PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota Senate Republicans held a secret meeting two years ago and decided how their top two leaders should eventually be punished for actions on the final night of the 2020 main legislative session.
Senate Republican leader Kris Langer of Dell Rapids and Senate president pro tem Brock Greenfield of Clark had been drinking at a lobbyist’s nearby house on the night of March 30 and then returned to the Capitol where they tried to conduct business.
KELOLAND News received a transcript of the April 2020 telephone discussion involving the rest of the Senate Republican caucus. The transcript reveals that Republican senators arranged matters in advance for how a special Senate disciplinary committee would treat Langer and Greenfield for the misdeeds.
The Legislature’s Executive Board on April 2, 2020, voted 12-1 to have the Senate handle the matter and keep the board apprised. The Senate Interim Investigative Committee that formed met April 21 and April 24 of 2020. After viewing security video, receiving statements of apology from Langer and Greenfield, and taking testimony, the panel voted unanimously to admonish Langer and Greenfield for their behavior.
What wasn’t publicly known at the time was that Republican Senators Jim Bolin of Canton and Art Rusch of Vermillion had worked with Marty Jackley on the plan beforehand and then privately discussed the plan with the Republican Senate caucus, minus Langer and Greenfield. Jackley, the former state attorney general, represented Langer and Greenfield in the matter.
Greenfield won re-election in 2020 uncontested. He currently is a candidate for the Republican nomination for the state office of school and public lands commissioner. Jackley currently is a candidate for the Republican nomination for attorney general. Those contests will be decided at the South Dakota Republican Party state convention next month in Watertown. Langer had been seeking re-election in 2020 but later withdrew.
According to the transcript from the April 2020 meeting of Republican senators, Bolin led off by recounting what he and Rusch, a retired circuit judge, had already negotiated with Jackley over a period of several days.
“There is — their representative and us two were — our desire was to try to come to a meeting of the minds. We worked basically through three or four ‘A’ words. We agreed that there would have to be some kind of an acknowledgment of the error of those two senators, an apology, an admonition that would be delivered by the Senate, and then hopefully we could reach an agreement,” Bolin said.
Bolin continued, “So I’m going to read you — the way this is worked out right now is they do not want any official statement to go out until if and when our caucus agrees to it. So I’m going to read to you the apology that they are willing to put it out. And I’m going to read it slowly so if you want to take some notes, go right ahead.”
Bolin read the apology, then asked Rusch if he had a copy of the admonition that had been agreed upon with Jackley.
“I do have one,” Rusch said. “And I guess I want everybody to know that both the apology and the admonition are the result of many, many going back and forth as far as the language. You know, Senator Bolin and I were appointed to try to resolve this short of a trial, which we both feel would have been injurious to the Legislature and probably to the Republican Party. So my sense from listening to the discussion last week was most of the senators were primarily interested in an apology, so that was what we aimed for in doing this, if, as Senator Bolin said, an acknowledgment of what they did was wrong and an
apology and admonition. And the admonition that I’ve drafted would be something to be passed by the Senate because it’s a Senate issue, not a caucus issue.”
Rusch then said that Bolin had conferred with “the Democrats” who Rusch said wanted something more severe.
Senators Jeff Monroe of Pierre, Gary Cammack of Union Center, John Wiik of Big Stone City and V.J. Smith of Brookings then gave their support to the plan. Said Smith: “I think the public has bigger things going on in their minds right now than this. I don’t think it’s being swept under the rug at all. Frankly, one of the most
difficult things for a human being to do is to apologize. And it shows humility. And the apology and the admonition that they’ve agreed to, I think it is humbling themselves. And I deeply appreciate your work and Judge Rusch’s work in getting this done. And I’m all for moving forward.”
Then-Senator Jeff Partridge of Rapid City raised a point that the arrangement wasn’t what the Legislature’s Executive Board had directed to happen.
Said Partridge, “It’s interesting to me tonight that you are presenting what I — what you didn’t say at the beginning was, ‘I have a different strategy than what I presented at E-Board,’ is what I think you probably should have started with because it seems like that’s what you’re presenting tonight was a different strategy than what the E-Board was directing. Whether you agree with that or not, they did it. And the interim committee then was to be formed and is not going to be formed. So to Senator Jensen’s point and/or warning that he may know information about, the House may not accept this without the interim committee being formed in order to digest it and accept it themselves. Does that make sense?”
Bolin said it did. “And that’s — that’s probably a very — that’s probably a very valid — a valid criticism of my — my involvement in this.”
Rusch came back into the conversation, explaining that Bolin wanted to present the deal to the Executive Board as done.
Said Rusch, “And in respect to the idea that we need to have a trial on this, you know, no cases have to have a trial. Any civil case or criminal case, if the parties can reach an agreement, that’s the disposition of the case. It does not have to have a trial. And I think we’re doing the most expeditious thing so that we can move on with the really serious concerns that are addressing the state and not spend more time on this issue.”
After further discussion of whether the Executive Board would accept what Bolin and Rusch proposed, Senator Lee Schoenbeck of Watertown gave his thoughts.
Said Schoenbeck, “Let me say, the work you guys — it’s a great way to avoid a full pile of embarrassment for a lot of (unintelligible). But the way to fix it, Jeff is describing it, we should vote on a motion to appoint five caucus members who will support the Bolin-Rusch recommendation for apology and admonition. Because we also don’t want five people, any of the five that want to open it back up to some other donnybrook. That’s the motion we should vote on. And if a majority of us accept that, then we complied with E-Board.”
Then-Senator Deb Soholt of Sioux Falls entered the conversation.
Said Soholt, “So I appreciate all the back and forth dialogue in helping the Senate caucus to come to an elegant solution, and I would agree that there are probably some procedural issues that we have to attend to that have been raised by Senator Partridge and followed up by Senator Schoenbeck, that in whatever way we can have that not become a debacle. In your back and forth, was there any conversation about our leadership stepping away from their post because of the timing of having us to consider this when we’re in a statewide pandemic?”
Bolin answered her. “Yes, Senator Soholt, there were numerous conversations about that. And I know
Senator Rusch was involved in most of them. I did have one conversation with Mr. Jackley on Easter Sunday afternoon that Senator Rusch was not involved with, and that question was again raised. And that — I’ll just tell you this, that was never — the question was raised — that is unacceptable to both Senator Langer and Senator Greenfield. And if that is part of the requirement, they are prepared to, I guess, use the phrase ‘lawyer up’ and fight to the end on that issue for everything. They’re going to withdraw their apology if that is, in fact, the desire of the caucus.”
Rusch added, “We felt also, Jim (Bolin) and me in talking about this, that we’re going to have a special session probably that — to try to get new leadership and get all reorganized with new leadership at that time was more hassle than we thought would benefit to that.”
Later in the discussion Senator Jim Stalzer of Sioux Falls gave his perspective.
Said Stalzer, “I believe you’ve done a good job here, and this is something that I can accept, but I would
like to make a suggestion. If we were to choose a committee, what if we picked the remaining four (Senate) members of the Executive Board and Senator Rusch as our five people? That way if there’s anything that comes up in the Executive Board, we are all familiar with all of what’s gone on and can represent the entire caucus at that meeting. Just a suggestion.”
Senator Ryan Maher of Isabel agreed with the direction under discussion. “We need to appoint
members that agree with what’s been presented. And I also agree with what Stalzer had just said too, that I like those members that make up that committee.”
Eventually Senator Wayne Steinhauer of Hartford made a motion. “Without making preparatory comments, if I could make them at the end, I’d move that the Republican caucus appoint five members as requested by the E-Board; that Senator Bolin picks the five; that the five, that Senator Bolin’s directed to pick those, that would be predisposed to accept the apology and the admonition; that the committee assemble at least once; request that Marty Jackley present the apology and the admonition; and that you move immediately to accept it and you vote as a block of five to accept it. That would be my motion.”
Steinhauer then explained. “I think that there — if we were to go to a lengthy trial, there are facts that would — we’d end up in this position anyhow. I think this is a great way to short-circuit it, crossing the E-Board or having an issue in the public eye where we did not follow the directions of the E-Board. We will at least have assembled a committee, we will have met at least once, and I think we’ll have taken appropriate action. That’s the reason for my motion.”
Soholt questioned whether a formal motion was the right process within the caucus. She said the standard caucus process was to reach a consensus without a formal vote.
“I think for us to come up with a motion and a vote and this is what we’re bringing, and then we form a sham committee to bring forward, that’s what we’re saying versus saying, ‘This is what as a caucus we have come to consensus on that we would like brought forward, with these five members.’ The vote takes place in
that space. I’m just struggling procedurally that this (vote) is unprecedented for the caucus,” Soholt said.
Then-Senator Rocky Blare of Ideal expressed a similar reservation as Soholt and asked how tenuous the agreement with Jackley was.
Rusch answered, “If there’s any real major changes in this, I think that our deal will go away. Now I guess it’s always hard to define exactly what’s major changes, but we worked long and hard on both the language of the apology and the language of the admonition. So I don’t think that there’s much inclination on their part to detour from that very much.”
Bolin added, “I think there’s a little wiggle room but not much.”
Steinhauer said he was trying to avoid a two-hour conference call. Soholt then expanded on her reference to a sham committee.
“Now there’s been a strong negotiated apology and admonition. I think in this group we’re hearing pretty strong consensus that we’re going to accept that language because it took quite some time to negotiate,” Soholt said. “And if we veered from the language that was presented to us tonight, then probably we start all over in the process. But if we just would say we’re taking an actual formal vote, we’re handing this over as a decision already made to a five-member committee, and they go — and they are really just a shell committee. I think we need to let them form, go with the Democrats, and come armed with a consensus around our acceptance as a caucus of the language that’s presented tonight, and through the votes in that membership are able to bring it home. Otherwise, it just seems like, Why are we doing the committee step that feels fake? It looks likes no room for conversation amongst members that want to talk about it. And then this is brought forward as a formal motion within those members and a report back to the Senate and it’s done. That’s just my thinking in process.”
Eventually Senator Blake Curd of Sioux Falls entered the conversation. “I am firmly in the camp with Senator Partridge and Senator Soholt in that I think we have to also support you as the person who made a motion that was passed 12 to 1. I think we have to support the E-Board. I think anything short of appointing the committee is going to be seen as inappropriate, whether you believe the initial thing was appropriate or not. I understand that; there’s a difference of opinion. But I think that committee has to be filled with five senators that are from the GOP, and four from the Democratic caucus. That is subject to rules under — the 20 rules you already mentioned, rule 20 specifically. But the interim rules govern that committee. And certainly a motion, when that committee forms, is appropriate at any point, including bringing forth this as a resolution, and then the committee should decide. If the five members that are appointed by the Senate are so moved to adopt it, then that’s the committee process. But I think any attempt to short-circuit or circumvent it is politically foolish and fraught with potential peril and also will not be seen as a resolution of the matter.”
Curd continued, “And I think you could very well find a couple of senators that are willing to bring it up
in any special session as a violation and something that needs to be addressed in Chapter 8 of our Senate rules. Even the committee meeting in doing this may not preclude that, but I think it gives it a much better
chance. So my opinion is, I agree with also Senator Soholt. We don’t take motions and seconds and then record votes in the Caucus. If we’re going to start doing that, that will be a very interesting session the next couple years for us to try and deal with that.”
Curd added, “But I think, you know, it certainly is not easy to negotiate. I appreciate Jim (Bolin) and Art taking the time to do that. I have no personal issue with what’s written down. But I think it’s at least got to get to the committee. The Democrats will object to it, they’ll try and make political hay. They will regardless. If you just approach the E-Board and say, ‘Up yours. We’re not forming your committee,’ the Democrats will make political hay with that, too. They’re going to take any political opportunity they can. At least if the committee is formed, and the first thing that they consider is a motion to dismiss and accept the apology and admonition, I think that supports not only our assistant leader (Bolin), it supports everyone except Senator Stalzer that’s on the E-Board that voted to form the committee, and it supports the entire E-Board. I think you get to the same result without attempting to take a side street. That’s just how I think it ought to probably play out.”
Eventually the conversation turned to then-Senator Bob Ewing of Spearfish, who agreed with the apology and admonition that Rusch and Bolin had presented. Ewing commented about Langer and Greenfield.
“It kind of makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up that, to the fact that the two of them are not at liberty to step down from their position. I don’t think they need to be out of the Senate by any means,
but I think it, I think it’s kind of bold of them to say without stepping down, that kind of bothers me that they’ll pursue it further, without stepping down, that kind of bothers me. And so with that said, I have a little reluctance to be one of the members on the E-Board sitting on this committee,” Ewing said.
Then-Senator Phil Jensen of Rapid City spoke up. Jensen had attempted to have Langer disciplined on the last night of session when she and Greenfield had been drinking.
Said Jensen, “I think it’s going to look like a rigged committee if we have four predetermined, predisposed
senators on there that are in favor of accepting the apology, the admonition program. I would highly recommend that we have one or two senators on there who are not in favor of that, who were actually in the minority the morning of the 31st, which would be Senator Otten, myself, or Youngberg. Monroe has already expressed his preference for an apology, because doing anything less than that would be, I think would be just a big, big mistake.”
Jensen was referring to then-Senator Ernie Otten of Tea and then-Senator Jordan Youngberg of Madison. Jensen, Otten, Youngberg and Monroe had voted for overruling the decision by Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden — who had been at the same lobbyist’s house that night — that Jensen’s motion that night to appoint a disciplinary committee to investigate whether Langer had acted in contempt of the Legislature was out of order. The attempt to overrule the lieutenant governor failed 26-4.
Schoenbeck supported Jensen’s idea on committee membership and suggested that Otten or Youngberg be placed on the committee as a replacement for Ewing. Bolin pointed out that the nine-senator panel already would have four Democrats.
Smith didn’t want to serve if the committee meeting was to be in the state Capitol because of his fear of COVID-19. Otten said he might have some work obligations that would prevent him from serving on it. Youngberg indicated he could serve. Bolin then asked Senator Maggie Sutton of Sioux Falls if she could serve. Sutton said she could. Bolin said it would be good for the Republicans to have a female voice on it.
Jensen interjected, “I think putting a woman in there just for the sake of a woman is bologna. I think you need to find someone of the four that voted in the minority the morning of the 31st, and I’m willing to serve in that capacity.”
Bolin thanked him for the comment. Monroe said he’d be willing to serve. Senator Jim White of Huron defended the potential selection of Sutton. “I’m sure that the fact that you’re picking a senator of the opposite sex doesn’t mean that you’re looking at just having a woman. Senator Sutton brings a wealth of information with her, as she has indicated an interest in it, So she should be able to be a candidate just like anyone else,” White said.
Maher commented, “I like the way your committee makeup is because we know Greenfield and Langer will be back next year. They’re unopposed. The committee is made up of peers that are mostly all coming back with the exception of Senator White. He’s the only one termed (term limited.) We’re not going to have very many numbers back. There’s only 11 of us coming back for sure, something like that. And so I think the committee is made up of people that are going to have to work with Senator Langer (and) Greenfield next year. I think it’s a good mix.”
Bolin announced the committee members to the caucus. “I know that Senator Jensen will be displeased, but I’m going to — I’m going to say that the Republican caucus has selected Senator Jim White to serve on this committee, Senator Jim White, Senator Art Rusch, Senator Jim Stalzer, Senator Jim Bolin, and Senator Maggie Sutton will be the five Republicans who will sit on this committee.”
Rusch then said, “I think that — and my understanding is that when Jim (Bolin) notifies Marty Jackley that the inclination, the tendency, whatever, of the caucus is to go along with that apology, excuse me, with the admonition, that probably at that point, Brock and Kris will publicly make their apology known at that time. And the admonition will not actually be known or made until the committee makes that, and I think that decision, and I think makes that recommendation, and I think that’s the proper way to go.”
Jensen spoke up again as the call neared the end. “I believe that the Senate is making a huge mistake by stacking the committee is my comment. And my question is: Has the governor had anything to say about
the lieutenant governor’s involvement at the party house the morning of the 31st?”
Replied Bolin, “Senator Jensen, I don’t know anything about that. And I — I know nothing about that. I don’t know anything about that. So –“
Jensen asked, “Do any members?”
Bolin continued, “…thank you — thank you for, I guess, your involvement.”