SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — In his six years with a desk on the Senate floor inside the state Capitol, Reynold Nesiba said Tuesday was the most somber he’s ever felt in Pierre.
“The mood was just serious,” Nesiba, a Democrat who represents central Sioux Falls in District 15, told KELOLAND News on Wednesday in Sioux Falls. “One of the things that made it different is that for most of the time, the senators were just listening.
Sen. Mary Duvall (R-Pierre) also used the word “somber” and said it was “very sobering to be there.”
“We’d never done this before. We didn’t know what to expect,” Duvall said. “When the first vote was taken and it had just enough votes to pass, I felt both a sense of relief for the Boever family, but also a sense of sadness for Mr. Ravnsborg and for South Dakota.”
Sen. Bryan Breitling (R-Miller) told Dakota Radio Group in Pierre the mood on the Senate floor was “solemn.”
“There’s no winners from this,” Breitling said. “We had to make a decision on what we thought was right for the state of South Dakota.”
Both Duvall and Nesiba did not speak during the debate on the vote on whether to sustain impeachment against Jason Ravnsborg. Both said they came into the impeachment trial with open minds and both voted to sustain impeachment.
Nesiba pointed out he had previously called on Ravnsborg to resign from his position of attorney general even before Gov. Kristi Noem asked for his resignation. But on Tuesday, Nesiba said he had to weigh whether Ravnsborg’s driving misdemeanors and actions after the crash were considered impeachable offenses.
“It wasn’t just distracted driving, but it was really reckless distracted driving that killed Joe Boever,” Nesiba said. “I really thought that (Mark) Vargo and (Alexis) Tracy on the prosecution team did an excellent job of just talking about what happened and pointing out that Jason Ravnsborg had trouble telling the truth about this event.”
Duvall also praised the prosecution for showing the facts of the case. She added Sen. Lee Schoenbeck (R-Watertown) and Sen. David Wheeler (R-Huron), both lawyers, clarified what the Senate’s responsibility was.
“If you look at the language in the Constitution for impeachment, it doesn’t specify any standard of proof that we had to meet,” Duvall said.
The first sustained impeachment vote was 24-9 and the second sustained impeachment vote went 31-2. Two Senators, Red Dawn Foster (D-Pine Ridge) and Julie Frye-Mueller (R-Rapid City) were excused.
Only Sen. Tim Johns (R-Lead) and Sen. Al Novstrup (R-Aberdeen) voted against sustaining both impeachment articles.
Novstrup told Hub City Radio in Aberdeen he swore an oath to abide by the state Constitution. Novstrup said most people can only be punished through a criminal or civil case, but said Ravnsborg also faced punishment from the State Bar Association regarding his law license, the military code and impeachment.
Novstrup pointed to impeachment wording in the Constitution that says “drunkenness, crimes, corrupt conduct, or malfeasance or misdemeanor in office.”
Novstrup said the word “misdemeanor” had a different meaning more than 100 years ago.
“It was a major crime back then,” Novstrup said. “I came to the conclusion, he was not in office.”
Novstrup said had Ravnsborg traveled to Redfield to meet with law enforcement instead of a political dinner, he would have considered him “in office.”
He also highlighted how rare impeachment is in the United States and how it takes away from voters.
On count two, Novstrup said many of the Senators who voted to acquit realized it didn’t matter what they voted on the issue of malfeasance.
“I stayed with my no,” Novstrup said, noting he believed Ravnsborg was “not on duty.”
“If it was the right vote the first time, it was the right vote the second time and I stayed with that,” he said.
Nesiba said there was a gap in philosophy about what it meant to engage in an impeachment.
“This is not a criminal trial. This is not a civil trial. This is a political trial,” Nesiba said. “We are looking at the evidence and each of us in some ways, using our own standard of what it means to have an impeachable offense.”
Senators would have liked to hear from Ravnsborg
Ravnsborg was in the Senate chamber with his defense team but never spoke. The Senate rules said Ravnsborg could have had unlimited time for testimony but would have been subject to cross-examination.
Both Duvall and Nesiba said they would have liked to have heard from Ravnsborg. Nesiba said he did not accept responsibility for the crash.
“One of the things that I was most struck by in the testimony was from the attorney general’s perspective, this event was something that happened to him,” Nesiba said. “Wham, it hit me or something like that.”
On the Senate floor before the vote, Schoenbeck also emphasized he would have liked to have heard from Ravnsborg himself on “what the hell he was doing” the night of the crash.
“There’s a mic right there, and that’s a damn short walk,” Schoenbeck said while looking right at Ravnsborg in the Senate chamber.
In the days after the historic vote, Duvall said she hopes people in South Dakota understand a few things more clearly.
“To be an elected official, I really think that we need to hold ourselves to a high standard,” Duvall said. “It’s not about us. It’s about representing our constituents and it’s about working hard to represent the state.”
Duvall also said she hopes more people put cell phones down while driving.
“That has really been in my mind a lot throughout the course of this whole thing,” Duvall said. “Do not be on your telephone while you’re driving.”
Breitling said there’s thoughts that this impeachment will have broad implications, but he looked at it as a specific person and a specific event.
“We’ll see where history takes us on that,” Breitling said.
Nesiba said the Ravnsborg case was one he heard from people in District 15 and many people in the state were aware of what happened. He said he believes some lawmakers may look at state laws regarding vehicular homicide.
“The agent from North Dakota, (Arnie) Rummel said if this happened in North Dakota it would have been charged as a felony,” Nesiba said.