Commentary

Noem’s border aid comes with personal costs for South Dakotans

February 6, 2024 6:00 am
Gov. Kristi Noem speaks on Aug. 21, 2023, near the nation's southern border. With Noem are, from left, Govs. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, Kim Reynolds of Iowa, Greg Abbott of Texas, and Jim Pillen of Nebraska. (Courtesy of Gov. Noem's office)

Gov. Kristi Noem speaks on Aug. 21, 2023, near the nation’s southern border. With Noem are, from left, Govs. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, Kim Reynolds of Iowa, Greg Abbott of Texas, and Jim Pillen of Nebraska. (Courtesy of Gov. Noem’s office)

During a rare joint session of the Legislature, Gov. Kristi Noem gave lawmakers an accounting of her recent trip to the “warzone” at the Texas-Mexico border. She was soon caught up in a different kind of accounting amid revelations that South Dakota taxpayers are going to be on the hook for the cost of sending the state’s National Guard troops to Texas. 

South Dakota’s National Guard has been deployed to the Texas border three times. Once at the behest of the federal government, which paid for that trip. Noem has sent troops twice, at a cost of at least $1.3 million which has been paid through the state’s Emergency and Disaster Fund. A Tennessee benefactor also kicked in $1 million to pay for one of the deployments.

Noem to lawmakers: Be ready to take action on southern border ‘invasion’

The same week as Noem’s speech to the Legislature, Kristi Turman of the Department of Public Safety testified to lawmakers that all states belong to the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, a mutual aid agreement. Turman told legislators that all states that owed South Dakota after requesting aid through EMAC had paid up. All except Texas. 

A Texas official told South Dakota Searchlight that the mission of protecting the southern border is so important that states that send aid should not expect to be reimbursed. 

At a press conference, Noem disputed the notion that states always pay each other back for aid received through EMAC. She also revealed that she knew all along that South Dakota would have to pick up the tab for sending its National Guard troops to Texas.

For some reason, Noem has chosen the southern border as her mission, a mission that has left South Dakota taxpayers on the hook for more than $1 million. 

Noem’s latest trip to Texas comes at a time when Donald Trump has all but sewn up the GOP presidential nomination. That has increased speculation about who he could choose as his running mate. Noem is often listed among the vice presidential hopefuls. Certainly her latest trip to the Texas border and enthusiasm for deploying the South Dakota National Guard will serve to burnish her conservative credentials and keep her on Trump’s list of potential running mates. 

Noem is often listed among the vice presidential hopefuls. Certainly her latest trip to the Texas border and enthusiasm for deploying the South Dakota National Guard will serve to burnish her conservative credentials and keep her on Trump’s list of potential running mates.

As Noem declares her backing for Texas, it’s easy to wonder who has the backs of National Guard members and their families. Some of them may be thinking about spending some time this winter where it’s warm, but a Texas deployment isn’t likely their first choice.

Members of the Guard know that deployment is an option when they sign up. Usually the commercials seeking recruits show the National Guard rescuing their friends and neighbors from natural disasters, not stringing razor wire along the Rio Grande. 

From the past deployments to Texas, it’s apparent that Noem is OK with South Dakota taxpayers footing the bill. However, there’s another price that’s paid by South Dakotans during these deployments — a human price. 

Noem confirms $1.3 million of border assistance was a gift to Texas

That price is paid by every mother or father who gets the unexpected, 24-seven pleasure of being a single parent during the deployment. 

That price is paid by employers who must be patient enough and flexible enough to operate short-handed during the deployment. 

That price is paid by every Guard member who misses out on a raise or a promotion during their absence from work during the deployment. 

That price is paid by the children of Guard members whose parents miss birthday parties, school activities and sporting events during the deployment. 

Gov. Noem has the power to deploy the state’s National Guard as she sees fit. She has proven that. If she does it again, let’s hope there’s some pushback from legislators since it is their constituents who will be footing the bill. Let’s also hope that in the future Noem can find some other way to keep her name in the news rather than placing a needless burden on the state’s taxpayers and National Guard families. 

 

GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Dana Hess
Dana Hess

Dana Hess spent more than 25 years in South Dakota journalism, editing newspapers in Redfield, Milbank and Pierre. He's retired and lives in Brookings, working occasionally as a freelance writer.

MORE FROM AUTHOR