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GOP Rising Star Kristi Noem Addresses Republican Convention


The speakers last night at the Republican convention included a rising star in the party. Kristi Noem is the governor of South Dakota, the home of Mount Rushmore. Her speech last night referenced Abraham Lincoln, one of the presidents on the mountainside. Noem said that in America, the people are supposed to rule themselves.


KRISTI NOEM: Government power at all levels is limited to the confines of our Constitution, which protects our God-given liberties and civil rights. We are not and will not be the subjects of an elite class of so-called experts. We the people are the government.

INSKEEP: And Gov. Kristi Noem is on the line. Governor, welcome to the program.

NOEM: Thank you for having me on the program. I appreciate it.

INSKEEP: So you mentioned so-called experts at a particular moment. We're in the middle of this vast pandemic. Which experts were you thinking of?

NOEM: I think most of the time, people turn on the news and listen to different folks giving perspectives and opinions and mistake it for actual science and data. So - and then, also, I think it's a good time for us to go back and reevaluate the purposes of our Constitution, the personal responsibility we each have to make decisions for our own lives. And some of the examples that we've seen come forward in recent months I think have really opened up people's eyes to the abilities that they have to really exercise that type of personal responsibility.

INSKEEP: If I can just be clear here, though, we have public health experts who've been saying social distancing works, masks work, that is the way to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Do you feel they're wrong?

NOEM: I think that we have a lot of public health experts that have given us a lot of information. And we've been recommending social distancing. We've been recommending that people wash their hands. We've also seen mixed science on this virus. In fact, what was revealed about the virus back in March when it first started to hit a lot of our states and what we know about it today is very different. So I think that's what's incredibly important when - especially when it comes to a pandemic like this and the health issue, is that we continue to learn and be teachable, because we've seen the CDC guidance change over and over again, the WHO guidance change over and over again, doctors give completely different perspectives on the same issue.

And so that is why I think, ultimately, it comes down to the fact that we give people all the information we possibly can, we reference the studies, the science and the data, and then we give them the opportunity to make decisions that work best for their families.

INSKEEP: Well, and I guess we should note you're correct that expert advice on things like masks has evolved as people have learned more about the virus. I think you're referring to the fact that you've been reluctant to impose mandates in your state, compared to other states. I want to note one event recently, though, Governor. There was a motorcycle rally, giant event in Sturgis, S.D. - thousands of people, limited masking, very little social distancing, big crowds. Then they all went home, and the Associated Press reports that health officials in eight states have traced outbreaks back to people who went there. What do you make of that?

NOEM: Well, we had a lot of people visit South Dakota, participate in the motorcycle bike rally. That is something that they made the decision to do and have gone back home from. We've hosted several large events in our state. And consistently, what I have told people is that if you are concerned, if you have a vulnerable condition to where you're older or potentially have a health condition that could cause you to get very sick if you catch the virus, please stay home. If you're fearful...

INSKEEP: That's good - that's useful advice.

NOEM: Overwhelmingly, a lot of people continue to exercise that decision-making for themselves, and that's what we allowed to have happen during the Sturgis bike rally as well.

INSKEEP: But many people made a different decision. Should that rally maybe not have happened?

NOEM: You know, I think it was an event that a lot of people came and enjoyed and exercised their freedoms. The local officials decided to host the rally. People made decisions to come and visit. We love South Dakota, think it's beautiful. And tourism is our No. 2 industry, so that is something that I am glad people came and participated in, enjoying our outdoors. And personal decisions they made while they were there certainly was up to them.

INSKEEP: Governor, you referenced an 1838 speech by Abraham Lincoln in which he spoke up for the rule of law. Why did you think you should bring that up now?

NOEM: I think it's important to know that this isn't a new conversation we're having in our country today in regards to protests and violence that we're seeing, that we still continue to realize the importance of our law, that it should be upheld and followed, and that the violence that we're seeing throughout the country in different areas should not be permitted to continue, that we have good people that live in these communities that don't feel safe today, don't want to raise their children in that type of an environment. And it's not reflecting America. So we continue to reference the fact that even hundreds of years ago, our leaders were concerned about what we're seeing today gives us some perspective on what we're dealing with and maybe some consistency into what kind of path we can take going forward.

INSKEEP: Well, there's a particular context for that 1838 Lincoln speech. It's a really interesting speech to read, and I'm glad you brought it up. Lincoln was criticizing people taking the law into their own hands and lynching Black people, also lynching white people seen as supportive of Black people. He was against vigilante violence. That's what he was speaking against in that speech.

We now have situations where people are walking around with guns saying that they're going to protect themselves, which is understandable. But a 17-year-old in Kenosha, Wis., opened fire on protesters. And according to witnesses and social media feeds - his social media, he seemed to think that he was part of local law enforcement. Would you - what do you think about that kind of behavior, Governor?

NOEM: Oh, I think that that kind of behavior is tragic, and we've seen stories on both sides involving protesters and then against protesters as well. And I think that's why Lincoln's words are so powerful to remind us that vigilante activities and violence should not be tolerated. Our laws are in place for a reason. And it doesn't matter who we are in this country. We all should be treated equally and have equal opportunity to be safe and live peacefully and still hold our own personal freedoms and rights to ourselves and for our families.

INSKEEP: Just very briefly, President Trump was criticized in Charlottesville for saying there are good people on both sides. You just said both sides. You don't mean the same thing, do you - right? There - I mean, you don't think that there's good people among people who open fire on protesters, do you?

NOEM: I believe that there are people that are breaking the law, and there should be consequences for that, definitely. So we in this country very much need to recognize what makes us special. And what makes us special is that people came here to exercise their freedoms. And we wanted a country of rule of law, and that that is continuing what our leaders should focus on is making sure that that's established and upheld.

INSKEEP: Kristi Noem of South Dakota, thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.