It’s difficult to overstate the importance of marketing to South Dakota.
At the confluence of Midwest and West, and bifurcated by the Missouri River, the state has relied on tourism since the early part of the 20th century, when another ambitious governor, Peter Norbeck, relentlessly promoted the development of a granite monument in the Black Hills that could lure visitors to the region.
Ms. Noem has shown a similar passion for making the state a destination, most memorably mixing tourism with politics by ensuring that fireworks could be displayed at Mount Rushmore to entice Mr. Trump there last year. South Dakota similarly trumpets its pheasant hunting, walleye fishing, and even more flagrant tourist pit stops, like Wall Drug and the Mitchell Corn Palace.
“We don’t have a lot of industry in South Dakota, and we don’t have a lot of natural resources pumped out of the ground or mined, so when you have a state that’s basically ag and ranching, you need those out-of-state dollars,” said Ted Hustead, whose family owns Wall Drug, whose Western-themed collection of stores and restaurants is a major tourist attraction.
That need is what put Ms. Noem in a vise over the transgender legislation.
She initially said she would support the bill. But she reversed course after facing a backlash from South Dakota’s influential business community, which worried that the National Collegiate Athletic Association would pull moneymaking basketball tournaments out of the state.
Ms. Noem was pressed about her change of mind by Tucker Carlson in a rare adversarial Fox News interview, and the flap fueled suspicions among social conservatives.
“She says whatever she thinks she needs to say,” said Taffy Howard, a state lawmaker who has pressed Ms. Noem to disclose the details of state money she has been using for security on her frequent trips. “This was all about keeping her donors happy.”
The House overrode Ms. Noem’s partial veto of the trans bill, but the State Senate declined to take action, dooming the legislation.