PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The battle over the political future of Jason Ravnsborg now heads to the South Dakota Senate where he will be put on trial.
The chamber could “potentially” hold a trial June 9-10, or at another time that month, according to Senator Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown. The Senate president pro tem said that will be firmed up Wednesday.
In the meantime, Ravnsborg will be suspended from his official duties as South Dakota attorney general until senators reach a verdict.
The House of Representatives decided 36-31 on Tuesday to impeach Ravnsborg in connection to the death of pedestrian Joe Boever at the west edge of Highmore. The South Dakota Constitution’s article on impeachment requires at least 36.
Ravnsborg issued a statement Tuesday evening through his private spokesman Mike Deaver. It said, “The House of Representatives voted and I respect the process but I look forward to the Senate trial where I believe I will be vindicated.”
The vote came on Ravnsborg’s 46th birthday. The Republican hasn’t publicly said whether he would seek a second term.
Republican and Democrat candidates for constitutional offices such as attorney general are nominated at their statewide party conventions. The South Dakota Republican convention is June 23-25 in Watertown.
The Senate requires a two-third majority of 24 to convict and remove him from office. Anything short of 24 means Ravnsborg can resume duties as attorney general.
Schoenbeck said the Senate might meet April 26 on its next steps.
Ravnsborg’s chief of staff, Tim Bormann, told KELOLAND News on Tuesday afternoon that Ravnsborg was “officially” out of the office. Bormann said Ravnsborg was “in for a bit” in the morning and left about 10:30 a.m.
“Charlie McGuigan is the chief deputy of the Office of the Attorney General, and as such is second in command,” Bormann said. “The Office of the Attorney General is empowered under SDCL 1-11-4 to execute the duties of the office and is the intent of the Office to professionally dedicate ourselves to performing the work required of the office.”
Bormann provided a copy of the email that McGuigan sent office-wide Tuesday afternoon. McGuigan wrote:
“The House of Representatives has adopted Articles of Impeachment against Attorney General Ravnsborg. Under Article XVI Section 5 of the South Dakota Constitution the Attorney General is suspended from his duties until the Senate holds a trial on the Articles of Impeachment. The Senate must wait at least 20 days until it holds the trial. We are all in uncharted waters and I know there is a lot of uncertainty.
“However, our duties and obligations to the State of South Dakota and its citizens continues. I know your level of dedication to this Office, and I also know that we are all professionals and we will continue to do our jobs. Anything you would normally direct to the Attorney General please direct to your supervisor or to me. State law at SDCL 1-11-4 empowers us to continue the work of the office and I would ask you to continue to professionally execute your duties.
“Thank you for your dedication and your professionalism. Do not hesitate to reach out to me at any time.”
Ravnsborg defeated two other Republicans, Lawrence County State’s Attorney John Fitzgerald and then-state Senator Lance Russell, for the party’s nomination in 2018. Ravnsborg then defeated Democrat Randy Seiler in the general election.
Governor Kristi Noem, a Republican, has repeatedly called for Ravnsborg’s resignation since the September 12, 2020, crash. His refusal led her to urge the House to impeach him.
Representative Will Mortenson, R-Pierre, who’s an attorney, brought the resolution seeking the impeachment. He handed over the second half of his presentation to another attorney, Representative Ryan Cwach, D-Yankton.
A variety of Republicans and Democrats added their voices calling for impeachment, including Tim Goodwin of Rapid City, Nancy York of Watertown, Linda Duba of Sioux Falls, Oren Lesmeister of Parade and Mary Fitzgerald of Spearfish, who’s married to John Fitzgerald.
No one spoke against the resolution. But all 31 votes against it came from Republicans. The 36 votes for impeachment came from 28 Republicans and all eight Democrats. The six voting Republican members on the House Select Committee on Investigation who opposed recommending impeachment all voted against impeachment on Tuesday as did House Speaker Spencer Gosch, R-Glenham, who chaired the panel.
The widow, Jennifer Boever, watched the debate from the House gallery and brought along a wedding-day photo of her and her late husband. She told KELOLAND News afterward that still she hasn’t received an apology from Ravnsborg 19 months later.
Noem’s office issued a statement afterward: “Today, the House of Representatives did the right thing for the people of South Dakota and for Joe Boever’s family.”
The governor recently endorsed Marty Jackley for election to the office. Jackley, then the attorney general, lost to Noem in the 2018 Republican primary for governor.
Representative Steven Haugaard, a Republican from Sioux Falls who served on the House investigation panel, voted against impeachment. House Democrat leader Jamie Smith of Sioux Falls, who’s challenging the winner of the Haugaard-Noem primary for governor, issued a series of statements through Twitter later Tuesday afternoon.
“Today, the South Dakota House voted to impeach a public official for the first time ever. The Attorney General’s behavior was unethical and below his office. This was a positive step for justice, but this tragic case highlights an endemic problem of fairness in our state,” Smith began.
“We should hold our public officials to the highest standard. They are not above the law we task them to enforce. Public service is a privelege; not an opportunity for self gain or exception,” he continued. “Above all, we must remember the life of a man cut short by this tragedy. Joe Boever was a husband, a veteran, and fellow South Dakotan. I hope today’s proceeding brought some closure to his family.”
Seiler, who’s now the South Dakota Democrat Party’s chairman, issued a statement as well. He began, “Today, the Legislature correctly decided to impeach Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg. Ravnsborg violated the public’s trust in our government with his actions, and this is an important step in holding him accountable. I hope that this helps to bring a little bit of closure to Joe Boever’s family and loved ones. Now, the Senate must move forward with removing Attorney General Ravnsborg from office”
The South Dakota Republican Party didn’t issue a statement.
It remained unclear among legislative leaders last weekend whether Ravnsborg would receive pay during his suspension. His annual salary is $121,449.51. Chief deputy McGuigan’s annual salary is $146,540.97. Said Bormann, “I do not have an answer on that. Charlie and I were discussing it as well and while Article XVI of the Constitution spells out the suspension, it is silent as to compensation.”
Representative Erin Healy, D-Sioux Falls, issued a Twitter statement. She said, in part: “We were sent to Pierre today because our Attorney General couldn’t hold himself accountable for causing the death of Joe Boever and refused to resign from office. My most sincere condolences go out to Joe Boever’s family and friends. Their tragedy was on public display as they’ve grieved their loss for a year and a half. I pray that you are able to find peace.”
Representative Tim Reed, R-Brookings, also took to Twitter with a statement about why he voted for impeachment: “I do not believe the AG was forthcoming during the investigation. A SD man died and the legislature needed to take the next step – a trial in the Senate.”