In South Dakota, Noem bends — partially — on transgender ban

FILE - In this Feb. 27, 2021 file photo, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Fla. Noem initially appeared eager to deliver what looked like an easy win for social conservatives. South Dakota's GOP-led legislature passed a bill banning transgender women and girls participating in women's sports leagues, and the Republican governor declared herself excited to sign the bill. But Noems enthusiasm faded surprisingly fast and she came up with a partial veto" to exclude collegiate athletics. (AP Photo/John Raoux, file) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem initially appeared eager to deliver a win to social conservatives on a top, culture war issue.

Just minutes after the GOP-led state legislature passed a bill banning transgender women and girls participating in women's sports leagues, the Republican governor fired off a tweet declaring herself “excited to sign” the bill.

Noem's enthusiasm faded surprisingly fast. Within days, the governor, who is widely viewed as eyeing a run for higher office, found herself caught in a political mess, facing tough lobbying from business interests, legal threats and talk of betrayal from social conservatives who had been reassured she was on their side.

The governor shied away from the bill when her office showed signs of turmoil — a key member of her staff who oversaw both policy and communications announced she was leaving. Ultimately, Noem crafted an escape plan that left plenty angry and tarnished her hard-charging reputation: a partial veto.

Noem's missteps have landed her at the center of a rift within the GOP. Its leaders find themselves caught between trying to please both business groups and hard-line social conservatives. Even Noem, who has built a reputation of not backing down from fights, has struggled to articulate a clear position on the ban.

“She was considered a shining star in the GOP with a bright future. No more,” Michael Farris, the head of an advocacy group, Alliance Defending Freedom, that backed the bill, wrote on Facebook after Noem announced her partial veto.

“We don’t need leaders who lack the courage to stand up to the corporate bullies who want to turn our country into an amoral wasteland filled with compliant consumers,” Farris added.

Noem's move Friday limits the ban to elementary and high school sports and excludes collegiate athletics. The decision was meant to placate business groups and key political backers who did not want to see the NCAA pull tournaments from the state.