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Friday, September 3, 2010

Noem's Court Record, Public Safety, and (Finally!) Policy

We in the South Dakota blogosphere have had far too much fun blogging about Kristi Noem's habitual lawbreaking and the associated political and cultural fallout. Amend that: we in the left lobe of the South Dakota blog-brain have been having fun. Some on the right and in the pews have offered some wise warning. But the right-wing blogs plugged into Noem's cult of personality have been having an awful time, scrambling unsuccessfully to compose a coherent counternarrative.

But this is all personality and not policy, right? Even I can recognize that a case can be made that Bill Janklow, whose reckless driving killed Randy Scott, was still a better governor, with bigger, bolder policy initiatives and goals, than safe insurance man Mike Rounds. What impact does Noem's lead foot really have on public affairs?

Perhaps the revelation by the press of Noem's recklessness will boost public safety, at least until November 2. Right now, when Noem gets behind the wheel, we can all hope she's thinking, "If I blow another stop sign, that darn Don Jorgenson will make me look bad again." Driving safely is certainly on Dems' minds: we don't want to be the next blog headline and diminish Herseth Sandlin's advantage on the story (though really, she's the only woman who can do that, and she's driving extra carefully this fall... right, Stephanie?).

Noem's habitual highway hijinks also rise beyond the purely personal to illuminate policy issues. A Facebook correspondent reminds me that Kristi Noem voted no this year on House Bill 1178, which would have banned texting while driving. She voted no twice on the bill, on February 17 and February 18. The latter vote happened just one day before Noem paid $130 to Moody County for tearing up I-29 at 94 miles per hour. In the latter vote, HB 1178 failed by one vote: had Noem flipped, the bill would have moved forward. Noem helped kill a similar bill in committee in 2009.

Instead of listening to the science that says texting behind the wheel is more dangerous than driving drunk, instead of following the lead of other states that are penalizing drivers for endangering public safety with their irresistible need to tweet, Noem voted to let unsafe driving remain legal.

Maybe Noem is speaking from experience: Why fine texting? Fines are silly. They don't stop me from speeding and blowing stop signs. Heck, they don't even get me to court on time. Maybe Noem herself texts from the road. She likes to make videos from the road... but at least she has Beth driving her around. Maybe Noem just didn't want to give the officers one more thing to stop her for.

Noem's votes on HB 1178 show how her disregard for the law and public safety isn't just a character issue, but a policy issue. When a candidate regularly breaks the law and ignores the courts, that candidate is more likely to oppose laws that hold her and other citizens accountable for other dangerous actions.

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