South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem declines debate, claims public broadcaster slants left

Noem has positioned herself for a 2024 White House bid

Gov. Kristi Noem won’t participate in a debate sponsored by South Dakota Public Broadcasting because of what her campaign spokesman called its "extreme leftward swing."

In a break from precedent, the Republican governor has agreed to just one debate with her challenger, Democratic state Rep. Jamie Smith.

Noem, who has also positioned herself for a 2024 White House bid, is following a nationwide trend of candidates — often Republicans — who are abandoning the time-honored tradition of debating their rivals before Election Day. For Noem, the snub was another opportunity to slam a media ecosystem that conservatives find elitist and cast herself in the mold of former President Donald Trump.

"In the past, Governor Noem has made clear that she will not participate in debates hosted by hyper-partisan organizations or outlets. SDPB has repeatedly promoted the radical effort to re-write American history and cancel our Founding Fathers," Ian Fury, a spokesman for Noem's campaign, said in a statement Friday.

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He added that South Dakota Public Broadcasting's "extreme leftward swing precludes the possibility of a fair debate."

SD Gov. Kristi Noem will not participate in a debate because of the leftward leaning nature of the contest. 

SD Gov. Kristi Noem will not participate in a debate because of the leftward leaning nature of the contest.  (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

The statement pointed to South Dakota Public Broadcasting's interview last year with award-winning scholar and author Ibrahim X. Kendi in which he criticized Noem’s efforts to bar public schools and universities from using certain approaches to teaching about race. Noem previously singled out Kendi's work in an executive order.

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Part of South Dakota Public Broadcasting's mission is to provide "access to democracy" through its broadcasts and coverage of Statehouse debates and action. It is a state agency that operates under the Bureau of Information and Telecommunication, with $9 million in public funds and additional money raised through a nonprofit.

The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Noem’s campaign said South Dakota Public Broadcasting had inquired why she would not participate in its debate, as she did during the 2018 election cycle.

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Noem's gubernatorial challenger, Smith, said, "This is just another example of her trying to push the narrative in a hyper-partisan manner. Here again, she’s choosing not to debate on a platform that the South Dakota people have come to trust, and that’s a detriment to the people of South Dakota."