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South Dakota legislator calls for inquiry into Gov. Noem’s Texas dental trip and promo video

A Democratic legislator on Wednesday called for an inquiry into South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem’s trip to Texas for dental work and a promotional video in which she praises the doctors for giving her “a smile I can be proud of and confident in.”

State Sen. Reynold Nesiba said he initially found the nearly five-minute video to be simply odd. Later he considered other questions and asked the Republican co-chairs of the Legislature’s Government Operations & Audit Committee to put the matter on the panel’s next meeting agenda in July for discussion and questions.

“I just thought it was a very strange video about how much she enjoyed having her teeth done at that particular place,” said Nesiba, a member of the audit committee.

Nesiba said he wonders whether Noem used a state airplane or public funds for the Texas trip and whether the governor paid for the dental procedure or if it was discounted because of her video.

Noem’s office did not respond to questions Wednesday about the promotional video posted Monday night to her personal account on X in which she praised the dentists and staff at Smile Texas, a cosmetic dental practice in the Houston area.

In the video, Noem complimented the dentists that recently “gave me a smile I can be proud of and confident in.” Noem, who is seen as a potential vice-presidential pick by former President Donald Trump, identifies herself as the governor of South Dakota and includes clips of her speaking at a Republican Party event with Trump signs in the background.

A woman who answered the phone at Smile Texas cited privacy under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act in response to The Associated Press asking to speak with a member of the practice. When asked if Smile Texas plans to use Noem’s video for promotion, the woman said, “No, she posted that,” then hung up when asked again.

South Dakota law bans gifts of over $100 from lobbyists to public officials and their immediate family. A violation is a misdemeanor punishable up to a year in jail and/or a $2,000 fine. The state attorney general’s office declined to answer questions about whether the gift ban applies to people who are not registered lobbyists.

Noem’s video, in which the governor says she went to Smile because it was “the best,” comes at a time when South Dakota has spent $5 million on a workforce recruitment ad campaign in which she stars in TV spots portraying herself as a plumber, electrician, nurse and other high-demand workers.

Nesiba said the dental promotion “just undermines the millions of dollars that we have invested in her as being a spokesperson for South Dakota.”

Paul Miskimins, a Republican former state legislator who practiced dentistry over 37 years in South Dakota, said he saw nothing wrong with Noem seeking care out of state, noting he had sought dental care from a friend in Canada. Miskimins added that celebrities often give testimonials about dental work, and he didn’t see why a public official couldn’t do the same.

“I think that this is America, and we all have a right to choose where we receive our care,” Miskimins said.

Noem has previously faced ethics questions, including an investigation in 2019 about her use of a state plane to attend six events outside of South Dakota hosted by political organizations, including the Republican Governors Association, Republican Jewish Coalition, Turning Point USA and the National Rifle Association. At the time, the governor’s office defended the trips as part of her work as the state’s “ambassador” to bolster the state’s economy.

Noem also was criticized for having family members join her on several trips. But her office has said that was keeping in line with a precedent set by former governors.

Ultimately, South Dakota’s ethics board dismissed the complaint over Noem’s flights to the political events in 2022 because state law doesn’t clearly define what is meant by “state business.”

But the state ethics board did say Noem may have “engaged in misconduct” when she intervened in her daughter’s application for a real estate appraiser license.

The governor intervened with a state agency after it had moved to deny her daughter’s application for an appraiser license in 2020. Noem had called a meeting with her daughter, the labor secretary and the then-director of the appraiser certification program where a plan was discussed to give the governor’s daughter, Kassidy Peters, another chance to show she could meet federal standards in her appraiser work.

Noem has said she followed the law in handling her daughter’s licensure and that Peters received no special treatment.

Voters re-elected her in 2022 with 62% of the vote.

Michael Card, an emeritus political science professor at the University of South Dakota, said he has no ideas about the governor’s motivation for the video but found it puzzling.

“It just seems unusual for an elected official in office to make an infomercial like that,” he said.

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Dura reported from Bismarck, North Dakota, and Funk reported from Omaha, Nebraska.

Jack Dura And Josh Funk, The Associated Press


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