Gov. Kristi Noem resumes travels less than one month after back surgery

After heading to Rapid City for the debate, Gov. Kristi Noem left the state for a campaign event with gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake in Arizona. The move drew criticism from some who pointed to Noem's implication in September that recovery from back surgery would curtail her ability to travel for several months.

Kari Lake and Kristi Noem
Gov. Kristi Noem poses with Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake at a campaign event on Oct. 4.
Kari Lake / Twitter
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Gov. Kristi Noem resumed her travels outside South Dakota for the first time since her back surgery in early September, appearing at an Oct. 4 campaign event in Scottsdale, Arizona, with Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake.

Democrats in South Dakota were quick to criticize the appearance along with a planned fundraiser in Florida next week as inconsistent with past statements, since Noem said in a Sept. 12 video disclosing her surgery that she would be limited in her travels and wouldn’t be able to “get out and about South Dakota like [she loves] to do so much" for several months.

The Noem campaign told Forum News Service that the governor’s travels, both to Rapid City this past weekend for the debate and to Arizona this week, have been modified to stay consistent with her recovery plan. Noem was seated for the debate and, according to this video , sat for most of the event with Lake. She also opted not to ride in the recent Buffalo Roundup in Custer as she has done in the past.

Jamie Smith, the Democratic candidate for governor, tweeted that Noem “can’t help but to choose national politics over South Dakota.” Noem’s national aspirations have been a major part of Smith’s messaging, appearing in both his first campaign ad and his stump speech.

“I'm not running to be president of the United States. I'm running to be governor of the state of South Dakota,” Smith said at an event in Sioux Falls on Oct. 3.


Ian Fury, the director of communications for the campaign, framed the Arizona trip as a natural extension of Noem’s role as a Republican governor.

“Why is it a surprise that Republicans are helping Republicans?” Fury wrote in a statement to Forum News Service. “South Dakota is proving that freedom gets results, and Kari Lake will bring the same principles to Arizona.”

According to FiveThirtyEight’s weighted polling average , Lake has surged from around seven points behind in the past few months, and currently sits in a virtual tie with Democratic opponent Katie Hobbs.

Noem’s trip coincides with the Oct. 7 wedding of her daughter, Kennedy Noem, which is also taking place in Arizona. Fury says the state airplane “was not involved” in the trip.

“Of course she's going to go to her daughter's wedding, no one is going to dispute that,” said Linda Duba, a Democratic candidate for the legislature in Sioux Falls. “But do you need to campaign with the woman running for governor in Arizona when you've already told the voters in South Dakota you can't do it here? I question that, I think it goes to integrity.”

On Nov. 8, South Dakotans rejected a ballot measure that would have legalized marijuana in the state among anyone 21 years and over. Now, the more than 100 businesses clamoring for a piece of this industry will have to attempt to sustain themselves on a few thousand medical patients.

Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or

Jason Harward covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at
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