On Monday, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem published an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal in which she delineated the difference between her politically conservative decision to refuse to use COVID-19 to intrude into her citizens’ lives as opposed to the “harsh” restrictions progressive governors have implemented across the nation.
Noem started by noting that many of her peers will have to look for ways to address the budgetary crises precipitated by their lockdowns, writing, “Some will propose tax increases. Others will take on more debt, and a few will be forced to make significant budget cuts.”
Then she articulated the route she has taken, and how her government has stuck to small-government, conservative practices:
In South Dakota, as we have done throughout this pandemic, we will forge a different path. Rather than following the pack and mandating harsh rules, South Dakota provides our residents with information about what is happening on the ground in our state—the science, facts and data. Then, we ask all South Dakotans to take personal responsibility for their health, the health of their loved ones, and — in turn — the health of our communities. The state hasn’t issued lockdowns or mask mandates. We haven’t shut down businesses or closed churches. In fact, our state has never even defined what an “essential business” is. That isn’t the government’s role.
Noem pointed out the crushing impact of lockdowns, a product of other lawmakers’ “tunnel vision”:
Since March, many of my peers have attempted to stop the spread of the virus without considering their citizens’ social or mental well-being or the state of their economies. Even amid a pandemic, public policy ought to be holistic. Daily needs must still be met. People need to eat and keep a roof over their heads. And they still need purpose. That means policy makers cannot have tunnel vision. They must balance public-health concerns with people’s mental and emotional needs, their economic livelihoods and social connections, and liberty, among many other important factors.
Taking on her critics in the media who have slammed her, she continued:
Many in the media have criticized this approach, labeling me ill-informed, reckless and even a “denier.” Some have asserted that South Dakota is “as bad as it gets anywhere in the world” when it comes to Covid-19 — a demonstrably false statement. At the same time, my critics praise states that issued lockdowns, mandated masks and shut down businesses — lauding these states as having taken the “right” steps to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Noem turned to states that have implemented harsh lockdowns to show their ill-effect: Illinois “experienced a new single-day record in Covid-19 deaths on Dec. 2, and its active case counts are higher, on a per capita basis, than South Dakota’s has ever been.” New Jersey “still has had the most deaths in the country per capita, has had a mask mandate in place since June and has imposed $15,000-a-day fines on businesses that refuse to close. Still, over the last two weeks of November, its hospitalizations increased by 34%, a six-month high.”
California: “The AP recently reported Covid hospitalizations have increased nearly 90% and could triple by Christmas.”
“Until we have an effective and widely available vaccine, the virus will spread — science tells us that,” she asserted. “That’s one of the reasons why, at the outset, the nation’s goal was to manage hospital capacity. In South Dakota, we have kept our focus on this goal, and continued to ensure our hospitals aren’t overwhelmed and can serve their communities well.”
The result in South Dakota? Her state is “entering 2021 in one of the strongest financial positions in the country,” with the nation’s third-lowest unemployment rate (3.6%) and a $19.1 million surplus for 2020. Other states, like Illinois, New Jersey and New York, have just added to their billions in deficits, she notes.
South Dakota won’t be taking on billions of dollars in new debt. We won’t be raising taxes on residents or businesses. And we won’t be looking to Congress to send us more stimulus money. Given the oath I swore as governor, it is my responsibility to respect the rights of the people and to manage state operations in a balanced, prudent fashion that reflects the realities on the ground here. I am confident that we have and will continue to come out ahead of many other states in important measures of public health, economic well-being and liberty.
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