The simple and obvious reason that former Attorney General Marty Jackley would take on two drunk legislators as clients in a mere Senate investigatory hearing—not an actual disciplinary hearing with the power to boot them from the Legislature and certainly not a criminal trial—is that he’s a good lawyer who recognizes the right of every miscreant and innocent alike to good counsel
That and there aren’t enough drunks out tipping cows in Jones County to keep Marty’s life interesting.
The simple and obvious political explanation is that Senate Majority Leader Kris Langer and Senate President Pro-Tem Brock Greenfield realized they’d stepped in the sort of political cowpie that ends political careers in normal states with a healthy body politic—showing up obviously drunk to lawmakers and reporters alike, then, in Greenfield’s case, lying about it—and that escaping the incestuous insider long-knifing invited by their errors required enlisting the biggest legal gun they could afford. Who is bigger legally in the eyes of the Republicans who held Langer and Greenfield’s fate in their hands than South Dakota’s last effective Attorney General, a litigator who looms even larger in every legislator’s esteem compared to the bumbling idiot they nominated to mumble skew-tied through committee hearings and lose cases to Cory Allen Heidelberger?
But simple is no fun, and connivance is an obvious feature of the ingrown toenail we know as the South Dakota Republican Party, a pack of small-town opportunists who view principles as mere rungs on the ladder to the handful of decent, secure jobs for themselves and their kin with state government and its crony capitalists amidst a perennially sparse economy that can’t sustain the politically unconnected masses without outside assistance. What was Jackley really doing in that committee room in Pierre last week?
Making himself our next Lieutenant Governor and our next Governor, of course.
Greenfield’s and Langer’s drunkenness and the recorded spectacle of Greenfield’s lies and clownish statements the last night of Session didn’t pose a major threat to the SDGOP’s fortunes. 99% of South Dakotans wouldn’t recognize Greenfield or Langer on the street. Greenfield and Langer have risen to their Peter Principles and will rise no further in politics. Jackley talked his fellow Republicans down to merely admonishing Langer and Greenfield, but censure, expulsion, or tarring and feathering of these two intemperate drinkers would not by itself have damaged the SDGOP’s long-term fortunes.
The prospect for greater damage lay in what the committee feared to discuss: Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden’s involvement in the drunken revels of his subordinates. The testimony given to the interim committee makes clear that Rhoden, acting as President of the Senate, knew full well that Langer and Greenfield were drunk on the job:
Greenfield, sometime after 3 a.m. March 31, had disputed an allegation by another senator, Republican Phil Jensen of Rapid City, that Langer was intoxicated.
Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden, in his role as Senate president, ruled Jensen’s motion for an investigation was out of order. Senators voted 26-4 to support Rhoden.
…Jensen said Friday that Langer’s behavior was disruptive and Greenfield lied by saying they hadn’t indulged.
Jensen said one of the committee members, Senator Margaret Sutton, a Sioux Falls Republican, had later called him and accused him of turning on “family.” Jensen noted that Rhoden had to “shush” Langer twice in open view of the Senate.
…Among those testifying Friday was House Speaker Steve Haugaard of Sioux Falls. He said Langer “wasn’t able to communicate” a sensible thought when she and Greenfield returned to the Capitol after 1:15 a.m. Haugaard said she was obviously intoxicated and was struggling to make sense.
Haugaard said he met a few minutes later with Lt. Gov. Rhoden and House Republican leader Lee Qualm of Platte, along with Langer and Greenfield, in room 499. There was no video available from the room.
Haugaard said Langer and Greenfield weren’t able to engage in conversation with the three in 499 to any significant extent. “His speech was thick and slurred,” Haugaard said about Greenfield, adding that Greenfield seemed unaware of what was happening.
Haugaard said Greenfield kept bringing up SB 191 that had been killed hours earlier by the House. Rhoden finally told Greenfield the bill was done, according to Haugaard. He said Langer didn’t seem physically capable at that point of being more involved in the discussion.
Haugaard said he later spoke to Greenfield, on April 1, “after he sobered up.” Haugaard said Greenfield told him the drinking occurred at a house near the Capitol that lobbyist Dean Krogman of Brookings keeps for use when in Pierre.
Haugaard said Greenfield told him others who were present at the Krogman house included Lt. Gov. Rhoden, National Rifle Association lobbyist Brian Gosch of Rapid City, and lobbyists Justin Bell and Katie Sieverding of Pierre.
The committee didn’t seek testimony from Rhoden, who had been a long-time Republican legislator when then-U.S. Representative Kristi Noem chose him as her running mate during her successful 2018 campaign for governor [Bob Mercer, “Panel Admonishes S.D. Senate Republican Leaders Langer, Greenfield for Intoxication,” KELO-TV, 2020.04.24].
Rhoden was present at the lobbyist’s house where the drinking took place. Was he the designated driver (in which case he went with Langer and Greenfield knowing they intended to return to Session unfit to drive, let alone vote), or was he a participant in the revels? Why did Rhoden not intervene in Langer’s and Greenfield’s drinking before it reached the level of poor reflection on the Legislature? If Rhoden knew Jensen’s complaint had merit, why did he manufacture a reason to sideline it?
Even if Rhoden didn’t touch a drop at Krogman’s house, he showed himself unfit that night either to preside over the Senate or to sit one heartbeat or one Trump appointment away from the Governor’s chair. Two surrounded Senators likely saw their way out of this standoff was to take a bigger poobah hostage. Deprive Greenfield and Langer of their titles and sinecures, and they go to court, where they put all the witnesses to the lobbyist party on the stand, including Larry Rhoden. Rhoden’s testimony in that trial doesn’t just kill his career (because he, too is Petered out: South Dakota will elect a bully, but it won’t elect an oafish bully who lacks Bill Janklow’s keen intellect); it weakens Governor Kristi Noem’s tenuous grasp on power and her Palinesque aspirations for a lifeline back to the Beltway. Show her choice of a right-hand man to be incapable of reining in a couple of drunks, and she loses the case she can make to Trump to Calgon-take-me-away from the prairie that so stifles her dreams and to a riven and embarrassed party could easily be persuaded not to give her a second term as a consolation prize.
South Dakota Republicans are used to defending a lot of indefensible behavior, but something in this drunken revel rattled them. (Why else, 48 hours after the admonition, would the SDGOP spin blog have posted nothing on Friday’s hearing and vote?) There were too many witnesses, too much obvious misbehavior, too blatant dereliction of duty not just by two Legislative nincompoops but by the Lieutenant Governor, proving his real unfitness for party bossery and ascent to the throne.
Marty Jackley could exploit that fear and division to bare-kunckle his way to revenge in 2022. He could seize on Rhoden’s failure as Noem’s failure, rally his disheartened troops, and call for a primary rematch in which he would ice the cake of Kristi’s Snow Queen vanity and nepotism and pandemic pandering with her Lieutenant Governor’s covering for drunks on the job.
But Jackley has more faith in honey than vinegar. Rather than compound division with division, he rides into the Greenfield-Langer-Rhoden affair as the great uniter. Jackley hears Senator Margaret Sutton cry to Senator Phil Jensen that accusing their leaders of bad behavior is a betrayal of “family”, and Jackley rides in as the real big papa to pat her shoulder and settle all the kids down. He gets Greenfield and Langer to “apologize”—and my foot that he counseled them not to but couldn’t stop them; he incorporated their quasi-admission into his arguments:
Jackley said the committee didn’t have blood tests or preliminary breath tests showing whether Langer or Greenfield were drunk. Jackley said they were up-front by admitting they were drinking away from the Capitol [Mercer, 2020.04.24].
Jackley minimizes the offense and steers everyone away from looking any further into who else might have been naughty. He reinforces tearful Maggie’s assertion of family betrayal by suggesting that the “charges” were really just a fabricated attack on the Governor:
Jackley said Langer and Greenfield were pushing the governor’s agenda and the House didn’t like it. He said their behavior didn’t rise above a reprimand or at most an admonition [Mercer, 2020.04.24].
Jackley plays the selfless hero here. Jackley defends his clients by showing them to be loyal supporters of the Governor who unleashed brutal negative attacks to destroy him in the 2018 primary. He shuts down the scandal that Rhoden failed to manage before it can catch fire and burn Noem. What a mensch! cries every single loyal party member who was stocking up ammo and canned goods for the civil war this intra-party fight could have caused. Larry almost got us in trouble, and Marty got us out! Boy, it sure would be nice to have him back in Pierre!
At some point, Marty will remind Kristi of this magnanimous favor he has done for the party and for her fortune specifically. He will suggest to her that, before she asks the party to re-elect her, if not before she leaves for Washington to cement her Fox News career with service in the last days of the Trump cabinet, she would do well to replace her current Lieutenant with someone who saved the party from an unpleasant rift and who can keep a couple dipsticks from Clark and Dell Rapids from showing up to work drunk.
And the next bumperstickers you’ll see will be “Noem/Jackley 2022.” Jackley will secure his place in the line of succession, and the bumpersticker after that will be “Jackley/Sutton 2026.” (Maggie, not Billie.)
Jackley/Sutton 2026 is neither simple nor obvious, but it accounts for all the things that were said and that were not allowed to be said Friday before the Senate Investigatory Committee [SIC]. It accounts for how a one-party regime and the schemers within deal with threats to their power. And it accounts for why Marty would have enjoyed himself so much on Friday.