District 18 Rep. Ryan Cwach said he believes Gov. Kristi Noem’s plan to deploy 50 South Dakota National Guardsmen to the Texas border using privately donated funds is about immigration politics when what is needed is an immigration solution.
“The National Guard represents all of us and should be funded by state dollars,” Cwach told the Press & Dakotan. “It should not be funded by the whims of some private person in Tennessee who has a political agenda.”
The proposed deployment, announced earlier this week by Noem’s office, has drawn national attention, and both praise and condemnation.
Several state Democrats, including Cwach, voiced their opposition to Noem’s plan in a letter to the governor Wednesday. In the letter, the lawmakers called the privately funded deployment a misuse of the National Guard for a mercenary assignment.
The letter added, “Not only does it raise ethical questions, but privatized deployments set dangerous precedent for further political use of our National Guard. We ask that you cancel the deployment immediately and return the funds to the donor.”
The letter also said that it is “imperative” that Noem issue an apology to South Dakota’s National Guard.
The private donor has been identified as Tennessee-based Willis and Reba Johnson Foundation. Willis Johnson reportedly does not approve of how the White House is handling the border situation.
“What’s been reported so far is that Johnson was looking for a way to get more personnel down to the border,” Cwach said. “So he called up the governor, and said, ‘I’ll give you $1 million if you send National Guardsmen down there,’ and she said she would do that.”
That is where Cwach says his issue is with Noem’s actions.
“We have a governor who has the authority to direct the National Guard. That is a decision reserved to her,” he said. “But money and the appropriation of it is supposed to be handled by the Legislature.”
He also noted that the Legislature is elected every two years by the people. That body is empowered to make military appropriations.
“That includes having a contingency for emergency situations,” the Yankton lawmaker said. “But here, instead of going through the normal appropriations process by democratically elected representatives, Gov. Noem accepted private money from an out-of-state foundation to fund a National Guard mission that was never actually appropriated.”
Had Noem chosen the normal process for such decisions, Cwach said he does not know what the outcome would have been.
“The issue was never discussed in the Legislature,” he said. “So, if the Legislature would have appropriated money to send 50 National Guardsmen to the Mexico border, we’ll never know.”
The Legislature was not given the opportunity to have a public debate about the merits of Noem’s plan, he said.
“There is a need for real border and immigration reform, and sending 50 National Guardsmen down there is not going to solve that problem,” Cwach said. “What’s going to solve that problem is when Democrats and Republicans stop playing politics on the issue and actually start working together.”