Panel admonishes S.D. Senate Republican leaders Langer, Greenfield for intoxication

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Three weeks later, the top two leaders of the South Dakota Senate admitted Friday that they were under the influence of alcohol at the state Capitol, while they conducted official business, during the final hours of the 2020 legislative session.

Senate Republican leader Kris Langer of Dell Rapids and Senate president pro tem Brock Greenfield of Clark said they had been drinking the night and early morning of March 30-31.

Their admissions came Friday morning, as the Senate investigation committee met for a second day this week.

The panel Friday voted 9-0 to admonish Langer and Greenfield for their behavior and cautioned them against future appearances at the Capitol when their sobriety could be questioned.

Greenfield, sometime after 3 a.m. March 31, had disputed an allegation by another senator, Republican Phil Jensen of Rapid City, that Langer was intoxicated.

Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden, in his role as Senate president, ruled Jensen’s motion for an investigation was out of order. Senators voted 26-4 to support Rhoden.

The story changed Friday.

Langer, reading a statement, acknowledged they consumed alcohol while away from the Capitol during a break and apologized for “bad judgment.”

Greenfield echoed Langer’s comments and said he was sorry. “I am hopeful we can all focus moving forward,” Greenfield said.

Jensen said Friday that Langer’s behavior was disruptive and Greenfield lied by saying they hadn’t indulged.

Jensen said one of the committee members, Senator Margaret Sutton, a Sioux Falls Republican, had later called him and accused him of turning on “family.” Jensen noted that Rhoden had to “shush” Langer twice in open view of the Senate.

Senator Jim Stalzer, a Republican from Sioux Falls who served on the committee, said Friday that Langer and Greenfield had been advised against speaking by their defense lawyer, former state Attorney General Marty Jackley.

Senator Art Rusch, a Vermillion Republican and retired state circuit judge, chaired the investigation. Rusch said Friday he had worked with Langer and Greenfield on their apologies two weeks ago.

The committee report states:

“Although it does not appear that there was any violation of the law or of Legislative Joint Rule 1A-3 on the evening of the 37th Legislative Day because there was no consumption of alcohol within the area of the Capitol building, we believe your presence in the Capitol on that legislative day while you appeared to be impaired, violated Joint Rule 1B-1 which requires all legislators to refrain from conduct that is unbecoming to the legislature and inconsistent with a legislator’s obligation to maintain the trust and respect of the people we serve.

“Therefore, you are hereby admonished and cautioned to in the future not appear in the Capitol when questions could be raised as to your state of sobriety.”

Among those testifying Friday was House Speaker Steve Haugaard of Sioux Falls. He said Langer “wasn’t able to communicate” a sensible thought when she and Greenfield returned to the Capitol after 1:15 a.m. Haugaard said she was obviously intoxicated and was struggling to make sense.

Haugaard said he met a few minutes later with Lt. Gov. Rhoden and House Republican leader Lee Qualm of Platte, along with Langer and Greenfield, in room 499. There was no video available from the room.

Haugaard said Langer and Greenfield weren’t able to engage in conversation with the three in 499 to any significant extent. “His speech was thick and slurred,” Haugaard said about Greenfield, adding that Greenfield seemed unaware of what was happening.

Haugaard said Greenfield kept bringing up SB 191 that had been killed hours earlier by the House. Rhoden finally told Greenfield the bill was done, according to Haugaard. He said Langer didn’t seem physically capable at that point of being more involved in the discussion.

Haugaard said he later spoke to Greenfield, on April 1, “after he sobered up.” Haugaard said Greenfield told him the drinking occurred at a house near the Capitol that lobbyist Dean Krogman of Brookings keeps for use when in Pierre.

Haugaard said Greenfield told him others who were present at the Krogman house included Lt. Gov. Rhoden, National Rifle Association lobbyist Brian Gosch of Rapid City, and lobbyists Justin Bell and Katie Sieverding of Pierre.

Jackley cross-examined Haugaard, who acknowledged he didn’t see any alcohol on the persons of Langer and Greenfield at the Capitol.

“I was not there when they were drinking,” Haugaard said about the Krogman house. Haugaard said Langer and Greenfield were “drunk” when they returned to the Capitol from Krogman’s house.

Others who testified Friday included Qualm, House Democratic leader Jamie Smith of Sioux Falls, Republican Representative Tony Randolph of Rapid City and Democratic Representative Oren Lesmeister of Parade.

Lesmeister served on a House-Senate conference committee with Langer and Greenfield. “I can 100 percent tell you they were intoxicated that night,” Lesmeister said about being face-to-face with them. He said Greenfield was able to carry on a conversation but Langer had “still very slurred speech and had trouble finishing sentences.”

Under cross-examination, Lesmeister told Jackley that Greenfield was “in better shape” during the conference committee than when Greenfield and Langer got off the elevator but still clearly had been drinking,

The committee didn’t seek testimony from Rhoden, who had been a long-time Republican legislator when then-U.S. Representative Kristi Noem chose him as her running mate during her successful 2018 campaign for governor.

Senator Jim Bolin, a Canton Republican, proposed the findings. He is the Senate Republican assistant leader and served on the investigation committee. Bolin and Qualm asked the Legislature’s Executive Board for the committee.

The committee Friday voted 5-3 against changing the verbs in Bolin’s report to ‘censure.’ Senator Craig Kennedy, a Yankton Democrat, sought the amendment.

Kennedy, a lawyer, said admonishment wasn’t one of the four choices — exonerate, discipline, censure or expel — in Senate rule 8-7. Kennedy said admonishment would be “a wrist slap” and wasn’t appropriate, but the vote against his amendment broke along party lines.

The committee met Tuesday and Friday via video conference. Jackley and Bolin came to the Capitol Friday.

Jackley, a former U.S. attorney for South Dakota, was a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor in 2018 and now is in private practice. He told the committee there was no evidence that Langer and Greenfield broke state law by having alcohol at the Capitol. He said an allegation that Langer and Greenfield interrupted legislative proceedings should be dismissed.

Jackley said the committee didn’t have blood tests or preliminary breath tests showing whether Langer or Greenfield were drunk. Jackley said they were up-front by admitting they were drinking away from the Capitol.

Jackley said Langer and Greenfield were pushing the governor’s agenda and the House didn’t like it. He said their behavior didn’t rise above a reprimand or at most an admonition.

Jackley said the committee was on “legal thin ice” without blood tests or PBTs. “It was not right for them to leave the Capitol and go have a drink, and they told you that,” Jackley said.

Senator Susan Wismer, a Britton Democrat on the committee, said she would have accepted ‘admonition’ if Langer and Greenfield had apologized the day afterward, but they waited more than three weeks, and their lawyer then tried to confuse legislators who had seen the events unfold.

The final day of session was conducted remotely, using technology, because of COVID-19. Most legislators didn’t have to return to the Capitol after a two-week break. Wismer participated from home, while Greenfield and Langer were at the Capitol.

A few days later, Representative Bob Glanzer, a Huron Republican, died of COVID-19, after becoming ill at the end of the session’s main run.

Wismer said Friday she didn’t recall seeing Greenfield on camera during the final day, and that Langer was on camera until people understood it was in Langer’s interest to get out of camera range.

Another committee member, Senate Democratic leader Troy Heinert of Mission, said he was pleased that Langer and Greenfield apologized. He said parts of the night were disappointing but he respects them and appreciated their willingness to serve as legislators.

“I haven’t heard anybody on the Senate side calling for expulsion. I haven’t heard that at all and I wouldn’t support that,” Heinert said.

Heinert acknowledged nobody else from the Senate was in the building early that morning and he is confident Langer and Greenfield won’t do it again. He said Democrats don’t have a voice in choosing the Republican leader — the two caucuses meet separately — but he could “for sure” work with Greenfield as president pro tem.

Rusch said he tried to narrow the allegations and appreciated Kennedy working with him. Rusch said there wasn’t any evidence that alcohol was consumed at the Capitol and what happened hadn’t been within view of the Senate.

Rusch said he agreed there was a violation of proper behavior by the two. He said the people of South Dakota have a right to expect better from their legislators. “Clearly this was an example of bad judgment on their case,” Rusch said.

Rusch said the next step is to work on a report that would be circulated among the committee for review and the final version would be provided to the Legislature’s Executive Board by the June 30 deadline.

Rusch said the decision was “a good result.” He said perhaps a rule could be considered prohibiting legislators from coming to work intoxicated but the problem would be enforcing it.

KELOLAND News reporter Rae Yost contributed to this story.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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