PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Republican Gov. Kristi Noem said Saturday it’s a “distinct honor” to serve as South Dakota’s first female governor after taking her oath of office to lead state government for the next four years.
In her inaugural address, Noem departed from a campaign in which she didn’t emphasize the milestone, saying she couldn’t let the day pass without commenting on its “historic nature.” Noem’s election to her first term as governor in November came 100 years and one day after women’s suffrage passed in South Dakota.
“I offered up my experience and my vision to the people of South Dakota to earn their vote. I did not campaign on my gender,” said Noem, who focused on her farming and ranching roots and congressional achievements to claim the historic victory. “It is a distinct honor for me as our state’s first woman governor.”
Noem said the achievement sends a message to children in South Dakota that anything is possible. She said she wants to be remembered as a governor for the next generation.
Noem said it will be her “north star” as she makes decisions as governor, whether she’s working to address meth addiction, improving schools or keeping regulation and taxes low.
“Nothing motivates me more in public service than solving problems for our next generation,” Noem said.
State legislators and other officials, including Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden, were also sworn in Saturday. Republican Rep. Scyller Borglum, of Rapid City, said Noem has the tenacity and determination needed to move South Dakota forward.
“I’m so proud that my first full session is with her as our governor,” said Borglum, who is among an almost-record number of women who will serve in the state Legislature in the 2019 session.
Borglum called it “tremendously exciting,” saying the Legislature needs a variety of perspectives. Borglum’s priorities include education, fighting meth and ensuring South Dakota’s Ellsworth Air Force Base gets the next-generation B-21 bomber.
Susan Froschheuser and her husband decided at the last minute to bring her 93-year-old mother, Gale Peterson, from Sioux Falls to attend the inauguration. Shortly after shaking Noem’s hand, Peterson said she was excited about South Dakota’s first female governor.
Froschheuser, also a Noem supporter, said she doesn’t focus on gender but thought Noem would be the top person for the job.
“I just felt that Kristi was the best person,” said Froschheuser. “But it is exciting that she is the first female governor, and it’s historic.”
Noem’s work building her administration will switch to policymaking Tuesday with the start of her first legislative session as governor. The 2019 session will kick off with Noem’s State of the State address. She plans to release policy priorities at the speech and to propose a state budget in the coming weeks.
Noem campaigned on “four pillars” of protection, pledging to not raise taxes nor grow state government and to improve transparency and fight federal intrusion. Democratic Party Executive Director Sam Parkinson said in a statement that he hopes Noem’s inauguration will show young women in the state that they also can grow up to win South Dakota’s highest office.
He urged Noem to reach out to the “half of South Dakota that didn’t vote for her,” saying she could work with Democrats on priorities including funding early childhood education, removing the sales tax on food and expanding Medicaid. Noem held off a surprisingly strong challenge from former Democratic state Sen. Billie Sutton to win her race.
A four-term congresswoman, Noem, 47, is trading Washington for Pierre as the 33rd governor of South Dakota. She took the oath of office with her hand on a Bible belonging to her late father, who died in a farming accident when she was 21.
Noem replaces Republican Dennis Daugaard, who couldn’t run again because of term limits.
U.S. Sen. John Thune, who served with Noem in South Dakota’s federal delegation, said it’s a new beginning for the state. Noem has “vast” experience in agriculture and business, Thune said, adding that he expects Noem to be focused and aggressive in recruiting businesses to South Dakota.
“It took a long time for South Dakota to get our first woman governor,” Thune said. “It’s an exciting day and a historic day, and one that I think all South Dakotans ought to celebrate no matter which side of the aisle you’re on.”
A ball in the Capitol rotunda and another at a Pierre event center will cap Noem’s inaugural celebration. The estimated budget of $150,000 is funded by donations and ticket sales.