South Dakota residents are using billboard advertisements to go after Gov. Kristi Noem for moves made during the last eight months, drawing bipartisan criticism.
The first-term governor last November authorized the use of state tax dollars to challenge the legality of a voter-approved ballot measure legalizing marijuana. And this summer, Noem accepted a $1 million donation from a Tennessee billionaire to cover the cost of sending 50 soldiers with the South Dakota National Guard to the southern border.
Both moves were met with heavy criticism from both Democrats and Noem’s fellow Republicans in and outside of South Dakota. And now, billboard companies are cashing in as a group of west river residents and a Sioux Falls-based political action committee (PAC) are paying thousands to run ads that call Noem out for the controversial moves.
“South Dakota National Guard Not For Rent,” reads a 14-foot by 48-foot billboard along Interstate 29 near the 41st Street exit.
Another Noem-related ad displayed at the corner of 14th Street and Cliff Avenue, where more than 28,000 vehicles pass by each day, notes that more South Dakotans voted for Constitutional Amendment A, the legal marijuana measure passed last November, than voted for Noem’s gubernatorial campaign in 2018.
Citizens for a Better South Dakota Chair Brian Gochal said the organization began running the Noem-cannabis advertisement this week to highlight “the hubris” that it requires for someone to stand up against something that enjoys more support than they do.
“It’s tongue in cheek, but more people voted for cannabis than voted for her,” Gochal told the Argus Leader. “This was an opportunistic moment to kind of show people that they’re not alone in their frustration.”
To Gochal’s point, Noem earned 172,912 votes in her 2018 run compared to the 225,260 yes votes cast for Amendment A. However, Noem received more than 230,000 votes in her 2016 re-election bid to the U.S. House.
Presidential election years have higher voter turnouts than election years when the governor’s office is up.
Gochal said Citizens for a Better South Dakota spent almost $1,400 on a contract to run the advertisement at 16 different billboards across Sioux Falls on a rotating basis over the next 30 days.
The “South Dakota National Guard Not For Rent” ad is also greeting thousands of vehicles a day. Suzanne is among four friends from Rapid City who decided to pool their money to buy an ad after commiserating over their opposition to Noem’s use of private funds to back a military mission of the South Dakota National Guard.
And after it began running along a main thoroughfare in Rapid City last week, she said people “started dropping off bags of money” to keep the ad running beyond the original three-day contract.
And Thursday, the group brought their message to the east side of the state where it’s now running at 41st Street and I-29, where more than 130,000 cars, trucks and motorcycles pass by each week.
“The governor’s stunt of getting a million dollars and sending them to Texas offended us mightily,” Iudicello said.
So far, the group of friends has spent about $1,200 to run the ads both in Rapid City and Sioux Falls. And Iudicello said there’s discussions of putting one up in El Paso, Texas, where the guard unit is deployed.
All that billboard attention, though, isn’t fazing Noem and her administration. Her spokesman, Ian Fury, said in an email Thursday afternoon they’re taking the criticism in stride.
“The beauty of our country is the freedom to speak one’s mind, and the sponsors are certainly entitled to do that,” he wrote. “Gov. Noem is focused on making the right decisions for South Dakota. If you’re taking flak, it’s a good sign that you’re over the target.”