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Vanneman Ejects, Rhoden Takes Second Job as Ag Secretary

Kim Vanneman is leaving her post as South Dakota’s Secretary of Agriculture, in part because she misses farming. Governor Kristi Noem is replacing Vanneman, at least temporarily, with Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden, who says his immediate focus will be going to Hy-Vee and asking, “Where’s the Beef?”

Appointing the LG to run a whole state department seems odd. It’s not like we don’t have a deputy who could step into Vanneman’s place. Kyle Holt is the current Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, and he’s been there for nearly five years. Holt is also a former Noem staffer, so he has experience in the office and in the politics necessary to keep the boss happy. But rather than pick an experienced deputy to oversee Agriculture on an interim basis, Noem double-duties her Lieutenant.

Also interestingly, Rhoden is not stepping down from his LG post. That raises the prospect of two scenarios:

1. The Fun Explanation: Sidelining Larry over the Drunken Senators Fiasco. The Legislature and Marty Jackley had to work really hard to contain the damage caused by the drunken legislating of Senate Majority Leader Kris Langer and Senate President Pro-Tem Brock Greenfield. Lt. Gov. Rhoden witnessed Langer and Greenfield’s tomfoolery, did nothing to stop it, and looked a little ragged around the edges himself during his feeble attempt to cover up his fellow Republicans’ misconduct. Governor Noem is pretending to ignore Rhoden’s scandalous failure, knows that if she stands a chance of winning her appointment to the Trump Cabinet, she has to move Rhoden way out of the way and appoint a new LG who’s ready to take the reins when she goes to Washington.

Instead of hamhandedly firing Rhoden, which would publicly affirm that the guy she picked screwed up on a pretty easy call and thus impugn her own brand, Noem is cleverly finessing Rhoden’s ouster, demoting the ranch man to lower-profile job for which he’s much better suited in experience, appearance, and demeanor. He’ll hold both jobs, LG and interim Ag Secretary, for maybe a month, then read a prepared statement saying he loves being Ag Secretary and believes he can better serve the Governor and the state in that position. With an expression of regret as programmed as a beauty queen’s parade wave, Governor Noem will accept Rhoden’s resignation from the Lieutenancy and name none other than her former primary opponent Marty Jackley to replace him at her immediate side.

Then she will turn to Trump on July 3 and, under the din of the fireworks and fire truck sirens, say to him, “See? That’s how you get rid of your running mate for someone better. Get someone in the Cabinet to resign, like Alex Azar, slide Mike Pence into that job (he was in charge of coronavirus, right? Perfect fit!), and slide yourself right in next to the partner you really want.”

By August 31, Kristi Noem is Trump’s running mate, Marty Jackley is South Dakota’s 34th Governor, and Larry Rhoden never makes another headline. Perfect!

2. The Boring Explanation: Padding Larry’s Pockets: Kim Vanneman was pulling down a healthy $126,075 a year as Ag Secretary (and she’s giving that up to work on the farm? Either she really anticipates skyrocketing prices for livestock, or she just really loves farming.). Larry Rhoden gets $56,375 a year for his work at Governor Noem’s side. Statute guarantees that the Lieutenant Governor gets extra pay for extra duties assigned by the Governor. His interim salary doesn’t need any approval other than the Governor’s; she can wave her magic wand and divert Vanneman’s old checks straight to Rhoden. The most famous man from Union Center could more than triple his salary for however long the Governor lets him ride both horses.

While we try to figure out the inside game, we’ll also need to figure out what to call Rhoden for the next few weeks of his double duty. Mr. Lieutenant/Secretary? Maybe something more Politburo-ish, like LieuGovInSec? Loogie Insect? Take your pick… and keep an eye on how long Rhoden keeps both name tags.


  1. Debbo 2020-05-05

    You had a lot of fun with this one. 😊 I wouldn’t bet against either scenario.

    The biggest surprise is Sec. Vanneman’s resignation. The farm income outlook isn’t exactly rosy. Why resign now? This seems like the worst time to remove $150K from the farm’s income ledgers. What’s up with that? I sense nefarious Kruel Kristi action.

  2. John Kennedy Claussen, Sr., 2020-05-06

    The Lt. Governor was elected as a part of a political ticket, but his constitutional duties are within the legislative branch, not the executive branch, as the President of the State Senate. So, can he simultaneously hold positions with two branches of government without being in violation of the balance of powers and/or checks and balances doctrines of the state constitution?

    Does not any republican form of constitutional government (lower “r”) instill in it such doctrines, supporting statutes or not, which constitutionally must be upheld?

    Many of us remember when Bush and Cheney first came to power, that Cheney held secret energy strategy meetings in the White House without public record. Cheney was sued over this because the plaintiffs claimed he violated federal laws which required particular disclosures of certain meeting activities by the executive branch. But then, Cheney said such laws didn’t apply to him, because as the President of the U.S. Senate, he was not a member of the executive branch. Well, if Cheney was right, then Rhoden’s appointment is wrong and in violation to known doctrines of any governmental constitution with a republican form of government.

  3. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-05-06

    JKC, I wondered if there might be some legal or constitutional restriction, but I couldn’t find any explicit verbage against such apparent unbalancing of powers. Members of the Legislature cannot be appointed to other civil positions, but the LG is not by definition a member of the Legislature; he just comes in to supervise one chamber.

    I nonetheless invite other legal opinions, because this double-dipping doesn’t feel right. Rhoden was elected to a statewide position; can he legally hold another appointed statewide position?

  4. John Kennedy Claussen, Sr., 2020-05-06

    Cory, I definitely agree that there is a lack of statute on this, but the LG is definitely a member of the state senate. The LG runs that chamber. The LG rules which side wins, and with a tie, even votes as a member of the body. Bill Dougherty, a former LG, is the reason this state doesn’t have a state income for example. He did that as a legislator, due to a tie vote, and not because Governor Kneip wanted him to vote and or rule that way.

    I would also argue that somethings are innate to a given political institution, and that a republican form of government cannot survive, or be vibrant, without a respect for the two doctrines, which I aforementioned.

    During the height of the EB5 scandal is this state, the chair of the legislative oversight committee claimed he didn’t have the power to subpoena persons of interest. Well, I would argue they did, statutes or not, because it’s inherent to their powers as an equal branch of government. And it is this obvious and necessary inherency within our constitution, that is afforded to all three branches in one form or another, that makes Rhoden’s appointment unconstitutional in my opinion.

  5. Bucko Bear 2020-05-07

    Kristi would stand up about as well as Sarah Palin to the detailed scrutiny of her past.
    What’s she gonna say, ” I can see North Dakota from my house?”

  6. Rebecca 2020-07-31

    Sliding in late to suggest Qualm’s going to land on his feet after all.

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-08-01

    How? Where’s he headed? Is getting a promotion to regular Ag Sec when Larry gets promoted to Gov when Kristi goes to Trumpland?

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