“When it directly affected the outcome of a license issue for her daughter, it certainly raises questions — and the important thing is the governor campaigned on transparency,” said South Dakota state Rep. Steven Haugaard, a Republican who is a former speaker of the House. Haugaard said both constituents and appraisers working in that field want to know whether Noem’s daughter was given “preferential treatment” and why she was involved in the meeting.
“Those are questions that need to be answered,” he said. “Then the public would be satisfied, and we can move on to something else. … I would like to see a transparent process just like everything in state government should be.”
South Dakota is a heavily Republican state where Trump won in 2020 with a 26-point margin. But Noem, a former congresswoman who won the 2018 gubernatorial race by about 3 points, is now facing two potential investigations into her conduct as state lawmakers from both parties cite concerns about the optics of the meeting involving her daughter.
The board makes an initial determination about whether an investigation is warranted and has the power to issue subpoenas as it gathers evidence. It can refer its findings to the Division of Criminal Investigation and if that division has reason to believe a law has been broken, the division can refer the matter to a state’s attorney or the attorney general for prosecution.
The governor said in a video last week that she has long believed the process for becoming a state-certified real estate appraiser is too onerous and she has been working to “eliminate barriers to licensure.” She described that system as broken and noted that the person in charge of the appraisal certification process had been in that role for 40 years.
CNN is unable to verify what happened in the July 2020 meeting. Bren would not comment on what had been discussed or on Kassidy Noem Peters’ application to become a real estate appraiser. The Associated Press reported that Peters was facing a denial of her certification to become a real estate appraiser when the July 2020 meeting took place. State officials told CNN there was no denial of Peters’ application.
While the governor has made it clear that she had long-standing concerns with the certification process, David Golemboski, assistant professor of government and international affairs at Augustana University in South Dakota, said Noem had a “significant conflict of interest” at the time of the meeting given that her daughter’s application was under review by state officials.
“It raises concerns, of course, that what was underway was an attempt to influence her subordinates in order to benefit her family member, which would be a real abuse of power, a real misuse of her office,” Golemboski said.
“Meeting with her daughter and these other members of her administration — with the chief of staff, the general counsel, the secretary of labor — that suggests that this was not a meeting simply to provide parental counseling and guidance,” Golemboski said, “but rather engaging somehow with the instruments of government that conduct the certification process.”
In an interview in downtown Sioux Falls, South Dakotan Charles Drevecky said the incident signaled to him that Noem “doesn’t respect openness and transparency.”
“I feel like her daughter just shouldn’t have been in there at all,” Drevecky said. “It almost felt like there were some arms being pulled during the whole thing to get her that license.”
But opinions are divided over the propriety of Noem’s actions as many wait for more information to emerge about what happened in the meeting.
“In South Dakota, it’s a family first-type thing, so I think any father or mother would probably try and do something to help her daughter,” said South Dakotan Mike Shaft. He said he doesn’t think anything he’s heard thus far rises to the level of needing an investigation but that “the optics weren’t great” for Noem.
“In hindsight, she probably shouldn’t have had her daughter present in the meeting,” said Steve Rath in an interview in Sioux Falls. “But it doesn’t really bother me that much. I think in the whole scheme of things — in terms of politicians — it’s a pretty minor offense compared to a lot of other things that have gone on.”
Controversy follows Noem in South Dakota as she eyes national stage