(The Center Square) – South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem used the slogan “Freedom Works Here” in her State of the State address Tuesday, a day after lawmakers questioned a workforce development campaign with the same name.
Noem said the advertisements featuring her in various professions led to a 78% increase in plumbing licenses, 44% for electricians, and 43% for accountants.
The campaign, overseen by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, is being questioned by both parties.
“I want to see hard data. We keep hearing that thousands have moved here and it’s strictly, and, and, we’ve been told that it’s based on this program, but yet when we push GOED to get that data they can’t give it to us and they keep telling us ‘Well that’s hard to measure,’” Rep. Linda Duba, D-Sioux Falls, told South Dakota Public Broadcasting after the speech. “If you’re going to claim this, if you’re going to claim that thousands have moved here, I want hard data that shows that they signed up through this website. That they’re coming here.”
The South Dakota Legislature’s Executive Board grilled former and current GOED officials about the campaign’s bidding process on Monday but took no action. They mainly focused on why the creative services company Go West was awarded the bid. The contract did not require a formal bidding process, lawmakers were told.
“If you’re going to pick the company you want, just pick them,” said Rep. Oren Lesmeister, D-Parade, in a statement. “Don’t waste state employees’ time and people’s money by creating these RFPs if you know who you’re going to pick. If it can be done, as long as the outcome is good, that’s all we want.”
Noem also addressed abortion and early childcare, declaring 2024 to be the “Freedom for Life Year.”
“So what are we doing in South Dakota? We are offering the Bright Start program to get one-on-one nursing services to first-time moms and their babies from pregnancy until the child’s second birthday,” Noem said. “The Department of Social Services’ Pregnancy Health Home will offer care coordination to all pregnant mothers who are enrolled in Medicaid. These moms also have access to prenatal and postpartum coverage for up to a year after birth along with well-child and health maintenance exams.”
Democratic Sen. Reynold Nesiba said Democrats and the governor agree on many things but said Noem continues to oppose Pre-K and funding for childcare.
“She also opposed accepting federal dollars to reduce child hunger during the summer that would be consistent with her support for families,” Nesiba said. “And on some points, we simply disagree. The governor brags that we pay the cost of background checks for concealed permit applicants. We use revenue generated in part from infant formula and baby food to pay for that. That’s simply wrong.”