Senator Lance Russell (R-30/Hot Springs), one of South Dakota’s most conservative legislators, sat down today for a one-on-one interview with Dakota Free Press, South Dakota’s most liberal blog, to discuss his bid for the Republican nomination for attorney general.
Two of Senator Russell’s comments stand out in the context of how he will attempt to distinguish himself in what is now a four-way race among legal pals for the Republican A.G. nomination.
First, Senator Russell says the big criminal justice reform bill of 2013 (that year’s Senate Bill 70, Governor Daugaard’s 83-section beastie now known as the Public Safety Improvement Act) has actually made work harder for the Attorney General and all law enforcement. Senator Russell says the PSIA hasn’t saved money so much as shift costs from the state to counties, which now must warehouse more prisoners who used to go to the state pen. Senator Russell blames the statewide increase in crime, especially violent crimes, what he sees as caps on jail sentences that release drug-using convicts before they can get treatment, meaning they return to the streets sooner and commit more crimes to get their fixes. Senator Russell joined six other hard-conservative House Republicans in voting against SB 70 in 2013; he says we need to remove the presumptive probation that ties judges’ hands and results in too many offenders released from county jails too soon without treatment for drug addiction.
Second, Senator Russell noted that the Attorney General lacks the tools to prosecute public corruption that could have allowed A.G. Marty Jackley to sniff out the EB-5 and GEAR UP corruption scandals sooner. Senator Russell supports this year’s Senate Bill 27, one of the Attorney General’s bills, which clearly defines public corruption as theft. However, Senator Russell points to a bill he offered in 2009, House Bill 1288, which he says would have gone further in helping the Attorney General tackle public corruption. That bill, proposed during the Rounds Administration before any corruption in the Rounds-approved EB-5 or GEAR UP came to light, was killed in House State Affairs.
A programming note: my co-host for seventeen episodes of the Dakota Free Press Podcast, Spencer Dobson, is stepping away from our political podcast to focus on his other projects. Spencer provided excellent commentary and good balance to my often arcane Legislative wonkiness. Thanks for your hard work on the podcast, Spencer!
Absent Spencer’s weekly buoyant conversations, I will focus less on producing weekly audio commentary and instead work on occasional interviews like today’s conversation with Senator Russell and my April talk with Bob Mercer, as well as audio from events like my speech to the District 22 Democratic Forum last week.