PIERRE, SD (TAUT) — The South Dakota Senate’s decision this week to remove Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg from office was a landslide victory for Governor Kristi Noem, whose strenuous efforts to oust her fellow Republican likely sealed his fate even as some GOP lawmakers backed him.
Noem, who has risen to national prominence within the party and is widely seen as a potential candidate for the White House in 2024, began pushing Ravnsborg to resign days after hitting and killing a pedestrian with his car in September 2020. He refused but was expelled on Tuesday. through impeachment proceedings, with the Senate voting to convict the Republican of the first term, then – unanimously – barring him from holding public office again.
Noem sought impeachment through the Republican-controlled Legislature, lending crucial support to an effort that at times faced extremely thin voting margins. Although her aggressive approach has annoyed some lawmakers, Ravnsborg’s ousting allows Noem to appoint her replacement, discredit a former opponent who investigated her, and assert her political independence because she held a fellow Republican accountable.
Noem celebrated the impeachment sentencing Tuesday on Twitter, saying a “dark cloud” over the attorney general’s office had been lifted.
“Now is the time to move on and start restoring trust in the office,” Noem said.
She endorsed Ravnsborg’s predecessor, Marty Jackley, for the Republican nomination for attorney general, but it’s unclear if he will be her pick to temporarily fill the job until the nominee elected in November is sworn. Noem and Jackley fought a biting primary campaign for governor in 2018, and their mutual endorsement was a surprising development as the House weighed the merits of impeachment earlier this year.
Noem could wait to appoint the acting attorney general until after Saturday, when the South Dakota Republican Party decides its nominee for the November election.
Votes against Ravnsborg in the GOP-dominated Senate showed senators did not believe his account of the accident. Ravnsborg had told a 911 dispatcher the night of the crash that he could have hit a deer or other large animal and said he did not know he had hit a man – Joseph Boever, 55 – until he returns to the scene the next morning.
Noem’s plea for Ravnsborg’s impeachment — and his refusal to step down — has troubled politics in the state, which is overwhelmingly Republican-dominated.
After Ravnsborg was quietly pressured into taking “leave of absence” by Noem’s chief of staff three days after the crash and then faced public calls from the governor for his resignation, he showed a willingness growing interest in disrupting the political establishment by investigating the governor and those aligned with her.
In an April letter sent to House lawmakers on the eve of the impeachment vote, Ravnsborg said he would not resign in part because his office “has several ongoing investigations into the governor’s alleged activities and the people associated with it”.
Ravnsborg filed a pair of complaints with the state Government Accountability Board, which assesses ethics complaints against state government officials. The council is due to meet on Monday to consider whether to investigate both Noem’s use of state planes to attend political events and his interference with a state agency that denied his daughter a real estate appraiser license.
“Friction between the governor and Ravnsborg may have led Ravnsborg to be more diligent as a watchdog of the governor’s office,” said Jon Schaff, a political science professor at Northern State University who watches politics closely. of Statehouse.
Even the impeachment proceedings gave Ravnsborg reason to investigate Noem’s circle. When an organization created to promote the governor’s agenda sponsored billboards attacking lawmakers for not supporting Ravnsborg’s impeachment, his office investigated whether the organization had violated campaign finance laws. .
Prior to the crash, the attorney general’s office had also launched an investigation into the state’s wealthiest man, T. Denny Sanford, for potential possession of child pornography. While Noem refused to distance himself from Sanford and accepted several donations from him on behalf of the state totaling over $100 million, Ravnsborg continued to assess the charges against Sanford.
The attorney general’s office said last month it would not press charges against Sanford.
The timing upset Republican lawmakers who supported Ravnsborg and pointed out that it happened as Ravnsborg was forced to take time off pending the Senate impeachment trial.
“The Denny Sanford case has mysteriously disappeared,” said Republican House Speaker Spencer Gosch, who clashed with the governor during impeachment proceedings.
The governor has received heavy criticism from some Republicans for pushing an impeachment inquiry, as well as in 2021 for releasing videos of Ravnsborg’s interviews with criminal investigators while a trial was pending. In progress.
“She doesn’t want anyone who won’t bend to her will,” said Gosch, who recently lost a legislative primary race when the governor backed his opponent, Sen. Bryan Breitling. “It cost the state of South Dakota and the Republican Party.”
The House committee that Gosch oversaw spoke against impeachment, but Noem was not deterred. His administration pressed lawmakers to vote for impeachment, and two articles of impeachment passed by a single vote in the Republican-controlled House.
The Senate vote on the first impeachment charge — committing crimes that caused Boever’s death — passed Tuesday without a vote to spare. The Senate convicted him of the second charge by a comfortable margin, then voted unanimously to permanently bar him from public office.
Schaff, the political science professor, said the vote showed both a “victory of facts” brought by the prosecution and a “political victory” for Noem.
Nick Nemec, Boever’s cousin who also lobbied for Ravnsborg’s ousting in the Legislative Assembly where he once held a seat as a Democrat, said he was grateful Noem fought for the impeachment of Ravnsborg.
“Governor. Noem is a polarizing figure,” he said. “There are a lot of things she says and does that I totally disagree with, but I’m really glad she’s on our side on this issue.”