In 2010, following a surprising victory in the Republican primary, Kristi Noem defeated a formidable Democratic incumbent to win election to the U.S. House of Representatives from South Dakota. With seats on the powerful Ways and Means and Agricultural Committees, Noem helped shape policy and tax laws governing America’s agricultural sector and worked to help pass a major tax cut in 2017.
Kristi Noem was born Kristi Lynn Arnold on November 30, 1971, in Watertown, South Dakota, to Ron and Corrine Arnold. Her parents were farmers and ranchers. Noem attended Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota, and later took courses at South Dakota State University in Brookings and the Watertown campus of Mount Marty College. In 1994 her father died in an accident on the family farm in Hazel, South Dakota, and Noem postponed her studies to manage the business with her brother. They raised cattle, corn, soybeans, and wheat, and eventually opened a hunting lodge and restaurant.1 In 2011 Noem finished her bachelor’s degree in political science from South Dakota State University. Noem and her husband, Bryon Noem, married in 1992 and have three children.2
Noem’s first experience in public office was as an appointed member of South Dakota’s Farm Service Agency committee, which implements programs and loans established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.3 And in May 2000, she appeared before the House Committee on Agriculture to testify about USDA programs affecting family farms and ranches in South Dakota.4
In 2006, however, Noem jumped into electoral politics and won a seat in the South Dakota house of representatives, where she sought to roll back regulations on energy development, including an effort to facilitate the use of new windmill technology.5 After her re-election in 2008, Noem was named assistant majority leader.6 During her second term, she successfully passed state budget cuts and avoided tax increases.7
In 2010 Noem entered a crowded primary for the Republican nomination to the U.S. House of Representatives.8 She emphasized her experience as a businessowner, farmer, and rancher. “I think South Dakotans are going to be looking in the next election for someone who can relate to their lives and values,” she said.9 She also pointed to her work in state government pushing for budget cuts and lower taxes—especially the estate tax which she considered overly burdensome following her father’s untimely death.10 Noem prevailed with 42 percent of the vote, and faced incumbent Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin in the general election.11
Noem’s campaign received support from the limited-government Tea Party movement, as well as contributions from national groups including the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).12 Noem promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act, wanted to reform entitlement programs, and opposed the federal stimulus package Congress passed in 2009 to shore up the economy amid the Great Recession. Noem, who supported a balanced federal budget, also criticized Herseth Sandlin for voting to raise the debt ceiling—the amount of money the federal government can borrow at any one time—which Noem said led to “unrestrained spending.”13
On Election Day, Noem won with 48 percent of the vote becoming the second woman, after Herseth Sandlin, to represent South Dakota in the House.14 Noem defeated Matt Varilek, a former staffer for South Dakota Senator Timothy Peter (Tim) Johnson, in 2012 with 57 percent of the vote. She won re-election easily in 2014 and 2016.15
Noem’s election in 2010 came amid a wave of Republican victories, giving the GOP control of the House after four years in the minority. Early in her first term, Noem and Tim Scott of South Carolina were elected to represent the class of first-term lawmakers in party leadership meetings.16 “A lot of us freshmen don’t have a whole lot of knowledge, necessarily, about the way that Washington, DC, is operated. And, frankly, we don’t really care,” Noem said.17 She also joined the Republican Study Committee and was one of four freshmen tapped to help the NRCC in the 2012 elections.18
Noem was initially assigned to the Committee on Natural Resources and the Committee on Education and the Workforce.19 Without a seat on the Agriculture Committee, however, many farmers and ranchers back home feared that Noem would be excluded from negotiations over a new farm bill—the sweeping law passed roughly every five years that shapes federal farm subsidies and nutrition assistance programs.20 Noem eventually secured a seat on the Agriculture Committee six months later when a vacancy occurred.21
On Capitol Hill, Noem worked to reduce spending and focused on rolling back what she considered onerous regulations. In 2011, for instance, her bill to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from tightening air quality standards for farms passed the House but was not debated in the Senate.22 She argued against raising the debt ceiling without securing budget cuts, joined most House Republicans in supporting the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and backed calls to transform Medicare into a voucher program.23 At the same time, Noem, whose family farm— like many in the state—received federal subsidies, supported the government’s agricultural programs, and voted against several Republican proposals to impose across-the-board spending cuts.24
From her seat on the Agriculture Committee, Noem led an effort to pass the 2012 farm bill. With the existing law set to expire on October 1, Noem encouraged President Barack Obama to convince House Democrats to vote for the bill and criticized Republicans who wanted to amend it to reduce federal spending.25 “I take my orders from my district,” Noem declared. After a bipartisan but unsuccessful attempt to force a vote on the bill using a discharge petition, Noem stressed the need for a new farm bill on the House Floor.26 Although the 112th Congress (2011–2013) ended before the farm bill passed, Congress extended the existing legislation for a year. In late 2013, Noem helped put the final touches on the new version in conference committee. Signed into law in January 2014, the farm bill included a “sodsaver” provision—championed by Noem and South Dakota Senator John Thune—that used financial incentives to encourage the conservation of prairie land and the protection of wetlands.27
In 2013 Noem moved from Natural Resources to the House Armed Services Committee where she worked to protect South Dakota’s Ellsworth Air Force Base, an important economic engine back home.28 She also drafted legislation to protect members of the military from sexual assault and worked with Representative Tammy Duckworth of Illinois on a bipartisan proposal to extend maternity leave for women in the military.29 Noem’s provisions were added to National Defense Authorization Acts passed in 2013 and 2014, respectively.30
Noem also continued working with Republican leadership and in 2014 Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana named her to the senior whip team.31 In the 114th Congress (2015–2017), Noem relinquished her committee assignments to join the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over America’s tax policy. In November 2015, Noem became the sole woman on an influential advisory group, chaired by Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, which met weekly to discuss party strategy.32 During her third term, Noem also served as co-chair of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues.33
Shortly after Noem won re-election in 2016, she announced her intention to run for governor of South Dakota in 2018.34 During her final term in the House, she worked on the Ways and Means Committee to pass the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017. “Parents are already stretched thin,” she said in a statement, “so the provisions in this bill are designed to help them—help them pay their bills, take care of their kids, go to work, and maybe at the end of the day, take a weekend where they can go and do something fun with their kids. That’s important to South Dakota.”35
In the 2018 South Dakota gubernatorial election, Noem received nearly 51 percent of the vote. She was the first woman elected governor of South Dakota and one of three Republican women governors in America.36
1Jonathan Ellis, “Kristi Noem Identifies with Ordinary S. Dakotans,” 3 October 2010, Argus Leader (Sioux Falls, SD): n.p.; Politics in America, 2012 (Washington, DC: CQ-Roll Call, Inc., 2011): 891; Tom Lawrence, “Noem: I Can Win,” 23 June 2010, Daily Republic (Mitchell, SD), https://www.mitchellrepublic.com/news/1527213-noem-i-can-win; Jay Kirschenmann, “Who’s Raising your Food? Chances Grow It’s a She,” 17 February 2004, Argus Leader: 1A; “Noem Hopes Republicans Nominate Her For Governor,” 7 September 2017, Capital Journal (Pierre, SD): A3.
2David Lias, “Noem Tells USD Grads to Prepare for Life’s Changes,” 19 December 2011, Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan (SD): n.p.; “The Freshman Graduates, Finally,” 19 January 2012, Washington Post: C2.
3Ellis, “Kristi Noem Identifies with Ordinary S. Dakotans”; Kirschenmann, “Who’s Raising your Food?”
4Hearings before the House Committee on Agriculture, Review of Federal Farm Policy, 106th Cong., 2nd sess. (2000): 1230–1241.
5Jonathan Ellis, “GOP Takes Best Shot at Herseth Sandlin,” 23 May 2010, Argus Leader: n.p.; Melanie Brandert, “Noem: Extend Wind Energy Window,” 8 February 2010, Daily Republic: n.p.
6“Republicans Choose Legislative Leaders,” 17 November 2008, Associated Press.
7Ellis, “GOP Takes Best Shot at Herseth Sandlin.”
8Philip Rucker, “Democrats’ ‘Mama Grizzly’ vs. ‘The Next Sarah Palin,’” 23 August 2010, Washington Post: A1; Ellis, “GOP Takes Best Shot at Herseth Sandlin.”
9Kevin Woster, “Republican Kristi Noem Entering U.S. House Race,” 16 February 2010, Rapid City Journal (SD): n.p.
10Barbara Soderlin, “Tax Cuts, More Lending Will Spur Jobs, Economy,” 2 May 2010, Rapid City Journal: n.p.; Politics in America, 2014 (Washington, DC: CQ-Roll Call, Inc., 2013): 891.
11South Dakota secretary of state, “2010 South Dakota Official Primary Election Results,” accessed 5 September 2019, https://sdsos.gov/elections-voting/election-resources/election-history/2010/2010_primary_statewide_race_returns.aspx; Jonathan Ellis, “State Rep. Kristi Noem to face Herseth Sandlin in Historic Clash,” 9 June 2010, Argus Leader: n.p.; Ledyard King, “Kristi Noem Lays Groundwork for Win with Visit to D.C.,” 30 July 2010, Argus Leader: n.p.
12Melissa Attias, “Finding Her Place,” 30 April 2011, Congressional Quarterly Weekly: n.p.; Politics in America, 2016, library.cqpress.com; “Instant GOP Stars,” 23 July 2010, Politico: n.p.; Rucker, “Democrats’ ‘Mama Grizzly’ vs. ‘The Next Sarah Palin’”; Almanac of American Politics, 2014 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013): 1518; King, “Kristi Noem Lays Groundwork for Win with Visit to D.C.”; Alexander Burns, “NRCC Adds 16 Top Targets,” 30 June 2010, Politico: n.p.; Ellis, “Kristi Noem Identifies with Ordinary S. Dakotans.”
13“House Hopefuls Sound Off: Noem: Kristi Noem,” 31 May 2010, Argus Leader: B1; “‘Young Guns’ and Other GOP Congressmen Who Played Pivotal Roles in Debt Debate,” 5 August 2011, Washington Post: A1.
14Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”
15Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 1519; “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”
16Ledyard King, “‘No-nonsense’ Noem in Spotlight,” 21 November 2010, Argus Leader: A6.
17Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 1519.
18Jessica Brady, “NRCC Expanding Regional Team in 2012,” 1 March 2011, Roll Call: n.p.; Politics in America, 2014: 892.
19“Noem on Agriculture Committee: Better Late than Never,” 12 June 2011, Aberdeen American News (SD): n.p.
20Renée Johnson and Jim Monke, “2018 Farm Bill Primer: What is the Farm Bill?,” Report IF11126, 8 March 2019, Congressional Research Service: 1–2; “Noem on Agriculture Committee: Better Late than Never.”
21“Noem on Agriculture Committee: Better Late than Never”; Jerry Hagstrom, “Noem on House Ag Committee: South Dakota Representative Appointed to Post on Committee,” 20 June 2011, Grand Forks Herald (ND): 24; Congressional Record, House, 112th Cong., 1st sess. (14 June 2011): 9128.
22Politics in America, 2016; Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act of 2011, H.R. 1633, 112th Cong., 1st sess. (2011).
23Peter Harriman, “Kristi Noem Talks about Budget, Debt Ceiling,” 13 March 2011, Argus Leader: n.p.; Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 1518; Dana Ferguson, “Candidates Split on How to Fix ACA Flaws,” 16 October 2016, Argus Leader: A3; Jonathan Ellis, “Navigating Kristi Noem, GOP in ’12,” 8 May 2011, Argus Leader: B1.
24Attias, “Finding Her Place”; Politics in America, 2016; Ellis, “Kristi Noem Identifies with Ordinary S. Dakotans.”
25David Montgomery, “Noem Enlists Obama for Farm Bill,” 17 August 2012, Argus Leader: 3.
26Jennifer Steinhauer, “Deal on a Farm Bill Appears Unlikely,” 13 September 2012, New York Times: A20; Congressional Record, House, 112th Cong., 2nd sess. (20 September 2012): 14502.
27“Crucial Time for Farm Bill, Prairie,” 28 August 2013, Argus Leader: C1; “Farm Bill a Win for State Land,” 12 February 2014, Argus Leader: D1; Agricultural Act of 2014, PL 113-79, 128 Stat. 649 (2014).
28Politics in America, 2016; Kristi Noem, “Ellsworth’s place in our Military’s Strategic Framework,” 27 September 2017, Argus Leader: B2.
29Kristi Noem, “Combat Sexual Assault in the Military,” 27 May 2013, Rapid City Journal (SD): n.p.; Josh Hicks, “Bipartisan Bill would Increase Maternity Leave for Military Moms,” 13 May 2014, Washington Post: n.p.
30National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014, PL 113-66, 127 Stat. 672 (2013); National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015, PL 113-291, 128 Stat. 3292 (2014).
31Wesley Lowery, “Rep. Patrick McHenry Named GOP Chief Deputy House Whip,” 27 June 2014, Washington Post: n.p.; Lauren French and John Bresnahan, “McHenry Tapped as Chief Deputy Whip,” 26 June 2014, Politico: n.p.
32Christopher Doering, “House Speaker Ryan Finds Confidant in S.D.’s Rep. Kristi Noem,” 2 May 2016, Argus Leader: A2; Lindsey McPherson and Emma Dumain, “These Eight Republicans Could Save the Conference from Breaking,” 18 November 2015, Roll Call: n.p.
33Almanac of American Politics, 2016 (Arlington, VA: Columbia Books & Information Services, 2015): 1658.
34Jonathan Ellis, “Noem Announces Bid for Governor,” 15 November 2016, Argus Leader: A4.
35Quotation from “With Noem’s Leadership, House Passes Tax Reform Proposal,” official website of Representative Kristi Noem, press release, 16 November 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20180919001351/https://noem.house.gov/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=75205917-3E9F-4A8D-9E85-EB9A034A8E26; Evan Hendershot, “SD Republicans Show Support for Tax Reform,” 2 November 2017, Daily Republic: n.p.; Evan Hendershot, “Thune, Noem Champion Tax Plan as it Moves Forward,” 19 December 2017, Daily Republic: n.p.
36South Dakota secretary of state, “General Election: November 6, 2018,” accessed 5 September 2019, http://electionresults.sd.gov/resultsSW.aspx; Lisa Kaczke, “Govern for Next Generation,” 6 January 2019, Argus Leader: A6; Republican Governors Association, “Governors,” accessed 4 September 2019, https://www.rga.org/governors/.