were highly scrutinized. In that environment, passing the farm bill was unusually difficult. Noem tells the story of having to publicly castigate then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor on the House Floor to move the bill forward. He reprimanded her in his office afterwards, but she writes about that episode with discernible pride.
After eight years in Washington, Noem was ready to go home and in 2018, she became the first female Governor of South Dakota. She writes that Donald Trump’s 2016 election gave her the greenlight she needed to make that decision: “I could return home now and do so confident that South Dakotans had a champion in the White House.”
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