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.

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.

Charles Michael Ray

Ten Attorneys General from around the nation, including South Dakota’s, want the Department of Justice to investigate meat packers for alleged price fixing.
In the letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, the state leaders point to a likely market manipulation for processed beef.

Office of Governor Kristi Noem

A new national poll asks people how they feel their governor is handling the COVID-19 response.
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem and President Donald Trump each have approval ratings below 50 percent.
However, researchers say there’s a wide margin of error.

South Dakota hog farmers are running out of room. That's because a number of meatpacking plants are closed and still aren't sure when they will reopen. In the meantime, hog farmers have nowhere to send their animals. That despite President Donald Trump's recent executive order to reopen the country's meatpacking plants under the Defense Production Act. SDPB's Lee Strubinger reports...

South Dakota hog farmers are running out of room.

Remi Bald Eagle / Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe

The Bureau of Indian Affairs claims the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has a check point on a public highway to prevent non-tribal residents from accessing the reservation.

Tribal leaders say the highway is not closed but they are monitoring traffic into the reservation to track any potential COVID-19 outbreak.

The BIA says the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe cannot set up a check point on US 212 without consulting the state. The agency says the tribe is not complying with federal law.

Governor Kristi Noem says the tribe has not consulted with the state on the checkpoint.

It was a quiet night at the races.

That’s according to the Park Jefferson International Speedway owner in North Sioux City, who held the race without attendees.

Very few people were there. No fans in the grandstand. Only safety personnel, track officials and 62 cars.

Adam Adamson is the owner of the Park Jefferson racetrack. He says the races held Saturday night were interesting.

“My announcer told me he’d never announced to so few people since he was back announcing little league baseball games when he was about 13 years old.”


South Dakota Democrats are calling on Republican Governor Kristi Noem to expand Medicaid and dip into the state’s budget reserves to aid in post-COVID-19 recovery.
State unemployment is skyrocketing and Noem says very few dollars are flowing into the state.

Office of Governor Kristi Noem

Governor Kristi Noem continues to defend her decision not to issue a statewide stay-at-home order.
She says more South Dakotan’s are staying at home than in some states that require it.

South Dakota is one of eight states without a stay-at-home order.

Noem says any order she puts in place needs to be sustainable for a period of time. In the past, she’s suggested a stay-at-home order could have to last until October.

The state Department of Health hopes to start reporting a breakdown of negative COVID-19 test results by county.

Nearly 8,700 people have tested negative so far.

Rapid City officials say that information can reassure the public in areas with low numbers of active cases.

The state reports Pennington County has 9 total positive COVID-19 cases. Six people have recovered and one person died.

That leaves two active cases for the county that’s home to Rapid City… South Dakota’s second largest city.  Compare that to Minnehaha County which has 934 positive cases.  

Despite pleas from cities across the state, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, has held out on issuing a statewide stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

An outbreak of COVID-19 at Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls, S.D., has infected nearly 450 workers and caused the number of cases in the city to grow so quickly that the mayor, Paul TenHaken, calls it an explosion. "The window of time for mitigation is certainly dwindling right now."