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Back of the Line, Ravnsborg: McGuigan Seeks Promotion to Attorney General

On top: Chief Deputy Attorney General Charlie McGuigan. On bottom: Part-Time Deputy Union County State's Attorney Jason Ravnsborg.
On top: Chief Deputy Attorney General Charlie McGuigan. On bottom: Part-Time Deputy Union County State’s Attorney Jason Ravnsborg.

Life seems so unfair sometimes: a guy works hard networking, running around the state to more than 50 meetings to beat back ballot measures for the party, drives all the way to a big party party in Pierre to announce he’d like to be the nominee for attorney general, and what response does he get? A friend of Marty who’s been in the office for 26 years cuts in front of him in line.

On Saturday, Chief Deputy Attorney General Charlie McGuigan penned a letter to state’s attorneys statewide announcing that he will announce his candidacy for Attorney General in the near future. This comes less than three weeks after Yankton lawyer and part-time Union County deputy state’s attorney Jason Ravnsborg unveiled his desire to be A.G. at the Hughes County GOP dinner.

Job experience suggests McGuigan’s entry consigns Ravnsborg to another last-place finish, but the SDGOP can be tricky: Dan Lederman mustered some Trump insurgents to oust the party leaders’ preferred chair Pam Roberts last month. If Ravnsborg can capitalize on his own Trumpiness and possible connections to Lederman, he may surprise McGuigan in a convention tilt.

Wait a minute: Ravnsborg lives in Yankton County, right? SDCL 7-16-13 says deputy state’s attorneys must have the qualifications required of state’s attorneys. SDCL 7-16-31 says, “In any county with a population of less than five thousand persons, no state’s attorney is disqualified from holding office for failure to be a resident of that county if the state’s attorney is a resident of a county which is contiguous to the county in which the state’s attorney holds such office.” That residency requirement waiver indicates that in counties with a population of 5,000 or more, like Union County, the state’s attorney and hence the state’s attorneys deputies need to reside in the county.

There must be some other exception to that residency requirement, since I wouldn’t think qualified lawyers would go blatantly violating a simple statutory requirement. But we have precedent for such a willful violation: Bennett County spent several years with a state’s attorney who lived two counties away, in direct violation of the residency requirement.


  1. Douglas Wiken 2017-03-14

    Interesting, He is the son of one of my cousins. Guess I will have to talk to his mother.

  2. Dana P 2017-03-14

    I don’t know a darn thing about McGuigan……. But Ravnsborg? He’s a whack!

  3. Douglas Wiken 2017-03-14

    Ooops.. McGuigan. I haven’t seen him since he was a little kid however. Hope to see his mother and father this weekend if timing works out.

  4. Rorschach 2017-03-14

    The people in office in Pierre really like to pick from among their cabal of Pierre insiders and annoint the next Pierre insider to whatever job is available. It’s how the musical chair game in Pierre works. It’s the reason South Dakota government never has any new ideas. It’s way past time that people from outside of Pierre rise up and sweep out the permanent bureaucracy rather than simply rubber-stamping the perpetuation of it.

    Ravnsborg isn’t the answer. Guy is unqualified for the job. Brendan Johnson ought to run for AG on a platform of no nonsense accountability. Then instead of just keeping all of the GOP Party appointees around in the office he should try hiring a few Democrats. That’s the other problem with South Dakota. On a rare occasion a Democrat gets into a position where they can hire people – they don’t hire other Democrats.

  5. Lee Schoenbeck 2017-03-14

    In 1996 I introduced the bill to deal with the lack of available attorneys in rural counties. It applies to people running for the office

  6. Jana 2017-03-14

    Lee, was your plan based on free markets? Sometimes you confuse me with the free market – small government thing.

    I have some guesses about why there is a shortage of lawyers in rural counties and maybe you can tell us better why that has happened. But rather than deal with the symptom, shouldn’t we first diagnose the cause?

    Rural counties face big challenges with the growing influence of corporate farms which are incentivized by government. Pierre was only looking at creating jobs as a metric and not thinking about what kind of jobs and what the impact would be.

    The corporate ag revenues/profits leave the state and have little effect on the larger economy of their communities. The ripple effect also hits schools, opportunities for jobs with living wages, healthcare and the list goes on.

    But Pierre and market forces have made supporting big ag a priority and now we have to deal with the consequences. A shortage of legal and healthcare professionals is one of those consequences. Not to mention importing low wage immigrant labor, which brings new burdens on the resources of small communities and a smaller clientele that can afford legal services.

    I’m all ears though if you have a plan to provide taxpayer assistance to support your profession as well as improved health care. But then you need to admit that you support government welfare at the expense of the larger counties who also face challenges of their own.

    As an aside, does your plan have an affirmative action requirement that favors a Republican lawyer quota similar to what you proposed for universities?

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-03-14

    Lee, is that the adjacent-county exception mentioned above? That doesn’t apply to Union County with its 14,000+ population. Do state’s attorneys and their deputies have a residency requirement in our larger counties?

  8. Lee A Schoenbeck 2017-03-14

    pulled out the code — it was 2004 when I introduced this bill. It only applies to states attorneys – the deputies can come from any where.

    right before it in the code, SDCL 7-16-24 to 30, are the statutes from the 1996 bill I did to create an option for regional prosecutors (no county has done it since the option was created).

    Both of these are to address a challenge in rural areas, that the shift in demographics has reduced the pool of available attorneys to be prosecutors and removed any competition at the ballot box – and sometimes removed any available options.

    If nobody files to run, then the counties hire, at that happens sometimes too.

  9. Donald Pay 2017-03-14

    I always liked Charlie when I was involved with environmental issues. He came on board during the early 1990s in the middle of all the mining controversy. He was always honest and fair in my dealings with him, and a nice guy. That’s about the highest praise you can give an attorney. He wasn’t a reflexive adversary, and always was willing to listen to our side of the issues. He, of course, had the problem of having to represent the state’s and his bosses’ positions over the years. Not sure how that has changed him over the years.

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-03-14

    Thanks for that correction, Lee. It appears the regional prosecutor provisions don’t apply here, nor does your rural (<5K pop) exception.

    So where is the residency requirement to which your SDCL 7-16-31 creates an exception? I didn't see a specific "state's attorney must live in the county" statute; is the requirement in some general statute requiring candidates to reside in the district they will serve?

  11. Lee A Schoenbeck 2017-03-14

    Cory, if you check the election laws,I think you will find that the candidate has to have residency to run for the office (unless the less than 5,00 population exception applies)

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-03-16

    I’m still puzzled. Nominating petitions specify that candidates for Legislature and county commission must reside in the district from which they are candidates (ARSD 05:02:08:01). SDCL 12-6-3.1 makes explicit the residency requirement for legislative candidates. SDCL 7-8-2.2 says county commission candidates must live in theirs districts when they declare candidacy, and SDCL 7-8-2 says they have to stay there once elected or forfeit office. But under Chapter 7-16, the only requirements I find for the state’s attorney are law license (SDCL 7-16-1) and, if full-time in Minnehaha, Pennington, or any smaller county that adopts this requirement for full-time SAs, not engaging in private practice (SDCL 7-16-19. Where is the explicit residency requirement?

  13. John W. 2017-03-16

    I’m with Don Pay on this one. Charlie McGuigan might very well be the absolute best Attorney General this state has seen in decades. I spent many days in 1985 in the State’s law library doing research for a White Paper eventually presented to the Wildlife Society involving “fee hunting, privatization of wildlife and public lands access issues. In the late 1990’s, some of those issues came in front of the legislature and Mr. McGuigan was tasked with explaining the legal history and brackets of the issues- one of which was “The Open Fields Doctrine”. Charlie did a remarkable, highly accurate and thorough job of testifying in several committees on those topics and he was able to dispel a whole bunch of myths about several issues that legislative hearsay commentary always seems to conjure up. He is a top notch, highly intelligent, and first rate legal authority with a great deal of honesty and integrity whose first concern is the fair, impartial, and reasonable application of law in the best interests of South Dakota and it’s people and I wouldn’t hesitate a second to endorse him as the absolute best candidate for the position no matter who runs. The guy is a gem!! Period. And so is his Dad!!!

  14. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-03-16

    Don, John, does your testimony in McGuigan’s favor mean we Dems should put a lower priority on running someone against him and focus on claiming SOS and other statewide offices?

  15. grudznick 2017-03-16

    Mr. H, you Democrat Party people should at a minimum offer up better than that fellow from Huron who always would run for the General Attorney job.

    You should also try and roust up some reasonable fellows for things like the Auditor and Treasurer and Lands Commissioner. One would think a normal, not insane libbie, could get a good go at those jobs.

  16. grudznick 2017-03-16

    I know Mr. H only occasionally toots his horn but let me be among the first to say here that with his dabbles into legal opinion like on this blogging, he might make a good State Secretary and with his math and finance bloggings he sometimes does maybe he could run for Controller or Auditor.

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