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Gov. Kristi Noem, denounced for shooting her dog, describes making ‘hard decisions’ at California GOP gathering

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem takes the stage at the California Republican Party Spring Convention in Burlingame, Calif.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem takes the stage at the California Republican Party Convention in Burlingame on Saturday. Noem has been widely criticized for comments in her recent book in which she describes how she shot and killed her family’s 14-month-old dog.
(Loren Elliott / For The Times)
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South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, once considered a potential 2024 running mate for former President Trump, received a warm reception at a gathering of California Republicans on Saturday just weeks after facing a harsh public backlash after she admitted killing her “untrainable” hunting dog.

Noem, a champion of gun rights, warned of the perils facing the nation and her conservative leadership in the rural state, including her refusal to impose government shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have an election year coming up here in 2024 where I don’t think it’s about Republicans and Democrats anymore. I don’t think it’s about political parties,” Noem told more than 200 people at a luncheon at the California Republican Party convention in Burlingame, just south of San Francisco. “I think it is about people who love America and people who are trying to destroy it.”

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She did not directly mention the incident with her dog that she wrote about in her book, “No Going Back: The Truth on What’s Wrong With Politics and How We Move America Forward,” which came out this month.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who wrote about killing a 14-month-old hunting dog because it was ‘untrainable’ and ‘dangerous,’ is scheduled to address the state GOP convention Saturday in San Francisco.

May 15, 2024

But Noem alluded to the controversy over her decision to kill a 14-month-old wire-haired pointer named Cricket in a gravel pit because it was a poor hunting dog and killed some farm chickens.

“Listen, I have a book that has come out. You may have heard a little bit about it,” Noem said to laughter. “I guarantee you if you listen to the media, you have not heard the truth. So I would recommend you read it.”

Lunch attendees received a copy of the book as part of their ticket purchase; Noem signed copies and posed for selfies after her remarks. Tickets ranged from $300 to $575 with the top price including an invitation to a reception with Noem.

The tale of Cricket was the talk of many convention attendees.

“We find out Gov. Kristi Noem’s coming to keynote our convention and everybody’s very excited. She’s dynamic, engaging, probably on the VP shortlist,” said a delegate from Contra Costa County, who requested anonymity because of potential scorn if he publicly discussed the incident. “And four days later, we find out the dog-killing story. And everybody’s like, ‘Uhhh?’ And even Trump’s not a dog guy, but even he was like, ‘She had a rough week.’”

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks at the California Republican Party Spring Convention in Burlingame, Calif.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks at the California Republican Party Spring Convention on Saturday in Burlingame, Calif.
(Loren Elliot / For The Times)
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He added that the upheaval was indicative of the hard luck of California Republicans.

Noem focused her remarks on her leadership of South Dakota, particularly during the pandemic, as well as her decision to send the state’s National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas to stem the influx of immigrants entering the country without authorization. She repeated warnings about drug cartels using Native American tribal lands in her state to commit crimes, remarks that have led some tribes to ban Noem from their reservations.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is now banned from entering nearly 20% of her state after two more tribes banished her this week over comments she made.

May 13, 2024

“The cartels have moved into the middle of our country. They have set up on my tribal reservations and they were proliferating their drug trafficking, their human trafficking, they’re raping our children and our women right in South Dakota, and they’re doing it protected by the federal government because the federal government refuses to bring law and order to those communities and keep people safe,” Noem said.

She said she has no jurisdiction since the tribal lands are a sovereign government and blamed President Biden for failing to intervene.

Noem, who had reportedly been on Trump’s shortlist of potential running mates but dropped off before the book controversy, also praised the former president as a genuine American, unlike most politicians.

“What did Donald Trump do when he announced that he was going to run for president? The guy comes down a golden escalator,” she said. “I was shocked by it. I was like, ‘This is gonna be the worst campaign plan I’ve ever seen in my entire life.’”

After quipping that her state has two escalators in it and that most South Dakotans couldn’t relate to an escalator, Noem argued that the moment showed Trump’s authenticity.

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“What was so fantastic about it was the fact that he wasn’t pretending to be something that he was not,” she said. “He was exactly who he was.”

State Republican Party delegate Anna Bryson, a former school board member from Orange County who attended the luncheon, said she was most impressed by Noem’s financial acumen, especially her efforts to reduce taxes.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks at the California Republican Party Spring Convention.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks at the California Republican Party Spring Convention on Saturday in Burlingame, Calif.
(Loren Elliot / For The Times)

“As a person who’s driven by who’s going to make the best economy for everybody, I was very impressed and I wasn’t really prepared to be impressed,” Bryson said, recounting her experience being elected to the Capistrano Unified School District amidst a budget deficit of more than $200 million and the need to avoid bankruptcy. “So I have to give her great kudos for the sound financial policies she’s putting in place.”

She gave her a pass on the dog controversy because Noem is a rancher, as are members of Bryson’s family.

“When you’re speaking to the average American whose dogs are really important in their families, like they’re members of their family … it’s a different world,” she added. “I’m sure she regrets it. Who wouldn’t? But with all of us in politics, if you’ve been elected you have had a moment where we didn’t say what we exactly meant, right?”

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More than 800 delegates, alternates and guests attended the convention at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport in Burlingame. The last time the state GOP met in Burlingame was in 2016, when protesters clashed with police outside because of an appearance by then-presidential candidate Trump. There were no protests Saturday afternoon outside the hotel, although several police officers were stationed around the building.

Times staff writer Anabel Sosa contributed to this report.

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