Good afternoon. It is such an honor to be here with all of you.
My guess is most of you didn’t know who I was a year ago.
But unlike the D.C. media, I am sure you all at least know there are two Dakotas.
I’m Governor of the warmer one.
I’m here today to share some of the lessons from my state. I think the main question that needs to be answered this weekend is: Why does America need conservatives?
The question of why America needs conservatives can be answered by just mentioning a single year. And that year is 2020.
Everybody knows that almost overnight, we went from a roaring economy to a tragic nationwide shutdown.
By the beginning of 2020, President Trump had created seven million new American jobs. We had the lowest unemployment rate in over half a century — and unemployment rates for Black, Hispanic, and Asian Americans reached the lowest levels in history. More than 10 million people had been lifted out of poverty and off welfare.
All of that changed in March. Most governors shut down their states. What followed was record unemployment. Businesses closed. Most schools were shuttered. Communities suffered. And the U.S. economy came to an immediate halt.
Let me be clear. COVID didn’t crush the economy. Government crushed the economy. And then, just as quickly, Government turned around and held itself out as the savior. Frankly, the Treasury Department can’t print money fast enough to keep up with Congress’ wish list.
But not everyone followed this path. For those of you who don’t know, South Dakota is the only state in America that never ordered a single business or church to close.
We never instituted a shelter-in-place order. We never mandated that people wear masks. We never even defined what an “essential business” is. Because I don’t believe Governors have the authority to tell you your business is not essential.
South Dakota schools are no different than schools everywhere else in America. But we approached the pandemic differently. From the earliest days of the pandemic, our priority was the students; their well-being; their education. When it was time to go back to school in the Fall, we put our kids in the classrooms. Teachers, administrators, parents, and the students themselves were of one mind: to make things work for our children. And the best way to do that was to get them back in the classroom.
In South Dakota, I provided all the information we had to our people. And then I trusted them to make the best decisions for themselves, their families, and – in turn – their communities.
We never focused on case numbers. Instead, we kept our eye on hospital capacity. Dr. Fauci told me that I would have 10,000 COVID patients in the hospital on our worst day. On our worst day, we had a little over 600. I don’t know if you agree but, Fauci is wrong a lot!
Even in a pandemic, public health policy needs to take into account people’s economic and social well-being. Daily needs still need to be met. People need to keep a roof over their heads and feed their families. And they still need purpose. They need their dignity.
My administration resisted the call for virus control at the expense of everything else. We looked at the science, data and facts and then took a balanced approach.
Truthfully, I never thought the decisions I was making were going to be unique. I thought there would be more who would follow basic, conservative principles – guess I was wrong.
Ask yourself this question. How far will people go to enforce mask mandates? Once you start lockdowns, how are you going to sustain them? In South Dakota, we had some cases in March and April, but the virus didn’t really hit the Midwest until late fall.
Should we have kept people in their homes from March onward?
Of course not.
It is important to ask those questions. We have to show people how arbitrary these restrictions are—and the coercion, force, and anti-liberty steps governments take to enforce them. Often, enforcement isn’t based on facts. Justifying these “mitigation efforts” has been anything but scientific.
Many in the media criticized South Dakota’s approach. They labeled me as ill-informed, reckless and even a “denier.” Some even claimed that South Dakota is “as bad as it gets anywhere in the world” when it comes to COVID-19—that is a lie.
The media did all of this while simultaneously praising governors who issued lockdowns, mandated masks, and shut down businesses—applauding them as having taken the “right” steps to mitigate the spread of the virus.
At one point, I appeared on George Stephanopoulos’s Sunday show. He had just wrapped up a segment with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Where he asked Cuomo to give ME advice on how to deal with COVID. Now seems like a good time to remind everyone of what Governor Cuomo was doing in New York.
On March 25, Cuomo ordered COVID patients into nursing homes and prohibited staff from testing people before admitting them. Nine days later, he pushed legislation prohibiting nursing home lawsuits over COVID deaths.
Six days after that, he prohibited nursing homes from sending COVID patients to the nearby naval hospital ship or the field hospital. Both of which were essentially empty.
Eight days after that, the first deaths began to show up.
And on January 28 of this year, the New York Attorney General announced that Cuomo and his administration significantly undercounted the number of COVID-related deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50 percent. To make matters worse, they tried to cover it up.
That’s the media’s COVID hero. By the way, he also earned an emmy and wrote a book on his COVID response. So, who really needed the advice?
Again, in South Dakota we did things differently. We applied common-sense and conservative governing principles.
We never exceeded our hospital capacity. And, our economy is booming. We have the lowest unemployment rate in the nation. We are number one in the nation for keeping jobs, keeping businesses open and keeping money in the pockets of our people. The people of South Dakota kept their hours and wages at a higher rate than workers anywhere else in the nation.
And, our schools are open!
America needs conservatives at the state and local level. But we also need conservatives at the highest level of government too.
In America, we have government of, by, and for the people. Our Founding Fathers established our national constitution. And the people of individual states crafted their own constitutions that place specific limits on the role of government.
Those limits are essential to preventing government officials from trampling on people’s rights.
The people themselves are primarily responsible for their own health and wellbeing. They are the ones entrusted with expansive freedoms – free to exercise their rights to work, worship, and earn a living.
No governor should dictate to their people which activities are officially approved or not. And no governor should arrest, ticket, or fine people for exercising their freedoms.
Governors – and members of Congress and the President – have a duty to respect the rights of the people who elected them. But it seems these days that conservatives are the only ones who know what that means.
‘Personal responsibility” is considered a God-given gift in South Dakota. “Personal responsibility” is not a term that conservatives have abandoned.
When I was preparing to come speak with you, I came across some fascinating remarks made back in 1962.
Listen to this:
The Declaration above all else was a document not of rhetoric but of bold decision.
“The Declaration unleashed not merely a revolution against the British, but a revolution in human affairs.
“This doctrine of national independence shook the globe–and it remains the most powerful force anywhere in the world today.”
Those are the words of Democrat President John F. Kennedy.
Is there any wonder why Ronald Reagan often said, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The party left me.”
There was a time when both political parties clung to certain fundamental principles. But today, we seem not to share even the most basic ideals.
America needs people who will stand up for these fundamental principles. America needs conservatives.
It’s easy to look back on 2020 and remember the issues with COVID. But COVID is only one piece of a very problematic puzzle. It certainly showed us how deep the divide really is, and how thin the barrier is between freedom and tyranny.
But there was a worse movement happening in 2020, and it’s an ongoing problem.
Across America these last several months, we watched an organized, coordinated campaign to remove and eliminate all references to our nation’s founding and many other points in our history. Rather than looking to the past to help improve our future, some are trying to wipe away the lessons of history – lessons that we should be teaching our children and our grandchildren.
This approach focuses exclusively on our forefathers’ flaws and fails to capitalize on the opportunity to learn from their virtues–and they had many of those. By discrediting the individuals who formed America’s founding principles, they create doubt. And then they can remake America in a very different political image.
It is our job to help explain why this is wrong.
Remember, America wasn’t founded for the personal gain or personal power of men like Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. The signers of the Declaration of Independence put their lives and sacred honor on the line to affirm people’s God-given freedoms.
Still today, the Declaration of Independence is one of the most important statements of purpose ever written. Not just because it serves as the justification for our Independence to the entire world, but also because it has led to our prosperity and inspired many other nations and peoples to seek freedom.
We the People have consented to a government that will serve all of us equally. A government that will protect and uphold our God-given rights as well as the fundamental rights enumerated by our Constitution. It is our duty to renew our commitment to these ideals and to pass them on to those who come after us.
These ideals cannot be dismissed as the opinions of flawed men.
Our Founders had their flaws, certainly, but to use those flaws to condemn their ideals and the greatest Constitution the world has ever seen is both unjust and self-defeating.
How many of us live up to our own ideals? Without the words, the beliefs, and the sacrifices of those few, the world would not have a ringing example of true freedom. To attempt to “cancel” the founding generation is an to attempt to cancel our own freedoms.
Let’s always remember: America is good. Freedom is better than tyranny. We are unique. We are exceptional. And no American should apologize for that, ever. We should illustrate to the world that people thrive when government is limited, and people’s ingenuity and creativity are unleashed.
We should also remind the world what happens when tyranny and oppression are allowed to thrive. These days, too many are embracing China – a nation that crushes freedom of speech and religion. China literally places religious minorities in internment camps. China responded to COVID by trying to cover it up. One of their mitigation strategies was to weld doors shut to lock families in their homes.
Friends of China are not friends of freedom.
Make no mistake, America’s leadership is needed in the world.
So now let’s have a really candid conversation. Everyone in this room and those listening at home know that America needs leaders right now. Those leaders need wisdom, the confidence to stand up for our principles and a will to act. Those leaders need to be conservative.
We have a lot of work to do in the coming months. What may have worked in the past is not good enough anymore.
It is not enough to say, vote for us because your pocketbook will be bigger. Or because we’ll cut your taxes or reduce the regulations. Or because we will fight against abortion or Obamacare or whatever else.
I’m not saying these things aren’t important. They are among the pillars of what we believe.
Conservatives must lead the nation away from borrowing from our children’s future. We must put an end to the accounting gimmicks used to deceive people. Joe Biden has been in politics for almost 50 years. At that time, our national debt was roughly $450 billion dollars. Today, that pretty close to what we pay in interest on our national debt.
Everyone is to blame. We have forgotten principles we once held dear.
We must more clearly articulate to the American people that we are the only ones who respect them as human beings. That we are the only ones who believe the American people have God-given rights.
We are not here to tell you how to live your life, or treat you like a child or a criminal because you go to church or defend yourself.
Conservatives respect people as individuals. We don’t divide people based on their religion, their culture or color of their skin. We don’t shun people who think for themselves. We understand that each person is different. Each person deserves the opportunity to build his or her life without some self-important government bureaucrat telling them what they can and can’t do.
We don’t have the media on our side. Conservatives must be smarter than progressives. We must know our history. We must know what works and what doesn’t work. We must think through issues.
Make no mistake about it — conservatives exist to fight for America, and for every American.
For those of you who are disappointed about the election — and I am too — remember, incredible innovation took place after Goldwater’s 1964 landslide loss. It took the creation of many institutions, including The American Conservative Union, the National Right to Life, The Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, Concerned Women for America, the Federalist Society, Family Research Council, among others — to change hearts and minds.
It was institutions like these that helped bring about the Reagan Revolution and bring America exceptionalism back. Their work is more important today than ever.
So, what can you do right now?
It’s simple. Be bold. Show up. Debate these ideas. Persuade your neighbors.
This pandemic illustrated that many politicians have a totally different vision for government than what the Founders laid out.
It was once said, “The left takes its vision seriously — more seriously than it takes the rights of other people. They want to be our shepherds but that requires us to be sheep.”
Let it be heard loud and clear from us right now.
We will not be sheep!
I’d like to close today with a story.
My dad was a cowboy. He was the toughest person I have ever known. Ever since I was a little girl, I have wanted to be just like him. He died in a farm accident when I was 22. A couple months after he was killed, I finally got the courage to go clean out his pickup. All of you who have a farmer or rancher in your life know that they often live out of their pickups. Everything important can be found in the cab — wallet, bills to pay, you name it. If you need to find something important, every farmer’s kid knows the first place you look is in the pickup.
As the new General Manager of the business, every day that had passed after Dad died had been filled with a thousand questions. What seed should we plant? What field should we plant first? What is the price we need for our calves to cash flow the cattle operation? And I didn’t know the answers. I remember wishing over and over again that I could ask my Dad just one more question. And frankly, I was running the business, but I was faking my way through it.
I had no idea how we were going to keep our family business going without my dad. But I was determined we were not going to fail.
That day, I carried a box to the pickup to clean it out. I stuck my head into the console and started putting items into the box: pliers, a Baby Ruth candy bar, notebooks, pens, tools…
And then I found a tiny tape recorder. The kind a doctor dictates into. I pushed the play button and immediately heard my dad’s voice. He was talking about seed corn varieties and which ones performed well on certain fields we owned.
He spoke about how we had had such a wet year the year before that resulted in poor crop yields and damaged grain. We had had a tough harvest and he went on to describe what kind of variety choices he would have made differently and what he thought might work better for the spring we were anticipating.
My eyes started to fill with tears as I realized I was learning information that was going to be helpful to us in making crop decisions.
I looked down into the console and saw several more tapes, almost a dozen in all. One by one, I put them into the tape recorder and listened to my dad’s voice talk about cows, weather, what to do if we were ever in a tough financial situation, etc. Inside those tapes were the answers to so many of the questions I had had over the past several months.
Over and over again, I had said to myself, “If I could just ask dad…”
And here were all the answers I needed, straight from him, literally in the palm of my hand.
In that moment, I felt a strange type of peace settle over me.
Scripture talks of a “peace that passes all understanding.” It was as if in that moment, God was saying to me, “I will provide. Stop worrying. You will be ok. Your family will be ok. I’ve got this.”
I had the answers. I just needed to get to work. Dad was always the hardest worker. He led by example and action — but that day, what changed everything was his words.
I made the decision that day to be like my Dad. A person of words and action. Both matter.
That’s why I ran for office. My mission is to make South Dakota a better place. A better place to live, to do business, and to raise a family. One of the reasons I care so deeply about these issues is because I want these things for my family and for every American family.
I believe South Dakota has been an example to the nation this past year. People used personal responsibility to protect their families’ health and way of life, while the government respected their rights and freedom.
And we are working together to create new opportunities and a better future for our kids.
We took the American path.
Let me close with this.
As conservatives, we often forget that stories are much more powerful than facts and statistics. Our stories need to be told. It is the only way we will inspire and motivate the American people to preserve this great country.
We must go into this fight for freedom with our eyes wide open, educated to the tactics the liberals will use, and yet totally pure in our motives.
This isn’t about us. It’s about our children and their future. It’s about the nation that we will pass on to them. It’s about telling the stories, over and over, that remind us why America needs conservatives—now more than ever.
Thank you for all that you do. America is blessed to have you on her side.
God bless each and every one of you, and may God bless The United States of America.