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.


State lawmakers are split on the Governor Kristi Noem’s decision to not accept President Trump’s Lost Wages Assistance help.

South Dakota unemployment claims are around three time the amount they were before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Governor Noem says South Dakota is in the fortunate position of not needing to accept unemployment assistance from the feds.

Lee Strubinger / SDPB

Sturgis Rally traffic has been on the rise during the first weekend of the event. The South Dakota Department of Transportation reports about 161,000 vehicles visited Sturgis in the first three days of the rally. That’s down about 4 percent from last year’s numbers. Many at the rally say they’re enjoying a respite from pandemic restrictions in their home state.

Copyright 2020 SDPB Radio. To see more, visit SDPB Radio.


Governor Kristi Noem’s office is clarifying her stance on mask wearing among students, after a campaign email last week says she’s encouraging them return to school “without masks.”

A governor’s spokesperson calls the fundraising email “in-artfully written.” They say Noem believes if people want to wear a mask, that is their own prerogative. The spokesperson says she has—and continues—to oppose mandatory masking, but she has never discouraged wearing them.

Senator Mike Rounds and Senate Republicans are pushing for liability protections for businesses in the new federal COVID relief package.

Rounds says it will protect businesses from frivolous lawsuits. Labor organizers say it will greatly impact workers across South Dakota and the country.

The way the proposal reads is that for businesses to get sued, a plaintiff would have to show gross negligence and an intentional desire to cause harm to patrons or employees.

The South Dakota State Medical Association is opposing both cannabis ballot questions.

They’re crafting the opposition statement, which will get featured on the general election ballot.

The state medical association says voting no on the ballot questions maintains that marijuana is a hazardous drug and public health concern. They say the use of marijuana for medical purposes carries safety risks by circumventing the Food and Drug Administration approval process.


The three major healthcare systems in South Dakota all agree—masks help slow the spread of COVID 19.

Each system requires a mask to enter its hospitals and clinics. They all recommend that people wear a mask in public, especially when social distancing is not possible.

However, there are some political leaders who still aren’t sure.

President Donald Trump has questioned masks. He’s refused to wear them in public, until recently. In fact, now, he occasionally mentions them.

The South Dakota Department of Health is reporting nearly 250 new cases of COVID-19 since Friday.

Just over half of those cases come from Minnehaha and Lincoln Counties. Health officials say they aren’t sure where the surge in cases is coming from.

Seven of the nearly 250 cases come from a Black Hills Christian youth summer camp, which is now closed.

But that’s the only cluster health officials are reporting from over the weekend.

State epidemiologist Josh Clayton says the large increase in cases is a concern.

Lee Strubinger / SDPB

Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender says he’s disappointed with lack of communication from the state Department of Health.

That comes after the state conducted mass testing at the Avantara St. Cloud nursing home facility in Rapid City, without his knowledge.

Since last week, Pennington County has over 100 new COVID-19 cases, half of which came from that facility. That’s more than 1 in 8 total cases the county has had since the pandemic reached South Dakota.


Governor Kristi Noem’s state budget managers anticipate a nearly $40 million dollar decrease in anticipated revenue over the course of the current fiscal year.

The state ended the last fiscal year with a $19 million dollar surplus.

Once COVID 19 reached South Dakota, the state cut back on it’s operations.

Liza Clark is the chief financial officer for the state.

She says the $19 million dollar surplus is due to the state reducing it’s spending during the last quarter of the fiscal year and to utilize some CARES Act relief dollars.

The South Dakota Attorney General sent state agents to reservations as part of an investigation into tribal checkpoints on state and federal highways.

Those agents were on fact-finding missions about how the checkpoints were conducted.

That update came during the state-tribal relations committee meeting.

Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg says his office did not direct any citizens to go or not go through the checkpoints as part of their investigation.


US Senator Mike Rounds says wearing a mask should not be a political statement.

He doesn’t think masks should be mandated, but he says South Dakotan’s should wear a mask to slow the spread of infection to senior citizens and children.

It’s a different tone than Governor Kristi Noem, who is pushing against mask mandates, instead.

Rounds says people should not be afraid to wear a mask, especially if they’re indoors.

Carrie Middle Tent still has side effects from a bout with COVID-19, which she caught more than two months ago. She still can’t taste or smell things like she once could. Members of her family got the virus too. They’re enrolled members of the Crow Creek tribe and live in Rapid City. For three days she had a small cough and chest pressure.

“I thought I was actually feeling pretty good, but that’s when I started getting really bad, short of breath,” Middle Tent says.

Then, she developed a fever, cold sweats, and even fainted.

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.

Copyright 2020 SDPB Radio. To see more, visit SDPB Radio.


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.