VERMILLION — The issue of fireworks at Mount Rushmore didn’t escape a Girls State delegate when she had a chance to question Gov. Kristi Noem about it in Vermillion Thursday afternoon.
“We are wondering what is your justification for keeping fireworks at Mount Rushmore on the Fourth of July rather than moving them to a more equal-friendly location in accordance to the state park recommendation?” the delegate asked.
The governor reminded the young woman that Mount Rushmore is a national park and fireworks would be planned at the monument if it was located at a state park.
Noem added that she will continue to push for fireworks to be held at Mount Rushmore because it greatly benefits South Dakota.
The 2021 session of the American Legion Auxiliary-sponsored Girls State program began May 31 at the University of South Dakota campus in Vermillion and concludes June 5.
A federal judge decided Wednesday to not force the National Forest Service to allow fireworks at Mount for an Independence Day celebration.
U.S. District Court Judge Roberto Lange in a ruling Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit brought against President Joe Biden’s administration by Noem after the National Forest Service blocked a fireworks display there next month.
The governor stated Wednesday that South Dakota would appeal Lange’s ruling.
“Mount Rushmore is the most recognized monument in the country,” Noem said while speaking Thursday with Girls State delegates in Aalfs Auditorium on the USD campus in Vermillion. “For years and years and years, we always had a big fireworks show at Mount Rushmore … we lost them (the fireworks shows) during the Obama Administration because they said it was because of environmental concerns.
“The pine beetles were going through the Black Hills, they were concerned about fires and they told us we could no longer have the fireworks show,” she said. “When I got elected as governor, one of the first things I did was ask the White House if we would ever have the opportunity to bring back fireworks at Mount Rushmore.”
Tourism is South Dakota’s second-biggest industry, behind agriculture, the governor noted.
“When we have fireworks at Mount Rushmore, we get hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of free advertising for the state of South Dakota,” Noem said. “People all over the world show that fireworks show on TV, on national news networks, everywhere — not just in the country but across the world.”
With no fireworks, South Dakota is missing out on marketing its tourism industry, she said.
A fireworks display was held at Mount Rushmore last year, with President Donald Trump featured as a special guest at a program at the monument prior to the fireworks show.
Noem told the Girls State delegates Thursday that South Dakota conducted environmental studies for about 18 months to show that the forest and water would be protected and soil wouldn’t be damaged.
The state also consulted with Native American tribes, she said, and agreements were signed stating that fireworks could be conducted. Fire response measures were also put in place with local, state and federal fire officials, she added.
“We went through all the agreements and signing on what the costs would be,” Noem said. “We did all of that work and all that needed that happen was to have them (the National Forest Service) issue the permit. They pulled the permit back after we did all that work to make sure it was going to be safe.”
The governor stated on Fox News Wednesday that the denial of fireworks at Mount Rushmore is a political act by the Biden administration and “is part of the radical left’s agenda. They don’t want to celebrate America or our freedoms.”
She didn’t mention that political opinion during her talk at Girls State, but confirmed it while talking with media following her speech.
“It’s purely political, because when the decision came out of the White House, they cited COVID concerns. Well, we’ve got less COVID cases than we’ve had in 14 months,” Noem told the Vermillion Plain Talk. “They indicated fire, environmental (concerns) — mentioned it but didn’t give any statistics or proof that any of them were real concerns.
“They said the tribes were concerned. Well, the tribes were consulted and agreed to it last year,” she said. “We checked all of the boxes.”
The governor said her general counsel is reading through the judge’s decision and preparing to appeal it. She didn’t indicate to which court the appeal would be made.
“Why would we not appeal it?” Noem asked. “There’s not a solid, legal indicator as to why we were denied. I think that anybody that wants truth would want to appeal this decision and really find out a valid reason for why those fireworks were pulled.
“The (Biden) administration did not tell us, the judge’s decision did not tell us,” she said. “There is legal precedent and legal statute that tells us when they can pull those permits and those were not followed in this process.”
Earlier in her talk, Noem urged Girls State delegates to have the courage to seek opportunities as they arise in the future.
She shared what she experienced while a member of the U.S. Congress after then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his bid for another term in his primary election.
The next day, while on the floor of the House, she began talking with a group of fellow members of Congress.
“I said, ‘Here’s the problem with what happened last night,’” Noem said. “As soon as Eric Cantor lost his election, every single man in the House thought, ‘I would be the best majority leader ever.’ I said it’s just amazing to me how every one of them thought they were great.
“(But) every woman (in Congress) thought, ‘I’m not sure if I can do that job. I’m not sure if I’ve got the gifts or the talents to do it. They questioned if they would be able to accomplish it.”
She told the Girls Staters that special opportunities are waiting for them.
“I want you to know that we need you,” Noem said. “You may not think that you’re going to be the greatest, you may not go into it with 100% confidence, but show up and do it and try it and you might find out that you’re good at something that you had no idea you’re good at.”
The governor also told delegates, “I don’t think one person can save the country or save the world, but I think we all have to do our part. We need every single person to be engaged, to understand why America is special, what our foundation is, what the Constitution is, why the leaders of the past put those principles into a document that has protected our liberties for over 200 years.”