GOP picks Noem for governor, Johnson to replace her in House
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem won the Republican nomination for South Dakota governor on Tuesday, after a campaign that played up her role in passing last year’s federal tax cuts while hitting opponent Marty Jackley with a series of late attack ads.
Meanwhile, former Public Utilities Commissioner Dusty Johnson cruised to victory in a three-way GOP primary to pick a nominee to replace Noem in the state’s lone House seat.
Voters also easily approved changes to the state’s version of Marsy’s Law, aimed at extending protections to crime victims, to reduce the burden the law placed on law enforcement and prosecutors.
Noem’s victory put her one step from becoming South Dakota’s first woman governor. She’ll face Democratic state Sen. Billie Sutton, a former professional rodeo cowboy who has stockpiled cash, in November.
“It’s been a long campaign and a hard-fought campaign, but we’re excited, ready to keep working,” Noem said.
Noem and Jackley struggled for separation in the governor’s race, defining themselves more by experience and accomplishments than by policy differences.
A handful of precincts in far western South Dakota closed more than an hour late due to problems with electronic poll books used to verify voters were in the right precinct.
Noem didn’t play up her gender during the campaign, instead emphasizing her role negotiating the 2014 farm bill and the GOP’s federal tax cuts during four terms in Congress.
Jackley, a former U.S. attorney, touted his work to pass legislation aimed at public corruption, human trafficking and drugs.
The mostly polite race turned tougher at the end, with Noem’s campaign seeking to raise questions about Jackley’s handling of a case involving a former law enforcement agent who won a $1.5 million state settlement of a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit. Noem’s campaign accused Jackley of trying to silence the victim; he called the criticism a political stunt.
Ken Yost, a 79-year-old retired teacher in Sioux Falls, said he backed Jackley for his experience and an image as a “can-do kind of person.”
But Patricia McKeever’s vote went to Noem. McKeever, a 74-year-old retiree in Sioux Falls who works at a church, appreciated Noem’s support for Trump but also felt Noem — a rancher, farmer and small business owner — had proven herself as a businesswoman.
The GOP House race matched Johnson against Secretary of State Shantel Krebs and state Sen. Neal Tapio.
Front-runner Johnson was endorsed by his former boss, Gov. Dennis Daugaard, and ran a well-funded campaign as a more traditional conservative. Krebs and Tapio aligned with President Donald Trump; Tapio, an entrepreneur, headed Trump’s South Dakota campaign.
Johnson said voters rewarded a “hardworking, policy-focused, positive campaign.”
Democrat Tim Bjorkman, a former judge, is his main November opponent.
While the GOP primaries were closed, all voters were weighing in on the Marsy’s Law changes, aimed at helping police and prosecutors cut down on bureaucratic problems the law created.
Officials say Marsy’s Law has caused unintended consequences since it passed in 2016. At least three large counties hired new people to work with victims, privacy provisions in the amendment have curtailed the information that some law enforcement agencies release to the public to help solve crimes, and prosecutors’ offices must now track down and notify a broader swath of victims about their cases.
The proposed changes — which the Marsy’s Law campaign supported — passed by an overwhelming margin. They would require victims to opt in to many of their rights and specifically allow law enforcement to share information with the public to help solve crimes.
Voters also decided 24 state legislative primaries.
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