PIERRE, SD – This week’s South Dakota Senate decision remove Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg leaving office was an emphatic victory for Gov. Kristi Noem, whose dogged efforts to oust her fellow Republican likely sealed his fate, though some GOP lawmakers backed him.
Noem, who has risen to national prominence within the party and is widely regarded as a potential candidate for the 2024 White House, began urging Ravnsborg to resign within days of his car hitting and killing a pedestrian in September 2020. He declined but was removed Tuesday by an impeachment trial in which the Senate voted to convict the first-term Republican and then — unanimously — barred him from holding public office again.
Noem pushed impeachment through the Republican-controlled legislature, providing crucial support for a project that at times faced razor-thin votes. Though her aggressive approach angered some lawmakers, Ravnsborg’s ouster allows Noem to name his successor, discredit a former opponent who had investigated her, and claim political independence for holding another Republican to account.
Noem celebrated the impeachment conviction on Twitter Tuesday, saying “a dark cloud” had lifted over the attorney general’s office.
“Now is the time to move on and restore confidence in the office,” Noem said.
She has backed Ravnsborg’s predecessor Marty Jackley for the Republican nomination for attorney general, but it’s not clear if he will be her pick to temporarily fill the job until November’s nominee is sworn in. Noem and Jackley ran a scathing primary campaign for governor in 2018, and their mutual support was a surprising development when the House of Representatives evaluated the merits of impeachment earlier this year.
Noem could wait until after Saturday when the Republican Party of South Dakota picks its nominee for the November election before naming the interim attorney general.
The votes against Ravnsborg in the GOP-dominated Senate showed that the senators did not believe his account of the crash. Ravnsborg had told a 911 dispatcher the night of the crash that he might have hit a deer or other large animal, and said he wasn’t aware he hit a man – 55-year-old Joseph Boever – until he returned to the scene the next morning.
Noem’s support for Ravnsborg’s ouster – and his refusal to step down – has upset state politics, which are overwhelmingly Republican-dominated.
After Ravnsborg was softly pressed Forced to be “furloughed” three days after the crash by Noem’s chief of staff and later publicly urged to resign by the governor, he showed an increasing willingness to disrupt the political establishment by opening investigations into the governor and his allies with her.
In an April letter sent to House lawmakers on the eve of the impeachment vote, Ravnsborg said he will not step down in part because his office has “multiple ongoing investigations into the alleged activities of the governor and those associated with her.”
made Ravnsborg a couple of complaints to the state’s Government Accountability Board, which reviews ethics complaints against state officials. The board is expected to meet on Monday as it weighs whether to investigate both Noem’s use of state aircraft to attend political events and them interference in a government agency who had refused her daughter a real estate appraiser’s license.
“The friction between the governor and Ravnsborg may have led to Ravnsborg acting more conscientiously as the governor’s office watchdog,” said Jon Schaff, a political science professor at Northern State University who closely monitors statehouse policy.
Impeachment proceedings also gave Ravnsborg reason to investigate Noem’s circle. When an organization set up to further the governor’s agenda sponsored billboards attacking the legislature for not supporting Ravnsborg’s impeachment was his Office probed whether the organization broke Campaign Finance Laws.
Prior to the crash, the attorney general’s office had also launched an investigation into the state’s richest man, T. Denny Sanford, for possible possession of child pornography. While Noem refused to distance himself from Sanford and accepted several donations from him on behalf of the state totaling more than $100 million, Ravnsborg continued to review charges against Sanford.
That Attorney General’s Office last month stated that it would not pursue state charges against Sanford.
The timing angered Republican lawmakers, who supported Ravnsborg, pointing out that Ravnsborg was forced to take a leave of absence pending the Senate impeachment trial.
“The Denny Sanford case has mysteriously disappeared,” said Republican House Speaker Spencer Gosch, who clashed with the governor during the impeachment hearing.
The governor has been sharply criticized by some Republicans for pushing ahead with a committee of inquiry into an impeachment trial and for releasing videos of Ravnsborg interviewing detectives in 2021 while a court case was pending.
“She doesn’t want anyone who won’t bend to her will,” said Gosch, who recently lost a race in the primary when the governor backed his opponent, Senator Bryan Breitling. “It has cost the state of South Dakota and it has cost the Republican Party.”
The House committee overseeing Gosch recommended against impeachment, but Noem was undeterred. Her administration urged lawmakers to vote for an impeachment trial, and two impeachment trials passed the Republican-controlled House of Representatives by a single vote.
The Senate vote on the first indictment — the commission of crimes that caused Boever’s death — passed Tuesday without a vote. The Senate convicted him on the second count by a comfortable margin and then voted unanimously to bar him permanently from public office.
Schaff, the political science professor, said the vote showed both a “victory of fact” won by prosecutors and a “political victory” for Noem.
Nick Nemec, Boever’s cousin, who has also pushed for Ravnsborg’s ouster in the legislature, where he once sat as a Democrat, said he was grateful Noem fought for Ravnsborg’s ouster.
“Reg. Noem is a polarizing figure,” he said. “There are a lot of things she says and does that I wholeheartedly disagree with, but I’m sure glad she was on our side in this matter.”
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https://www.local10.com/news/national/2022/06/22/south-dakota-gov-noem-gets-emphatic-win-with-ags-removal/ South Dakota Gov. Noem wins resoundingly with AG removal