Noem overcomes Washington label to win GOP nod for governor

June 6, 2018
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FILE - In this Dec. 5, 2017 file photo, Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., and South Dakota gubernatorial candidate, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. Noem and state Attorney General Marty Jackley are competing for the Republican nomination for governor in the June 5, 2018, primary. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem brushed off the Washington label to win South Dakota’s Republican primary for governor. To become the state’s first female chief executive, she might have to do it again.

Noem scored a surprisingly easy victory Tuesday over Attorney General Marty Jackley in a race that appeared close to the end. She’ll face Democratic state Sen. Billie Sutton, a well-funded former professional rodeo cowboy, in November.

“It’s been a long campaign and a hard-fought campaign, but we’re excited, ready to keep working,” said Noem, who didn’t play up gender during her campaign.

Sutton immediately portrayed himself as the outsider in the race, with a statement minutes after Noem’s victory calling the race “a choice between politics as usual and a new kind of leadership. Washington-style politics will only make our problems worse.”

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.

And 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 and Jackley struggled for separation in the governor’s race, defining themselves more by experience and accomplishments than by policy differences.

Noem emphasized 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.

The Marsy’s Law changes are 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 changes — which the Marsy’s Law campaign supported — 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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