PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Short sleeves might, by necessity, be the “in” look Tuesday at the South Dakota Capitol, as the impeachment trial for suspended state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg begins on summer’s first morning in a Senate chamber that lacks air-conditioning.
Overhead chandeliers that are normally lit stayed off Monday afternoon in an effort to keep the huge two-story room as cool as possible, while legislative staff wrapped up preparations for the first such proceeding against an elected constitutional officer in the history of South Dakota.
Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden went back and forth between his Senate president’s desk and the Senate secretary’s office getting ready. Elijah Rodgriguez, information technology manager for the South Dakota Legislative Research Council, made sure equipment was connected and working, while LRC director Reed Holwegner checked on arrangements.
The 35-member Senate will take oaths shortly after 8 a.m. Tuesday to start the two-day trial. The 70-member House of Representatives also will convene, at 10 a.m.. Both chambers plan to finish at some point Wednesday.
Witnesses will testify, standing, from the Senate secretary’s lectern.
The House voted 36-31 in April to impeach Ravnsborg on two articles in connection with the crash on the night of September 12, 2020, along US 14 at the west edge of Highmore that killed pedestrian Joe Boever. The South Dakota Constitution’s impeachment chapter requires for a conviction the yes votes of at least two-thirds — 24 — of the senators.
Should Ravnsborg be convicted on either count, the Senate would then take a third vote on whether to permanently remove him from office. If Ravnsborg isn’t convicted, he can return to his normal duties as attorney general. He recently said that he wouldn’t seek re-election regardless of the outcome.
Senators received special passes for their guests at the proceeding to sit in a reserved area of the gallery at the rear of the horseshoe-shaped chamber. News media will have reserved working areas on each side of the gallery.
Guests of the prosecution have a reserved area of the gallery above the table on the south side of the Senate floor from where prosecutors Mark Vargo and Alexis Tracy will work. The two, who are the state’s attorneys for Pennington and Clay counties, also will use the southside hallway that normally is where lobbyists practice their trade during the regular legislative session each winter.
Guests of the respondent, Ravnsborg, have a reserved area of the gallery above the table on the north side where his defense team, led by Sioux Falls attorney Michael Butler, will be. Ravnsborg’s side also will use the northside hallway that normally is a senators-only area.
Senators and staff will continue to have access to both hallways.
Several dozen seats are available in the gallery area that overlooks the president’s dais at the front of the chamber. Three legislative meeting rooms with air conditioning will carry a livestream of the proceeding for those who can’t get seats or don’t want to be in the summer heat of the gallery area.
House members won’t be allowed on the Senate floor. They also won’t have any reserved seating in the Senate gallery.
For anyone needing refreshment, the Capitol Cafe will be open both days. It’s normally closed outside of the January-March legislative session.