A Democratic legislator on Wednesday called for an inquiry into South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem’s trip to Texas for dental work and a promotional video in which she praises the doctors for giving her “a smile I can be proud of and confident in.”

State Sen. Reynold Nesiba said he initially found the nearly five-minute video to be simply odd. Later he considered other questions and asked the Republican co-chairs of the Legislature’s Government Operations & Audit Committee to put the matter on the panel’s next meeting agenda in July for discussion and questions.

“I just thought it was a very strange video about how much she enjoyed having her teeth done at that particular place,” said Nesiba, a member of the audit committee.

Nesiba said he wonders whether Noem used a state airplane or public funds for the Texas trip and whether the governor paid for the dental procedure or if it was discounted because of her video.

Noem’s office did not respond to questions Wednesday about the promotional video posted Monday night to her personal account on X in which she praised the dentists and staff at Smile Texas, a cosmetic dental practice in the Houston area.

In the video, Noem complimented the dentists that recently “gave me a smile I can be proud of and confident in.” Noem identifies herself as the governor of South Dakota and includes clips of her speaking at a Republican Party event with Trump signs in the background.

A woman who answered the phone at Smile Texas cited privacy under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act in response to The Associated Press asking to speak with a member of the practice. When asked if Smile Texas plans to use Noem’s video for promotion, the woman said, “No, she posted that,” then hung up when asked again.

South Dakota law bans gifts of over $100 from lobbyists to public officials and their immediate family. A violation is a misdemeanor punishable up to a year in jail and/or a $2,000 fine. The state attorney general’s office declined to answer questions about whether the gift ban applies to people who are not registered lobbyists.

Noem’s video, in which the governor says she went to Smile because it was “the best,” comes at a time when South Dakota has spent $5 million on a workforce recruitment ad campaign in which she stars in TV spots portraying herself as a plumber, electrician, nurse and other high-demand workers. In one ad, Noem portrays a dentist in blue scrubs, speaking over a patient with a dental instrument in her hand amid the sound of a drill.

Nesiba said the dental promotion “just undermines the millions of dollars that we have invested in her as being a spokesperson for South Dakota.”

Paul Miskimins, a Republican former state legislator who practiced dentistry over 37 years in South Dakota, said he saw nothing wrong with Noem seeking care out of state, noting he had sought dental care from a friend in Canada. Miskimins added that celebrities often give testimonials about dental work, and he didn’t see why a public official couldn’t do the same.

Michael Card, an emeritus political science professor at the University of South Dakota, said he has no ideas about the governor’s motivation for the video but found it puzzling.

“It just seems unusual for an elected official in office to make an infomercial like that,” he said.


March 14, 2024