Republicans have another eleven days to argue about whom they should nominate for Attorney General. We Democrats have to make up our minds in four days: our convention session to nominate candidates for Attorney General and the six other non-primaried statewide offices starts at 1 p.m. Friday in Sioux Falls.
Republican A.G. contender John Fitzgerald is making hay of the charge that one of his opponents, Jason Ravnsborg, has never tried a criminal case before a jury. On the Democratic side, A.G. hopefuls Tatewin Means and Randy Seiler have avoided attacking each other and have both expressed broader visions of the role of the Attorney General beyond cuffing and stuffing bad guys. Nonetheless, Seiler’s campaign bio notes that he was “lead counsel on more than 70 federal felony jury trials and more than 500 criminal cases” during his time as Assistant United States Attorney for the District of South Dakota. Means’s campaign bio lists her experience as Attorney General for the Oglala Sioux Tribe and Deputy State’s Attorney for Oglala Lakota County and in many important projects, but the bio does not list or tally prosecutions or jury trials.
Along with courtroom records, Democratic delegates may also want to ask our Attorney General candidates about their interactions with two of South Dakota’s biggest corruption scandals. Seiler inherited the federal EB-5 investigation when Brendan Johnson resigned and closed the investigation in 2015 after finding insufficient evidence to press federal charges. Way back in the 1990s, Means participated as a student in the School of Mines and Technology’s Scientific Knowledge for Indian Learning & Leadership program, which eventually became the ill-fated South Dakota GEAR UP program. Means provided the keynote address to the 2014 GEAR UP class. And one document in my GEAR UP files, the 2013 SDGEARUP School Site Coordinator Application for Employment, shows Tatewin Means as the document creator. Tatewin Means doesn’t pop up in any of the other GEAR UP documents in my files, but that one application suggests Means did at least a little work related to GEAR UP for her uncle Stacy Phelps, one of the GEAR UP figures whom Attorney General Marty Jackley is prosecuting.
There is no evidence that either Seiler or Means was involved in either scandal. But Seiler and Means each have connections to the biggest South Dakota scandals of this decade that could help us understand what happened and will surely inform their approach to corruption in South Dakota government.