South Dakota Gov. Noem Exposes Vulnerabilities for All States Considering Anti-Trans Sports Bills
On Friday, March 19th, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem issued a style-and-form veto of HB 1217, the anti-transgender sports ban bill that she had previously expressed excitement about signing. Having made several substantive changes to the legislation, including striking collegiate-level provisions from the bill, it will now be sent back to the legislature. This backtrack, by even an extreme governor with national political aspirations, exposes the economic, legal, and reputational threats these bills pose to states considering anti-transgender legislation and has sparked an uproar amongst conservative groups who see Governor Noem playing politics and trying to have it both ways.
Gov. Noem’s winding path from “excited to sign” to a veto
- On March 8th, Governor Noem tweeted that she was “excited to sign this bill,” in reference to HB 1217, using the occasion of International Women’s Day to state her support for the bill under the fallacious frame of “protecting women’s sports.”
- On March 11th, South Dakota Senator Reynold Nesiba expressed concern about losing an Amazon fulfillment center currently under construction in Sioux Falls and the 1,000 jobs that are promised to come along with it. A Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce spokesperson responded by saying that the local chamber is “very aware of the situation.”
- Also on March 11th, transgender advocates marched at the Capitol in Pierre, South Dakota in protest of the bill. Later that day, Governor Noem pivoted from her earlier “excitement” to sign HB 1217, saying “we are still examining the bill.”
- On March 16th, President of the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce Dave Owen publicly opposed the legislation, calling it “the worst bill that passed this session” and a day later, groups sent a letter urging Noem to veto HB 1217, including the Director of Public Policy for the Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce, who cited potential economic fallout.
- On March 19th, Governor Noem issued a style-and-form veto of HB 1217 with several substantive changes, including striking provisions that pertain to collegiate bans on transgender participation in sports, and sent it back to the legislature.
- Argus Leader reporter Stu Whitney described Noem’s veto this way: “Shorter version: This bill is so ill-conceived, poorly written and damaging to South Dakota that I can’t sign it even though it would boost my national conservative political profile.”
- South Dakota’s Republican legislative leadership issued a joint press release condemning Noem’s “unprecedented interpretation of the…style and form veto” as an abuse of power. The legislature will meet on March 29th to consider whether to accept Noem’s changes or abandon the bill altogether.
Today, Noem held a press conference standing alongside known anti-LGBTQ extremists to justify her veto
- Today in a press conference, Governor Noem announced the creation of a coalition to “Defend Title IX Now” which appears to be a national list-building exercise by Noem, with a website created yesterday by someone in Ohio (coincidentally, Governor Noem’s campaign website was created by Ohio political consultants The Aventine Group). This website’s “paid for by” disclaimer refers to a committee that is not yet registered with the Federal Election Commission or the South Dakota Secretary of State’s office.
- When asked in today’s press conference why she was pressing a ban on transgender student athletes when there are no transgender players currently competing in secondary school sports in South Dakota, Gov. Noem replied “it’s an issue because people are talking about it and for the future.”
- Among the speakers in today’s press conference was former NFL player Jack Brewer who, in March of 2020, said that he opposed President Barack Obama for “normaliz[ing] the black gay culture.”
- Noem said of HB 1217, that it was a “trial lawyer’s dream” that would open the state to litigation in its current form and expressed concern for NCAA repercussions, saying “if we’re going beyond [K-12] to the collegiate level…just know that we could face retaliation — it’s more than likely, and at that point, we would have to sue, which is a cost to the taxpayers.”
From praise to condemnation from anti-equality extremist groups
- When announcing her support for signing the legislation, Noem quote-tweeted the American Principles Project.
- But only weeks later, American Principles Project shared their condemnation of Governor Noem’s style-and-form veto of HB 1217, saying that she “[broke] her word,” “[froze] out advocates of HB 1217 and instead [took] advice from the bill’s most vocal critics,” and that “[b]y standing with Joe Biden and the radical left against protecting women’s sports, Noem has irreparably damaged her standing with both her own constituents as well as Americans nationally… This betrayal will have political consequences.”
- The Alliance Defending Freedom, a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group, went from support to condemnation as well, saying in a statement that Governor Noem “abuse[d]” her veto power to “cave to ‘woke’ corporate ideology.” They similarly called Noem’s actions a “betrayal” and characterized today’s press conference as damage control to rehabilitate her “credibility and political image.”
- In reaction to today’s press conference, Sean Davis, co-founder of the conservative publication The Federalist tweeted: “Stop making excuses and insulting everyone’s intelligence and sign the bill already. This is embarrassing.”