SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem on Friday defended her administration's handling of her daughter's application for a real estate appraiser license, attempting to brush aside questions about a meeting she held last year that included her daughter, Kassidy Peters, and the state employee who was overseeing her application.
“I never once asked for special treatment for Kassidy,” the Republican governor said in video posted on YouTube days after The Associated Press first reported on the meeting. “She is my daughter and I'm proud of her. I raised her to accomplish things on her own.”
The meeting happened after the Department of Labor and Regulation moved to deny Peters the license. Four months later, in November 2020, Peters received her certification as a residential appraiser, according to the department.
A week after Peters received her license, the state employee who directed the agency was allegedly pressured to retire by Noem’s Cabinet secretary. The state employee, Sherry Bren, eventually received a $200,000 payment from the state to withdraw an age discrimination complaint and leave her job.
The state's attorney general, as well as Republican and Democratic lawmakers, are looking into the episode.
Until the video, Noem had released limited statements about the meeting, calling the AP's report a political attack and insisting she didn't seek special treatment for her daughter.
In the video, Noem did not mention the July 2020 meeting in her office or that the agency had indicated it would deny Peters her license. Noem said Peters had followed all the same steps as other appraisers, taking 200 hours of classroom education and gaining more than 1,500 hours of experience over the course of more than a year.
The Department of Labor and Regulation has denied a record request from the AP for agreements between the agency and Peters that would shed light on how Peters' application progressed and whether her work samples met federal standards.
Although the department acknowledged those records state they are open to public inspection, the agency's attorney argued that they were exempt. An appeals office later ruled that the department was right to deny the records.
However, Brad Johnson, an appraiser from Watertown, was riled by the department's decision to withhold the documents.
“Any appraiser understands that anything we sign with the state of South Dakota can be public,” he said.
Noem, 49, has generated speculation about a possible 2024 presidential run bid by forming a federal political action committee, assisting with campaigns across the country and attending many of the same events as other potential GOP hopefuls. Though Noem has said she is focused on reelection in 2022 and hasn’t publicly indicated that she plans a White House bid, she has visited the key early presidential campaigning states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and shown a willingness to jab at potential rivals.
In a statement released with the video Friday, the governor’s office said the shortage of appraisers is a nationwide problem that had been exacerbated in South Dakota due to barriers to getting certification. In the video, the governor said that since her daughter’s certification, she has made “changes to the process to streamline it for the future.” The certification program no longer requires people looking to get an entry-level license to take a test.
“My administration started fixing that process and it was way too difficult,” she said. “Appraisers weren't getting certified and South Dakotans were having to wait much longer to buy a home than in other states.”
However, the governor’s ability to change the program is limited because the state must meet federal standards for certifying appraisers.
In its statement, the governor's office included quotes from three real estate professionals who praised Noem's move.
"It is way too tough for young folks to enter this field,” said Brian Gatzke, an appraiser from Brookings who is a political backer of the governor and has donated to her congressional and gubernatorial campaigns.
However, Johnson, the appraiser from Watertown, said that the governor's “apparent interference” in the licensing of her daughter has worried other appraisers in the state. Federal regulators are currently auditing the certification program, raising concern that if they find something amiss, it could affect everyone with an appraiser license from South Dakota.
“Any appearance that something is not right in our appraiser certification program puts a black eye on the industry and we don’t appreciate it,” he said.