Last night’s Republican gubernatorial primary debate between Marty Jackley and Kristi Noem on South Dakota Public Television produced one bit of useful news, at least for the GEAR UP scandal defendants and for the Billie Sutton campaign. Responding to Noem’s charge that Jackley has done nothing about corruption in this state (again, Noem endorses a theme thoroughly reported by this blog!), our Attorney General said he plans to try the GEAR UP cases personally.
We all agree that seeing truth brought out, justice done, and wrongdoers held more accountable than anyone in the EB-5 scandal are the primary goals of the GEAR UP trials. But let’s look at the political import of these trials. If Marty Jackley wins the primary (my 58–42 Jackley win prediction seems confounded by the new poll showing Noem and Jackley in a statistical dead heat, but I’m sticking with an edge for Jackley on Tuesday, because Noem is using a lot of Democratic-flavored arguments to win Republican primary voters), he’ll be booked for at least two solid weeks in the courtroom. The first week, starting June 25, will be after the conventions, and everyone will be at the lake with Dennis Daugaard, so being trapped in a Sioux Falls courtroom won’t affect campaigning much. But the second, starting October 1, comes in the heart of campaign crunch time. With early voting going on by that time, you can bet that Billie Sutton will be wheeling all over the state, attending every available daytime event that Marty won’t be able to make.
But Sutton won’t have the field entirely to himself. The fact that the defendants won a change of venue to the largest media market in the state helps their prosecutor out politically. Jackley can prosecute merrily away all day, then spend his evenings working the Sioux Falls media and events in the greater metro area, with easy access to a quarter of the state’s voters.
Worse, Sutton may have to shout twice as loudly to get press for his events. The GEAR UP trials may keep Jackley from speaking at Chamber lunches and knocking on doors during the day and up in Aberdeen and out in West River, but the trials will guarantee that Jackley leads every nightly newscast and morning paper in every media corner of the state. The free press from the GEAR UP trials may just outweigh the campaign facetime he loses being tied to Sioux Falls that week.
Of course, the benefits of that free press depend entirely on Jackley’s not fumbling the GEAR UP trials the way he did the Flandreau pot cases. If Jackley’s prosecutions fail, or if he comes away from Bollenesque wrist-slaps for smirking GEAR UP defendants, Jackley will wish the change of venue had been from Charles Mix to Harding County, not Minnehaha. Failure to put Guericke and Phelps in prison in October puts eight points in Sutton’s column.
This is all cynical political reading. The straight, generous, non-bloggy, non-partisan read is that Jackley plans to try the GEAR UP cases in person because he recognizes grave crimes were committed that demand the attention of South Dakota’s top prosecutor. But we cannot ignore the political implications of such major corruption trials happening in the midst of the chief prosecutor’s gubernatorial campaign, with the potential for a stunning jury verdict less than a month before the general election.