Kristi Noem’s dreams growing up were not inspired by the television, the athletic field, or President Ronald Reagan. They were inspired by her father, a hard-working rancher who raised his family in the same mold.
“You know, he was a cowboy and a very hard worker,” she told the Daily Caller last week. “I don’t remember very many days where he wasn’t up and out the door by 5 or 6 a.m. He came in late at night. Nobody ever out-worked him. He demanded a lot out of his family. He taught us to work hard and to do everything with excellence, but he never expected more out of us than he was willing to do as well.”
“I knew from the time I was little that I wanted to grow up and to farm and ranch with my dad.”
While she grew up learning how to ranch, her dreams shifted to a post-secondary education, yearning for the self-made womanly independence that would help her become a leader in her life. Unfortunately, while attending South Dakota State University, her beloved father, her “superman”, would accidentally fall into a grain bin and suffocate under a sea of shelled corn. Kristi felt called to quit her education and come back to the farm to keep it running. It seemed she was doing what she wanted to do yet it just wasn’t the way she’d ever imagined it being.
“It was very hard to imagine doing it without him,” she said.
Running the farm with her mother was made more difficult after the passing of her father left the ranch open to the estate tax.
“We had to make a decision if we were going to sell land to pay those taxes or take out a loan. We chose, and made the decision, to take out a loan. But for 10 years that loan really impacted our ability to make a profit every year.”
To help pay for expenses, Kristi opened a pheasant hunting lodge 2 years later, while her mother fulfilled a lifelong dream of opening restaurant by buying a coffee shop. Kristi even helped her mother with the books at the coffee shop during late nights for several years. But the bitter experience with the estate tax led Kristi to discover a passion for something she’d not thought as much of before: State politics.
“That was definitely when my eyes opened. You know, when you run a business, you have a lot of experiences that teach you the ways that government can interfere or make it more difficult for you to keep your doors open.”
She started working on boards and running committees in the local community of Castlewood, 100 miles south of Sioux Falls. From there, in 2006, she ran for the State House of South Dakota in district 6, north of Sioux Falls, just outside of Watertown.
By her second term she was appointed assistant majority leader. Her burgeoning rise in the State chamber inspired her to jump into National politics and become one of three candidates Republican candidates to vie for the nomination to face Democrat incumbent Stephanie Herseth Sandlin in the 2010 election to become South Dakota’s lone Representative to the United States House. Her arrival in Washington in January was punctuated by the expectation of success that preceded her in South Dakota. The Republican Leadership in the House awarded her one of two newly created freshman leadership positions, along with newcomer Tim Scott from North Carolina. Considered a legitimate “hottie” in the Capitol, with her dark hair and beautiful looks, Kristi doesn’t seem to take a lot of stock in people’s admiration of her attractive presence and downplays this. She is also modest about on her position in the House leadership.
“I thought that was kind of an unfortunate distraction, I guess, when that came out,” Kristi said to the Daily Caller regarding The Huffington Post story giving her the distinction of being rated by their readers as the hottest freshman in Congress. “I don’t think about that too much. I’d rather they were talking about my solutions for our country rather than that, but we’ll get there.”
“For me, maybe it’s the benefit of not having a dream of being in politics my whole life. I’ve just lived a real life,” she said.
Recently, she has gone back to taking classes at South Dakota State to complete the studies she began before her life changed. She has been unfairly criticized for not having had a 4-year college degree but her meteoric rise into national politics suggests that she is more than capable of understanding complex legislation. Being a business owner and a student of life, it would seem there would be little room for doubt.
“My number one concern is the lack of a balanced budget and our deficit spending,” she told time.com during her campaign last year. “So for me, what I don’t hear people talking about enough is the fact that we need really strong leadership to get out of this — not necessarily just who is saying the right things but who is willing to stand there and draw a line in the sand.”
“I obviously look up to and admire Ronald Reagan, his leadership and ability to communicate his visions to the American people. But also our senator here in South Dakota, John Thune, has been a good source of help and inspiration for me as I’ve pursued this campaign.”