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Rep. Kristi Noem announces that she is running for Governor of South Dakota

Rep. Kristi Noem will not seek a fifth term to the U.S. House in 2018, she announced Monday, and will instead make a bid to become the first female governor in South Dakota history.

Noem, who was comfortably re-elected to the House last week, released a video Monday in which she said she was looking forward to the next two years in which Republicans will have the presidency and control of Congress, control that could help them enact tax reform, replace Obamacare, enact a new Farm Bill and reduce the size of government. But at the same time, Noem said she was making good on a vow not to make Congress a career and would instead return home to run for governor.

“We just got through one campaign season, and we all need a break from politics,” Noem said. “So while my campaign won’t kick off officially until next year, I want you to know that I am all in."

Although she didn’t say it, Noem’s decision to run for governor was forced by a ballot issue that voters approved last week. Initiated Measure 22, which becomes law on Wednesday, contains a provision barring candidates for governor from collecting more than $4,000 a year from any person or political committee.

Once effective, the language would mean that Noem couldn’t transfer more than $4,000 from her congressional campaign account to an account for a governor’s run. Under current law, federal office holders can transfer all of their money into a state account.

For Noem, that would mean forfeiting a huge advantage: Prior to Tuesday’s election, her congressional campaign was reporting nearly $1.9 million in the bank, an amount that would make her a formidable candidate in the Republican primary.

Last week, state Rep. Mark Mickelson announced that he would not run for governor in 2018, surprising many of his supporters. Mickelson, whose father and grandfather served as governors, was viewed along with Noem and Attorney General Marty Jackley, as one of the top contenders for the Republican nomination.

Following Mickelson’s announcement, both Noem and Jackley signaled their interest in the race, although both said they were focused on their current jobs. Jackley’s tenure as attorney general also ends in 2018.

But Noem’s announcement Monday was unequivocal.

“Our future depends on our ability to honestly evaluate where we are today and make the tough choices necessary to create new opportunities for families and small businesses,” she said. “I want our young people to thrive in South Dakota. I want them to be able to find rewarding careers and raise their children surrounded by family and friends – in communities that solve problems together.”

Noem isn't the first woman to run for governor. Democrat Susan Wismer won her party's nomination in 2014, but she fell short in her bid to unseat incumbent Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who is termed out in 2018.

Her decision caught some supporters by surprise. One was Leroy Pietz, a farmer from Tripp. Pietz said he could understand why Noem would want to spend more time near her ranch in Castlewood, noting that former President Ronald Reagan liked to mend fences and chop wood on his ranch in order to clear his mind. Pietz said he wants to know more about why she wants to be governor.

"I think she would do a good job," he said.

Karen Kellen of Aberdeen said she has heard Noem speak several times. She said that Noem knew what she was talking about and shared Kellen's South Dakota values. While she thinks Noem would be a good governor, she is also happy with her serving in the U.S. House.

"I think she would do a good job, I really do," Kellen said.

Noem, who will turn 45 this month, defeated Democratic Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin in a 2010 wave election that saw Republicans seize control of the House following the first two years of the Obama administration.

Prior to the House, Noem served two terms in the state House of Representatives, including two years in the leadership.

Her decision not to seek another term in the House will trigger a competitive race to replace her.

Two of those potential candidates are Dusty Johnson, the former public utilities commissioner and chief of staff to Daugaard, and  current Secretary of State Shantel Krebs.

Johnson said that he loves his job in the private sector and loves spending time with his family in Mitchell. But a House bid is something he might consider.

"I'm a policy wonk and I love helping people," he said. "Politics has never been that far out of my mind."

Krebs said she thinks South Dakotans want a break from politics. But given the opening in the House, she said South Dakotans are looking for somebody who has held government accountable, which is what she's done in her office.

"I am going to seriously consider it," she said.

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