South Dakota’s governor has been attacked as ‘cowardly’ by the right for her partial veto of a bill banning transgender women from girls’ sports – a move which shocked supporters of the rising Republican star, and dismayed many of her constituents.
Kristi Noem, the telegenic 49-year-old rodeo fan, widely believed to have presidential ambitions, sent the bill back to the state legislature on Friday.
The Women’s Fairness in Sports bill is intended to ban biological males from competing in girls’ sports at public schools, and was championed by the governor earlier this month while she commemorated International Women’s Day.
However, she backed down in the face of fierce lobbying from businesses and national sports bodies such as the NCAA, National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Kristi Noem appeared on Fox News on Monday night to explain her objections to the bill
On Monday night Tucker Carlson asked her why she didn’t sign the bill, which was popular in her state.
She insisted the bill ‘would actually prevent women from being able to participate in collegiate sports.’
Pressed by Carlson, Noem said that legal scholars had told her she would likely lose a court battle with the NCAA if she signed the bill, which would take sport away from the state’s female competitors.
‘We have had to fight hard to get any tournaments to come to South Dakota,’ she said.
‘When they took punitive action against us we would have to litigate, and legal scholars that I have been consulting with for many, many months say I would very likely lose those litigation efforts.’
The abrupt U-turn shocked her supporters.
On March 8 she tweeted: ‘In South Dakota, we’re celebrating #InternationalWomensDay by defending women’s sports! I’m excited to sign this bill very soon.’
Noem had previously shown her support for the bill, but rapidly reversed course
Yet the bill was strongly opposed by key business groups and figures within the local community, including the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce.
One member of the board of First Premier Bank, which recently worked with Noem to donate $100 million to a state scholarship endowment, traveled to the Capitol, in Pierre, to testify against the bill.
If the NCAA canceled its tournaments, it would cost millions of dollars, putting up to 100 full- and part-time jobs at risk, warned the board member, David Zimbeck.
Others worried that Amazon would cancel plans for a distribution facility in the state.
Carlson accused her of caving to pressure from big business interests and nationwide sports groups.
‘So you are saying the NCAA threatened you – they said ‘If you sign this, we won’t allow girls in South Dakota to play’ and you don’t think you can win in court – even though the public overwhelmingly supports you nationally – and so you are caving to the NCAA?’ he asked.
Noem said Carlson was ‘completely wrong,’ and reiterated her commitment to protecting women’s sports.
She insisted the bill, in its current format, was a ‘trial lawyer’s dream’.
‘Listen, I’m sick and tired of the NCAA threatening states, challenging us and bullying us, so we are going to build a coalition of leaders, athletes and people who want to protect women’s sports,’ she said.
‘I’m not interested in a participation trophy. I’m not interested in picking a fight that we can’t win.
‘I am a problem-solver and I have been bullied for the last year by liberals, Tucker.
‘I’m not going to let anybody from the NCAA, from any big business, I’m not even going to let conservatives on the right bully me. I’m going to solve the problem.
‘I’m going to make sure that we are building strength in numbers and we are going after the NCAA and make sure that we are keeping only girls playing in girls’ sports.’
Noem on Monday (pictured) unveiled her own plan for ‘protecting fairness in women’s sports’
Yet Noem’s decision – she rejected Carlson’s description of it as a veto – has left conservatives unimpressed.
Her communications director, Ian Fury, said Noem was being ‘cancelled’ by critics, who were ‘eating their own’.
‘Apparently, uninformed cancel culture is fine when the right is eating their own,’ he said on Tuesday.
‘A less impassioned review of the facts tells a much different story. Governor Noem has long stood for fairness in women’s sports.’
Her office said: ‘If conservative media would take [five] seconds to read past the knee-jerk headlines and actually understand Governor Noem’s position, they’d come to a very different realization.’
Yet the attacks continued, with conservative digital magazine The Federalist mocking Noem for her upset at the criticism.
‘Criticizing cowardly politicians isn’t ‘cancel culture,’ it’s democracy,’ wrote Jordan Davidson.
‘Instead of coming to terms with the fact that Noem’s conservative base is furious with her recent backtracking and sudden lack of eagerness to sign the important bill, the governor’s office maintains that the most ‘strategic’ way to confront the legislation is to avoid ‘waging a losing battle with the NCAA.
‘Her attempts to pretend that she resisted ‘tremendous pressure from corporate bigwigs and the radical left alike to veto the bill’ continue to fall short as more evidence that her inner circle heavily influenced her decision to abandon this culture war fight.’
Noem’s chief of staff Tony Venhuizen is a board member of the Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce.
Another adviser, Matt McCaulley, is a lobbyist whose clients include the owners of the Sanford Sports Complex, which has reportedly sought to host NCAA tournaments.
‘Noem is not at risk of getting ‘canceled,’ she’s merely experiencing the consequences of having [an] ideologically-driven voter base that knows caving in the face of corporate pressure makes you a worthless standard-bearer,’ Davidson wrote.
‘The worst part, however, is that Noem is refusing to own up to her mistake.
‘She’s hiding behind fake campaigns to promote fairness in women’s sports when she could simply sign the bill that would accomplish just that.’