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Approve CAFO for GOED Bribe, Get Appointed to Legislature!

JD Wangsness; screen cap from KDLT, 2017.06.09.
JD Wangsness; screen cap from KDLT, 2017.06.09.

After acknowledging that the big tax-kickback bribes dangled to counties have a significant impact on the decision to permit CAFOs, Hand County Commission chairman J.D. Wangsness steered the official conversation away from the state “incentive” and led the commission to a 4–1 vote approving the 9,000-head swine CAFO proposed by Kirk Aughenbaugh of DeSmet. (Due to a printing error in the summer, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is again taking public comment on Aughenbaugh’s application for a state water pollution permit, through November 15.)

With that back scratched, Governor Kristi Noem is now appointing Wangsness to the Legislature:

Governor Kristi Noem today announced that she has appointed James “JD” Wangsness to represent District 23 in the South Dakota House of Representatives. The vacancy was created after Rep. John Lake was appointed to the District 23 Senate seat. Wangsness will serve during the 2020 legislative session.

“JD is a qualified, proven public servant,” said Governor Kristi Noem. “His background and experience have prepared him well for this position, and I’m confident he will be a strong voice for the people of District 23.”

“Serving in this capacity is a true privilege and honor that I take very seriously,” said Wangsness. “I look forward to working with other legislators to prioritize fiscal responsibility and promote economic growth for people in District 23 and across the state. Thank you, Governor Noem, for this opportunity” [Office of the Governor, press release, 2019.10.22].

Wangsness will now have to resign from the Hand County Commission. In 1982, Attorney General Mark Meierhenry declared the offices of county commissioner and state legislator incompatible:

Article IX, §  1, of the South Dakota Constitution provides, inter alia, that the

Legislature shall have plenary powers to organize and classify units of local government, . . .

Pursuant to this constitutional grant, the Legislature has established a board of commissioners for each county, setting out their terms of office and compensation.  SDCL 7-8-1; 7-7-3.  The Legislature, therefore, has the authority to change the terms of office of the county commissioners, or their compensation by legislative enactment.  The Legislature also has determined the manner in which vacancies on the county commission will be filled, provided for special and quarterly meetings and delineated the general powers of the commissioners.  See, generally, Chapter 7-8 of the South Dakota Codified Laws, 1981 Revision.  The county commissioners are subject to the revisory power of the Legislature. See 1971-72 AGR 202.

Clearly, a county commissioner elected to the Legislature would, perhaps, have the opportunity to vote on matters affecting his commission tenure and compensation while serving in the Legislature.  This office has held in an earlier opinion, 1933-34 AGR 115, that a statute changing the salaries of county officers is not a special or private law in violation of constitutional provisions prohibiting the modification of county salaries by such laws.  Sound public policy would seem to dictate that legislators not serve on county commissions.

Therefore it is my opinion that a conflict of interest would exist if an individual held the office of county commissioner and state legislator simultaneously [Attorney General Mark Meierhenry, Official Opinion 82-23: Conflict of Interest and Compatibility of State Governmental Offices Held by Same Individual, 1982.04.21].

Wangsness hasn’t been sworn in yet, and technically, under the Pitts precedent, Wangsness’s legislating won’t conflict with his local position until laws he might help pass in the 2020 Session come into effect, so conceivably, Wangsness could keep commissioning until July 1, 2020, thus fulfilling all but the last six months of his current term on the Hand County Commission.


  1. jerry 2019-10-23 09:36

    It’s about the benjamin’s. Most republican legislators don’t go to Pierre to serve the people, they go to get enriched. Ask Stretch Thune, dude has 12 million tucked away for his rainy day. Corruption be thy name, right in front of our very own eyeballs.

  2. Donald Pay 2019-10-23 10:34

    How do people behave in this way? I’m trying to put myself in Wangsness’ position. My response to being offered a Legislative seat in exchange for shepherding this CAFO through the county process would be overwhelming shame. Wangsness considers it a “true privilege and honor.” One of us has morals; the other has an inflated opinion of what he revealed about himself. Like the lap dog Wangsness revealed himself to be, he snapped up an obvious dog treat offered by the Governor. District 23 now knows they have dog on Noem’s leash representing them.

  3. Porter Lansing 2019-10-23 14:32

    The stench of 9000 swine on the wind would make Laura Ingalls weep DeSmet tears.

  4. Debbo 2019-10-23 16:08

    I knew many people named Wangsness when I was a kid, but I don’t know him or who his parents are. He’s probably 15+ years younger than me. The ones I did know were generally regarded as good enough people. I guess there are always exceptions though. Too bad for Miller and Hand County.

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-23 20:29

    We should watch closely to see if Wangsness follows the law and resigns his county commission seat or if he stays on in violation of the law to ensure that Noem’s CAFO will be done in Hand County.

  6. Kathy Tyler 2019-10-24 07:04

    This really stinks…conflict of interest…quid pro quo…bribery..whatever. Residents usually have 30 days to appeal a zoning board decision. JD and his commission voted to approve on September 24. The announcement came on October 22. That’s 28 days–basically no time to get poop in a group and file. “Promote economic growth…” Yeah, right, whose economic growth? I am so sorry our state has reduced itself to this. And then add the taxpayer funded political campaigning of the First Gentleman–small town project. Don’t get me started.

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