SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Gov. Kristi Noem won’t participate in a debate sponsored by South Dakota Public Broadcasting because of what her campaign spokesman called its “extreme leftward swing.”
In a break from precedent, the Republican governor has agreed to just one debate with her challenger, Democratic state Rep. Jamie Smith.
South Dakota Public Broadcasting said in a statement Friday that it would still proceed with “fair, in-depth candidate debates and interviews,” but place an empty chair where Noem would have sat.
Noem, who has also positioned herself for a 2024 White House bid, is following a nationwide trend of candidates — often Republicans — who are abandoning the time-honored tradition of debating their rivals before Election Day. For Noem, the snub was another opportunity to slam a media ecosystem that conservatives find elitist and cast herself in the mold of former President Donald Trump.
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“In the past, Governor Noem has made clear that she will not participate in debates hosted by hyper-partisan organizations or outlets. SDPB has repeatedly promoted the radical effort to re-write American history and cancel our Founding Fathers,” Ian Fury, a spokesman for Noem’s campaign, said in a statement Friday.
He added that South Dakota Public Broadcasting’s “extreme leftward swing precludes the possibility of a fair debate.”
The statement pointed to South Dakota Public Broadcasting’s interview last year with award-winning scholar and author Ibrahim X. Kendi in which he criticized Noem’s efforts to bar public schools and universities from using certain approaches to teaching about race. Noem previously singled out Kendi’s work in an executive order.
The station said in a statement: “South Dakota Public Broadcasting has a long history of fair and in-depth political coverage. Our longstanding tradition of hosting primetime debates for statewide and congressional offices furthers our public service mission. As the state’s only public media station, we reach areas of the state that otherwise go unserved by most media outlets.”
South Dakota Public Broadcasting is a state agency that operates under the Bureau of Information and Telecommunication, with $9 million in public funds and additional money raised through a nonprofit.
Noem’s campaign said South Dakota Public Broadcasting had inquired why she would not participate in its debate, as she did during the 2018 election cycle.
Her campaign had also criticized National Public Radio for declining to read the Declaration of Independence on July 4, which was previously an annual tradition.
Lori Walsh, who hosts and produces South Dakota Public Broadcasting’s “In The Moment,” read the document on the air Friday.
Noem’s gubernatorial challenger, Smith, said, “This is just another example of her trying to push the narrative in a hyper-partisan manner. Here again, she’s choosing not to debate on a platform that the South Dakota people have come to trust, and that’s a detriment to the people of South Dakota.”