GOAC Asks Stace Nelson to Testify, Setting Trap to Remove Senator from Office?

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.

GOAC Peters Hunhoff to Nelson 20180818As 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.

But 30 days and $500 is small potatoes to what Peters and many in the South Dakota Republican Party might really want. Consider SDCL 2-6-7:

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.

18 Responses to GOAC Asks Stace Nelson to Testify, Setting Trap to Remove Senator from Office?

  1. Donald Pay

    Yeah, that’s a tactic to try to silence someone, not to find the truth. If Peters was perceived as running a legitimate investigation that would protect whistleblowers, she would be receiving the information, not Nelson.

    That happened to me at a committee hearing once. They demanded I tell them the source of information regarding some leaked documents I provided. I told them it was publicly available under South Dakota laws. I refused to disclose the name of the person who provided it to me. I figured if they wanted to throw me in jail it would do them more harm than me.

  2. If GOAC hauled me in demanding to know my sources, I could claim journalists’ privilege. Donald, did you invoke any specific privilege (other than human decency) when you declined to name your sources? Can Senator Nelson cite any legal privilege to not name individuals who have provided him with information about GEAR UP or other corruption?

  3. Sen. Nelson should look at this as an opportunity rather than a trap. He will have the spotlight to propose and pitch legislation to counter cronyism, conflicts of interest, and weak oversight of public dollars. If it takes him until the day of the meeting to finalize his recommendations such that he doesn’t have them ready “two days before the meeting” then so be it.

  4. Lora Hubbel

    Maybe he should just refuse the “invitation.”

  5. Lora, can a legislator offer the same refusal as Schopp, Darnall, Schoenfish, and Kuhn? What formal action must Chair Peters take to convert her August 18 request into a formal summons?

    Ror, Peters is certainly calling Nelson’s bluff. We will soon see whether he has overplayed his hand.

  6. Donald Pay

    I could have claimed a journalists’ privilege since I wrote a newsletter that put out information on the nuclear waste issue. I released the information first at the legislative committee hearing, because I wanted it to go directly to the people who needed to hear it. I figured they would be happy to know that they weren’t being told the truth by the Janklow administration. That was a miscalculation. They seemed perfectly happy to be lied to by the Governor. They seemed to be more interested in trying to find out who leaked it, so the chairman asked me several times. I just declined to provide that information. The chairman later said he could put me under oath and force me to answer questions. I just told him the answer would be the same. So he let it go. I think he figured out it would to him more harm than me.

  7. Porter Lansing

    It’s probable that Sen. Nelson’s claim to have information about the scandal is really hearsay about the scandal. What he legitimately has are valid questions that must be answered. It now appears that subpoenas are necessary. Lack of subpoenas should put Sen. Peters under threat of malfeasance charges.

  8. Lora Hubbel

    Cory….your question is a good one. The answer is the same for any dictatorship…they do what they darn well please. I have heard people say, “They can’t do that!” To that I say, “Yes they can IF THE PEOPLE LET THEM!” Our fool’s gold Republicans have tried this before when Joni Cutler (Deb Peters’ BFF) called Stace, myself and Lance Russell to Pierre to force us to testify (while NOT under oath) that our complaint regarding the Governor was unfounded. We were told then that if we did not attend we would lose our elected position. Same thing here. We were the ones trying to maintain the constitutional separation of powers (recall Daugaard wanted to preview my, Stace’s and Russell’s bills before the LRC would even look at them – they can’t do that either, but they did).
    AND if you think they cannot take away an elected position…they have. MINE. I won committeewoman by 73% of the vote. But when I ran against the Daugaard team (as a Republican on an Independent ballot, like Jenna Haggar did), they formed the retroactive “Hubbel Rule” – as unconstitutional as can be – and took away my elected position. Don’t think this dictatorial regime will do any less with Stace.

  9. Lora Hubbel

    If Stace does go to that kangaroo court, we should have every Militia group, motorcycle group, conservative group, Veteran’s group and any other constitutional-loving and freedom-loving South Dakotan there with signs demanding a recall of Deb eters and anyone else with delusions of grandeur. If you believe the South Dakota is run by the People instead of by a opportunistic Party – then you need to be there and support Stace. Even if you hate the guy, your freedoms are at stake and you need to stand up for his rights….or your will be trampled on next.

  10. Lora Hubbel

    Deb Peters, I mean

  11. Roger Elgersma

    Or Stace could judo throw them. He has worked on investigations long enough in his life to know what he is doing. If he proves that wrong happened, and since Peters blatantly scorned the ethics law in the Senate saying that no one should not trust them, and her slippery column in the paper a few days ago saying that no GEARUP money was lost because it was money from another program(which the state also supervises, but she made it look like it was something else) Deb will be seen as a total cover up of corruption type of person. Her main goal is to cover this up.
    That GEARUP program had management flaws from day one. Making a subsidiary so the Westerhuises could make two salaries each for one job was a wast of GEARUP money and also a system which makes corruption far easier. So from a legislators point of view it was mismanagement from day one, with automatic over paying imbedded in the system. Peters is also a CPA so should not have believed the lies that a proper audit was done or that proper follow up was done where there were problems that took five years to be detected enough to close it down. Then for her to blame the school districts who were involved for the waste when the state also supervises those districts, rather than seeing that as another mistake in the state supervision is just plain irresponsible.

  12. Lora, You’re in charge of rounding up the groups with the guns, motorcycles and signs to demand a recall that’s not provided for under SD law. What are you waiting for?

  13. Joe Nelson

    If he has criminal evidence, why do they get to decide what is passed to DCI? Sounds too suspicious to me.

  14. mike from iowa

    Nelson’s a wingnut and wingnuts can’t find a single prosecutable offense for any wingnut pol. They’d have to declare Nelson a demon Dem and then throw the book(s) at him.

  15. Joe, I wouldn’t think GOAC would have any gatekeeper status there. However, in their Twitter spat last month, if I recall correctly Peters asked Nelson, if he had any such evidence of criminal wrongdoing, why he hadn’t already provided that info to DCI.

  16. Mr. Elgersma, you should not joke about Mr. Nelson throwing judo around because he can and just might. He could crush them like a can or use his mind judo just as easily. The big galoot might look like a clumsy oaf but he’s dainty on his feet and nimble in his mind.

  17. Are you comparing Sen. Nelson to Kung Fu Panda, grudz?

  18. mike from iowa

    South Dakota needs to chuck its gubmint and all wingnuts in the nearest boiling cauldron and start all over from square one.