PIERRE, S.D. — Like a sports car that hit a pothole. Or maybe a sinkhole.
That's the crescendo of criticism from conservative media personalities over rising star South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem's refusal to sign a flat prohibition on transgender athletes playing in girls' and women's sports.
From The Washington Post to Fox News to even editors for MAGA-courting website The Federalist, the consensus is the belt-buckled small-state governor and would-be presidential candidate had already done the hard thing. She'd brandished credentials staring down calls to protect her citizens from COVID-19 with lockdowns or a mask mandate.
But she can't transcend that one final barrier to national limelight in a post-Trump GOP: signing a bill to keep transgender girls off sports teams in the state.
"This one is a hill we should die on," talk show host Glenn Beck said to Noem at the outset of an interview earlier this week. "And it looks like you're lowering the flag."
The political calculation away from the beltway and closer to the Big Sioux might be thornier.
"I was in North Carolina when HB 2, the so-called "bathroom bill" went down," said Thomas Lee, executive director for the Sioux Falls Sports Authority, in a phone interview with Forum News Service on Thursday, March 25. "It went well beyond sports. It was conferences, conventions, and potentially businesses that were thinking about relocating to Charlotte."
"And that's going to happen here because this bill, whether if it's signed into law, is going to be deemed discriminatory," added Lee.
Lee's organization, and others invested in Sioux Falls' growth, oppose HB 1217, not only because it harms transgender children, but also because national groups — such as the NCAA — agree it harms transgender kids and may boycott the city.
Sioux Falls' rise as a prairie metropolis has mirrored the city's sports bona fides. With the building of two sports arenas, the city hosts concerts, NCAA events, and the Summit League basketball championship, which alone brings in $5 million to the city's restaurants and hotels, Lee said.
There's also that new Amazon facility scheduled north of town.
On Monday, the governor, whose campaign records show affiliation with Sioux Falls power-brokers said as much to Fox's Tucker Carlson.
"We've a small state, Tucker," said Noem. "We've had to fight hard to bring any tournaments to South Dakota."
When Noem suggested Carlson was "preaching her sermon," the pugnacious talking-head didn't bite.
"You vetoed the bill."
So marks an unexpected grounding — or delayed take-off — for the governor who was jetting to national attention.
Noem had breezed through her third legislative session, otherwise flush with money, buying up broadband grants, railroad upgrades, low-income college scholarships, and even a rodeo facility in Huron. But since the "fairness in women's sports" bill passed the Senate — and her infamous tweet that she'd sign it — it's been a bumpy road.
There was the abrupt departure of senior policy adviser, Maggie Seidel, who said she'd left for "another incredible opportunity." Then came word Noem actually wouldn't sign HB 1217 as written. Then came Monday's hastily arranged news conference and word that her website used photos without consent from girls in Ohio.
As the national heat turns up, local Republicans who might normally back the former farmer and rancher from Hamlin County aren't coming to her rescue.
"Why not allow transgender men to destroy your daughters in athletics if it means we could get an Amazon warehouse?" Rep. Scott Odenbach, R-Spearfish, wrote on Facebook earlier this week.
The post drew likes from at least half-a-dozen legislators. In less than a week, they'll all be back in Pierre for Veto Day, and the other 90-plus lawmakers will weigh in, too.
Reached by phone on Thursday, Senate Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck declined an interview request about how the Senate will proceed on HB 1217.
"I'm on vacation," he wrote.
Christopher Vondracek is the South Dakota correspondent for Forum News Service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @ChrisVondracek.