SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota’s first impeachment investigation is moving forward.
After two-days of meetings, mostly held in executive session and off public record, the House Select Committee on Investigation voted unanimously to issue five subpoenas for people to testify before the panel in mid-January.
The committee, consisting of six Republican representatives, two Democrat representatives and House Speaker Spencer Gosch (R-Glenham) as a tie-breaking vote, has now met three times since 58 members of the South Dakota House of Representatives voted in favor of a resolution starting the impeachment process against Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg.
University of South Dakota political science professor Michael Card said many South Dakota citizens may be wondering why this process is taking so long.
“It’s taken a long time,” Card said. “I suspect that’s the major portion of angst about this impeachment.”
Card said many of the delays, since impeachment was first brought up at the end of the 2021 legislative session in February 2021, have made sense to him. He noted Ravnsborg’s attorney pleading no contest to two misdemeanors in August gave lawmakers a legal conviction to base impeachment proceedings on.
“To remove someone from office is to overcome the will of the voters who put this person in office,” Card said. “We know there was an offense committed to which the person pleaded no contest. There is legal reason to do this. Now, is there reason to do this to overturn the will of the voters? That is how I look at it.”
After hiring Rapid City-based lawyer Sara Frankenstein as legal counsel, Gosch said the most recent work involved committee members going through a large investigation file provided by South Dakota Department of Public Safety at the request of Gov. Kristi Noem.
Card said it was smart for lawmakers to hire a legal counsel to have someone acting in the committee’s best interest.
“They were able to meet in secret,” Card said. “Some of it makes sense. They’re trying to figure out how to do this from scratch.”
After ending the executive session shortly after 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, the committee reopened to public record and announced subpoenas for testimony, starting with Craig Price, the Department of Public Safety secretary for South Dakota. Also subpoenaed were Jeramie Quam and Joe Arenz with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation; John G. Daily, Jackson Hole (Wyoming) Scientific Investigations; and John Berndt with the South Dakota Highway Patrol.
Those five people will be called to testify on either January 18 or January 19, Rep. Mike Stevens (R-Yankton) said during the end of Wednesday’s meeting.
Card said the committee, which will need to issue a report to the full House, is looking at the entire process after Ravnsborg’s car struck and killed 55-year-old Joe Boever on the night of September 12, 2020 on U.S. 14 at the west edge of Highmore.
“The value would be to look at this with your own eyes,” Card said. “They are looking at what questions they still might have from looking at the evidence that was turned over to them and ask questions of the individuals and give them the opportunity to identify what they saw.”
Gosch also said the committee plans to meet before those dates on January 17 to work on redactions on documents that could be publicly released. Those January meetings will happen during a busy time for lawmakers, who will be in the second week of the 97th legislative session.
“There’s just a lot of stuff going on for what we hope is a part-time legislature,” Card said. “Probably this year, it (the legislature) isn’t so part-time.”
Ravnsborg’s first term as AG ends in January 2023
The South Dakota Constitution says grounds for impeachment are “drunkenness, crimes, corrupt conduct, or malfeasance or misdemeanor in office.”
A simple majority of 36 representatives in the House would be necessary to impeach Ravnsborg, at which time the state Constitution states there’d be “Suspension of duties between impeachment and acquittal.” There’s then, at least, a 20-day delay until a Senate trial could convict and permanently remove Ravnsborg from office.
Ravnsborg’s first term as attorney general would end in January 2023, regardless of who the Republican Party nominates at a state convention and who voters vote for in the November election.
Candidates for the position of attorney general are nominated at state conventions of each political party. The South Dakota Republican Party State Convention to be held June 23-25 at the Watertown Event Center.
Former attorney general Marty Jackley has stated he’ll seek the Republican attorney general nomination.
In 2018, Ravnsborg beat Democratic candidate Randy Seiler 55% to 45%, receiving 33,000 more votes than Seiler.