South Dakota gov's tweet about student food pantry seen as dig at Haley

In this June 22, 2020 file photo, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks at the Sioux Falls city hall in Sioux Falls, S.D. Photo: AP/Stephen Groves. In this June 22, 2020 file photo, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks at the Sioux Falls city hall in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Associated Press
Updated: January 19, 2021 02:19 PM
Created: January 19, 2021 02:17 PM

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem took a shot at a Texas school's food pantry in a move that political strategists said was really aimed at former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, who is seen as a potential rival for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

Noem used her gubernatorial Twitter account on Sunday to respond to Haley's post praising a Texas high school that had set up a food pantry like a grocery store to give "dignity" to students. The food pantry is supported by a Christian ministry and allows students to purchase groceries with a point system based on family size, behavior and on-campus jobs.

Noem replied to Haley's tweet by posting a quote from economist Milton Friedman, saying, "There's no such thing as a free lunch." Her response doesn't mention Haley specifically.

— Governor Kristi Noem (@govkristinoem) January 17, 2021

"I just see this as a sign of 'let the games begin'," said Alice Stewart, a GOP strategist and commentator.

A spokeswoman for Haley declined to comment on Noem's tweet.

Haley, a former governor of South Carolina, and Noem are thought to be eyeing presidential runs, although Noem has said she will not run. Both Noem and Haley were the first women to hold the top office in their states. In the aftermath of Trump's role in the Capitol insurrection, the two have staked out opposing views of where the GOP should go now.

At the Republican National Convention winter meetings held in the days after a mob of Trump supporters attacked the Capitol, Haley decried Trump for spurring the lie that the election was stolen, sayinghis actions will "be judged harshly by history." By contrast, Noem deflected blame from Trump.

The South Dakotan's approach may win her favor with Trump supporters within the Republican party, but it also imperils her self-described brand as a "family-first governor."

Stewart questioned Noem's move to target the school food pantry program, saying, "I happen to look at that and see God's grace at work."

The governor's office defended the dig at the food pantry on Tuesday, pointing to her emphasis on technical colleges as a long-term solution to poverty.

"We should absolutely help those who need it," her spokesman Ian Fury said. "The best way to do that is by finding innovative solutions to get families out of food pantries."

But Cathy Brechtelsbauer, the state coordinator for Bread for the World, a Christian organization that advocates for policies to end hunger, said that the need for food pantries in South Dakota is "tremendous," with parking lots at times filling with cars of people waiting for food.

"It's important that our food pantries can fill in the gaps and in this pandemic, the gaps have certainly grown wider," she said.

Noem recently said she is not running for president in 2024 and her focus is on her role as governor; she is up for reelection in 2022. But she has made moves to suggest otherwise, cultivating a nationwide following, weighing in on issues far outside South Dakota and traveling to campaign and raise money. She was in Arkansas over the weekend, duck hunting with U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman.

While Haley has not directly addressed whether she will run in 2024, Stewart, the GOP strategist, expects the two politicians to continue to "butt heads" over both Trump and the party's recent Senate losses in Georgia.

"This is what we're going to see for the next few years," she said. "It's off to the races."

(Copyright 2021 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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