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Rep. Jamie Smith says he'll be governor 'for all South Dakotans'

The two-term Sioux Falls Democratic representative dinged Gov. Noem for appraiser scandal and out-of-state fundraisers in making his case for a leadership change in Pierre.

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House Minority Leader Jamie Smith, D-Sioux Falls, announces his candidacy for governor at a hotel in Pierre, South Dakota, on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022.
Christopher Vondracek / Forum News Service
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PIERRE — South Dakota Rep. Jamie Smith got momentarily tongue-tied at the outset of his speech Tuesday, Feb. 1, announcing his candidacy for governor.

"For the past four years," he said, and then stopped.

"Let me start again," Smith, standing by his wife and parents, said to laughter.

And then he gained steam.

Democrat Smith went on to list his criticisms of incumbent Gov. Kristi Noem, from a nepotism charge involving her daughter's real estate appraisal certification to fundraisers with GOP donors in Wyoming, Florida, Texas, and Washington, D.C.

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"Whether you're a Republican, an Independent, whether you're a Democrat, rural, urban, gay, trans, straight, white, Black, Native American," Smith said, "you're another South Dakotan."

Smith introduced himself to South Dakotans at the Tuesday event at the Ramkota Hotel in Pierre by telling them what they should expect from the two-term, teacher-turned-real estate agent from Sioux Falls.

He will face headwinds, both historic and financially. A Democrat has not sat in the governor's chair in Pierre since Jimmy Carter was the president. Moreover, Republican Noem's team has amassed $10 million to spend on a campaign. Smith currently has little in the bank.

The former wrestling and football coach, who serves as the House Minority Leader in Pierre and enjoys a friendly relationship with members across the aisle, also projected an image of South Dakota that would be in stark contrast to the state led by Noem.

Smith said he'd "respect tribal sovereignty," alluding to a standoff over checkpoints between Noem and tribal nations. He said he would invest in teacher pay , currently the second-lowest in the nation. And he said rather than fight constitutional amendments approved by the state, he'd support voters' will.

In a nod to the conservative state's tax history, he also offered a potential campaign slogan: "I will work to make recreational marijuana a reality and keep your taxes low."

One plank that didn't make it into his speech was the COVID-19 pandemic, which has brought national attention to the state and Noem over the last two years for her laissez-faire approach to public mandates.

But, upon questioning from reporters after the speech, Smith invoked a favorite line of Noem's, saying he would've "followed the science."

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"I would've encouraged mask-wearing," Smith said. "I think mask-wearing in large crowds is something I would've pushed for early."

He also said he would've used "other metrics" beyond hospital bed capacity for determining the state's overall virus posture.

During Smith's speech, Noem's campaign issued a bulletin to reporters calling him an "extreme liberal," saying he "has an F rating with the NRA" and "marched with BLM."

Asked to respond, Smith and his supporters laughed off the comparison.

"I think the crowd's laughing because it's just not true," he said, claiming an "incredible rating" from the Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce.

"I am a pro-business Democrat," said Smith. "That's a ridiculous statement."

Smith is the second member of the House of Representatives to announce for governor. Last year, Rep. Steve Haugaard, R-Sioux Falls, announced a primary challenge to Noem.

Christopher Vondracek is the South Dakota correspondent for Forum News Service. Contact Vondracek at cvondracek@forumcomm.com , or follow him on Twitter: @ChrisVondracek .

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MORE FROM CHRISTOPHER VONDRACEK:
The state's biggest political leaders have touted inbound migration, so-called "blue state refugees" who flooded South Dakota. But the biggest driver of partisan races this coming summer and fall appears to be a redistricting process, log-jamming Republicans in primaries and opening up new turf for Democrats.

Christopher Vondracek covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at cvondracek@forumcomm.com or follow him on Twitter at @ChrisVondracek.
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