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Gov. Noem’s Texas Smile Makeover Sparks Ethics Concerns in South Dakota

Republican Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota is never one to shy away from the spotlight. But a recent video she posted on her social media accounts has sparked questions and criticism from political opponents in her home state.

On Monday, Noem shared a nearly 5-minute long video promoting and praising the work of Smile Texas, a cosmetic dental practice located in the Houston suburbs. In the video, Noem gushes that the Texas dentists “gave me a smile I can be proud of and confident in.”

The governor, seen as a potential 2024 VP candidate for Republicans, doesn’t hold back her admiration. She identifies herself as “the governor of South Dakota” and the video intersperses clips of her speaking at GOP events with Trump signage and imagery.

In essence, it’s a good old-fashioned celebrity endorsement infomercial – but this time starring one of the nation’s most prominent Republican governors touting an out-of-state dental practice. Definitely a new one for the tourism Commissioner!

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The Smell of an Ethics Probe?

The political world was quick to pounce on the video’s peculiarities. South Dakota State Senator Reynold Nesiba, a Democrat, says he was initially just puzzled by why a sitting governor would record such an “odd” and “very strange” promotional video for a private company’s services.

But then Nesiba’s confusion turned to concern. He’s now requesting that the legislature’s audit committee formally review and discuss the video at their next meeting in July.

Nesiba wants to dig into whether Noem misused any state resources or funds for her dental vacation to Texas.

He’s also asking if the governor properly paid the full cost of her dental work, or if she received any kind of discount or special perk from Smile Texas in exchange for her glowing video endorsement.

The Law and Blurring of Lines

You see, it’s actually a violation of South Dakota law for public officials to accept gifts over $100 from lobbyists.

The dental practice insists they are not registered lobbyists, but the line between a business inducement and someone just trying to look out for a pol’s smile is…pretty fuzzy.

From Me to Dentistry?

The controversy comes at an awfully awkward time for Noem and South Dakota’s image-makers. The state recently launched a $5 million workforce marketing campaign…which features Noem herself starring in ads as a plumber, electrician, nurse and yes, you guessed it – a dentist!

In one of the ads, the governor dons blue scrubs and can be seen hunched over a patient appearing to do dental work, with the sound of a drill in the background. So much for driving tourism and recruiting for the state’s dental profession!

Team Noem Stays Quiet

Noem’s communications team has stayed silent so far, failing to respond to questions about whether state funds or resources were used for her Texas dental journey, or if she received any special discounts or freebies.

Smile Texas has also clammed up beyond saying Noem posted the video herself.

A History of Ethics Questions

The first-term governor is no stranger to ethics and accountability questions dogging her office. In 2019, she faced scrutiny over her frequent use of state aircraft to attend events hosted by Republican organizations like the NRA and Turning Point USA.

And in 2022, a state ethics board said Noem may have engaged in misconduct when she personally intervened in her daughter’s application for a real estate appraiser license after it had initially been denied.

So the latest ethics flare-up over her promotional dental video may seem relatively minor, but it feeds an existing narrative of the governor blurring her personal and official roles in ways that can at least raise eyebrows.

Just a Little Vain? Or A Look Into Something More Serious?

Look, we’ve all done some silly or embarrassing things in the pursuit of vanity and self-confidence. And celebrities frequently lend their name and image to all kinds of product endorsements and ads for businesses.

So maybe this was just an impulsive, vain move by Noem to show off her new pearly whites to the world – a personal indulgence that happened to catch a little too much light as an elected leader.

Or maybe there really are substantive ethical issues around misuse of state resources and conflicts of interest that this video preview could provide a window into.

A Smile and an Inquiry

Either way, some sunshine and transparency is needed to put this little grin-troversy to bed once and for all.

The South Dakota public deserves to know if this was much ado about nothing, or indicative of a deeper lack of clear boundaries between Noem’s personal actions and public responsibilities.

Senator Nesiba’s call for a formal inquiry seems reasonable enough. If Noem can show she handled this all kosher, it’s an easy smile and move on.

But if there are red flags around funds, resources, or special treatment, then it’s a faceplant her reenergized GOP detractors won’t blush about making a federal case over.

Featured photo by South Dakota’s 33rd Governor Kristi Noem CC by 4.0 for Wikipedia

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