Could Caleb Finck replace Stace Nelson as District 19’s Senator in the 2018 Session? Maybe, if this letter from the Government Operations and Audit Committee to Senator Nelson is the trap it smells like.
As a candidate and a sitting legislator, Stace Nelson has sounded the alarm over the GEAR UP/Mid-Central scandal and South Dakota corruption in general more loudly than anyone else in Pierre. Many of the written questions sent to invited witnesses Melody Schopp, Tamara Darnall, Randy Schoenfish, and Brinda Kuhn were composed by Senator Nelson. Unable to get regular people to come respond to those questions in person, GOAC chair Senator Deb Peters and and GOAC vice-chair Representative Jean Hunhoff are asking their Republican GOAC colleague Senator Nelson to take that empty witness seat. Peters and Hunhoff are asking Nelson to reveal “the sources of any information you have regarding the investigation of the GEAR UP program,” any evidence he has of criminal activity, and recommendations for legislation responding to what GOAC has learned about GEAR UP.
Nelson and Peters went to war on Twitter last month after Peters skipped chairing the last GOAC hearing on GEAR UP in favor of going to Washington to testify in favor of state online sales taxes. This request could just be some snark-back from Peters, who insists that her GOP establishment is doing all that is necessary to address GEAR UP and other corruption, against Nelson’s persistent gadflyery.
But the new president of the National Conference of State Legislatures may be ready to throw some weight around to get Stace Nelson out of her legislative hair once and for all. Consider South Dakota Codified Law 2-6-6:
Any person who, being present before either house of the Legislature or any committee thereof authorized to summon witnesses, willfully refuses to be sworn or affirmed, or to answer any material and proper question, or to produce upon reasonable notice any material or proper books, papers, or documents in his possession or under his control, is guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor [SDCL 2-6-6].
The GOAC chair is asking a GOAC member to present himself before GOAC and answer material and proper questions. The GOAC chair is asking a GOAC member to produce “sources” of information, which could include papers and documents. The GOAC chair has given the GOAC member “reasonable notice,” a good week-plus, to prepare his responses and documents. If the GOAC member takes the witness chair and doesn’t produce, the GOAC member could face a Class 2 misdemeanor charge.
The conviction of a member of the Legislature of any crime defined in § 2-6-5 or 2-6-6 involves as a consequence, in addition to the punishment prescribed therein, a forfeiture of his office and disqualifies him from ever thereafter holding any public office under this state [SDCL 2-6-7].
If Senator Nelson fails to answer the above questions to Chairman Peters’s satisfaction, Chairman Peters may invoke SDCL 2-6-6 and SDCL 2-6-7 to disqualify Stace Nelson from his Senate seat and from any future elected office in South Dakota. Governor Daugaard would then be able to appoint a replacement. Governor Daugaard’s logical choice would not be Democrat Russell Graeff, the runner-up in the 2016 general election in District 19, but Republican Caleb Finck, the loyal young GOP establishment minion whom Nelson vanquished in the 2016 primary with some savage personal attacks.
The South Dakota GOP establishment has never liked Nelson, in part because he makes so much noise about the corruption that their monolithic rule has fostered. At next week’s GOAC hearing, Senator Nelson should tread carefully to ensure the GOP establishment doesn’t use his aggressive anti-corruption rhetoric to judo-throw him right out of the Senate.