Lee Strubinger

Politics and Public Policy Reporter

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.

Governor Kristi Noem speaks behind a podium in front of state representatives
State of South Dakota

Governor Kristi Noem says the state will follow Centers for Disease Control guidance on policy decision surrounding COVID-19.

The CDC recommends people wear cloth face covering in public settings when around people outside their household, especially when social distancing is difficult to maintain.

Noem, however, says the science is mixed on their ability to slow the spread of the disease.

Governor Kristi Noem is back in the state of South Dakota after flying to Washington DC Friday night.

Noem joined President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump on Air Force One following the fireworks show at Mount Rushmore.

A spokesperson for the governor’s office says the governor joined the flight to have a chat with the president.

When asked why Governor Noem was able to fly on Air Force One, White House Press Secretary Kaleigh McEnany says that’s a question for Secret Service.

On Friday, thousands of attendees waited hours for a glimpse at the sitting president of the United States and the return of fireworks at Mount Rushmore.

The event was billed as a celebration and is one of the largest gatherings of Americans since the coronavirus pandemic reached the country.

Fireworks explode over Mount Rushmore and attendees sit in awe, capturing video of the spectacle as patriotic music blares from an immaculate stage at the base of the national monument.

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Chad Coppess / SD Department of Tourism

Some of South Dakota’s top elected officials are sending mixed messages about the health precautions they will take during the fireworks show at Mount Rushmore.

Republican U.S. Senator Mike Rounds says he plans to wear a mask at the fireworks display. There are 7,500 ticketholders for the Friday event where there are no plans for social distancing measures.
The former South Dakota governor says it makes sense to wear a mask when you’re around a large group.

Lee Strubinger / SDPB

South Dakota Republicans will hold several Independence Day celebrations over the Fourth of July weekend. Some will feature the fireworks at Mount Rushmore for those without tickets to the event.
Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender asks that people wear face masks to prevent from spreading COVID-19.

Pennington County GOP Facebook

An active member of the Pennington County Republican Party has tested positive for COVID-19, according to an email by party officials.

That person attended a GOP convention event held in Rapid City last weekend.

The state party set up a digital convention this year, and passed temporary rules that allowed members to attend virtually for social distancing.

But, the Pennington County GOP joined the convention from a conference hall at the Ramkota in Rapid City.

Since then, one attendee has tested positive for COVID-19.

Brad Van Osdel / SDPB

South Dakota soybean farmers have a deadline.

In five days they will not be able to use one of the most popular herbicides on their fields.

For most of the month of June, they were unsure whether they could use it at all.

That’s because of a federal court ruling that pulled it from the shelves during the middle of spraying season.

City and county agencies around the state can apply for reimbursement for pandemic-related costs from a Local Government COVID Relief Fund.
That’s a 200 million dollar fund from federal stimulus funding.
One reimbursable cost is law enforcement salaries.

Republicans and Democrats are picking candidates for Public Utility Commissioner, setting up a race for November.

Both candidates were selected at party conventions held over the weekend.

Both major political parties in South Dakota held virtual party conventions over the weekend. Each held elections to pick national committeemen and committeewomen. Both parties also considered changes to party platforms.

Candidates for Public Utility Commissioner are the highest profile pick to come out of the conventions.


Local governments in South Dakota will get some of the federal stimulus money given to the state.
Governor Kristi Noem is unveiling the Local Government Covid Recovery Fund.

The state-owned STAR Academy near Custer will get a third auction in as many years.

An auction is set for mid-September after state officials say some buyers have expressed interest.

The state operated it as a juvenile detention and treatment center until closing it in 2016.


The state of South Dakota closed the STAR Academy as a part of juvenile justice reform. That was during the Daugaard administration and it’s been in and out of the state’s hands ever since.

A coalition of several water-focused organizations in the Black Hills wants the Rapid Creek watershed west of Rapid City designated as a National Recreation Area.

The group’s intent is to lift all mining claims in the watershed and ban mineral exploration.

The Rapid Creek Watershed Action is comprised of members from several water-focused groups, including Black Hills Paddlers and Clean Water Alliance.

Behind the scenes of the recent primary election was a fight over South Dakota’s Republican party.  

Two people, a current and former lawmaker targeted a dozen primary races. Their goal – to defeat what some call an ultra-conservative group of Republican candidates.  

The stakes are high. The new lawmakers will shape the state legislature for the next decade.

State Senator Lee Schoenbeck has been around state politics for more than 40 years.

The Republican has been in and out of the state house in Pierre since 1995.

There’s a new group that opposes two marijuana questions on the November ballot.
Earlier this week, supporters of the marijuana measures kicked off their campaign.
Some of the opposition focuses on public health and the state constitution.

Proponents behind two marijuana related ballot questions are kicking off their campaign and say they’re confident the measures will pass.

It’s the first statewide vote on cannabis in a decade.


The last time marijuana was on the ballot in South Dakota was 2010, when 63 percent of voters rejected an initiated measure establishing a medical marijuana program.

The chief code counsel for the South Dakota state legislature has resigned after just one year on the job.

But he didn’t leave without warning state legislators how they are perceived within the group that helps them write and research bills.

It was a late night on the third week of session when code council Wenzel Cummings addressed the joint legislative procedure committee. The legislative group was looking to change a rule that allowed the legislature to amend administrative rules—which falls under the executive branch.

Cummings says he was shocked to see it.

South Dakota Tourism

Seven thousand and five hundred people will get tickets to attend a Mt. Rushmore fireworks show. State officials also confirm President Donald Trump will attend the July event.

Tickets will be distributed through a lottery system over the next several days.

Governor Kristi Noem and state tourism officials say inviting 7,500 people from across the country to the fireworks show is a good way to celebrate. Especially after what they call the “rough patch” of the last several months.

The country’s food supply chain has faced serious tests this year. Pork producers learned that first hand in April, when several midwestern meat packing plants closed due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

A three-week shut down of Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls displaced about 300,000 hogs. And that has ripple effects across the industry.

It was mid-April when Brian Mehlhaff saw the writing on the wall.

Two incumbents vying for South Dakota seats in Congress handily won their primary elections Tuesday night.

Both Senator Mike Rounds and Representative Dusty Johnson say they’re shifting focus on the race in November.

Both races were called by the Associated Press shortly after polls closed and precinct results started pouring in.

South Dakota’s lone US Representative, Republican Dusty Johnson, defeated former state legislator Elizabeth Marty May. He says it was one of the largest congressional primary wins in state history.

John Nguyen / SDPB

Governor Kristi Noem says the state has resources pre-staged in cities across South Dakota to respond if any planned protests get out of hand.

Meanwhile, the governor is calling on governing bodies and community leaders to have discussions on policing policies.

Governor Noem says her office is looking at resources and tools available to her to address what’s happening across the state and country following the death of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis who died after a white police officer kneeled on his neck.

Noem says she’s open to solutions

The state holds primary elections next week. One Republican primary race could become a tiny referendum on vaccines.

These are the first elections since the coronavirus pandemic hit the state.

Lee Qualm has been the Republican majority leader in the South Dakota House for four years.

Term limits prevent him from running for his seat again - so he’s on the ballot for the Senate.


Memorial Day is the unofficial start of the summer tourism season.

But this year, Black Hills officials don’t know what to expect because of the coronavirus.

Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender says businesses hope for a good year.

But he says residents are concerned visitors will bring the virus to the region.

Allender says Rapid City’s population increases by 5 to 10 thousand during a normal summer season.

Office of Governor Kristi Noem

Governor Kristi Noem is proposing a three-part plan to the Cheyenne River Tribe to remove checkpoints on US and State highways in reservation boundaries.

Noem says the plan respects tribal sovereignty, federal law and state sovereignty.

In a letter to Chairman Harold Frazier, Governor Noem says she wants the two governments to work cooperatively in addressing COVID-19.

Lee Strubinger

Two Native American tribes in South Dakota continue to defy an order from the governor to remove several travel checkpoints on state and U.S. Highways.

The tribes say the checkpoints will help track COVID-19 if it starts to spread.

Republican Governor Kristi Noem says the state will take legal action.

One of the checkpoints is on U.S. Highway 212 at the boundary of the Cheyenne River Reservation. Four deputized officers wear face masks and yellow vests.

There’s a stop sign, and cones set up in each of the highway’s two lanes.

Remi Bald Eagle / Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe

Governor Kristi Noem is reiterating her commitment to taking two tribes within South Dakota state lines to federal court over checkpoints on highways entering their reservations.

The two tribes are declining her request, saying the checkpoints will help them contact trace the COVID-19 pandemic if it reaches tribal communities.

In a letter to the press over the weekend, Maggie Seidel—senior advisor and policy director for Governor Noem, says the state needs unobstructed access to state and US highways for thru-traffic.

Governor Kristi Noem says the state will take legal action against two tribal governments if checkpoints on state and U.S. highways are not removed by Sunday.
The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Sioux Tribe say they are using checkpoints to monitor highway traffic into the reservation. The move is to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

An emergency shelter in the Rapid City Civic Center is up and running for sick homeless people.

It’s designed to handle a potential COVID-19 outbreak among the homeless population and offer care during the pandemic.

The Civic Center’s Rushmore Hall is transformed into a three-tiered emergency shelter.  Jeremy Walla with the Pennington County Emergency Operations Center gives a tour. The facility is complete with beds and laundry service.  

The state of South Dakota is sitting on $1.25 billion in federal relief money.

U.S. Senator Mike Rounds wants to allow states to use a quarter of those federal dollars to backfill shortfalls.

Governor Kristi Noem says the state is continuing to receive U.S. Department of Treasury guidance on how to use those federal dollars.

Melissa Hamersma Sievers / SDPB

Governor Kristi Noem says a special session in June is unlikely.
That’s when the state will report April tax collections—when economic activity across the country slowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Noem says she anticipates a serious budget shortfall because of the virus.
She says all options are on the table, including dipping into reserves.