I have no doubt that Tim Rave can walk and chew gum at the same time. But can he simultaneously serve as a gubernatorial appointee and promote a popular ballot initiative that the Governor staunchly opposes?
Tim Rave used to be a Republican Senator. He quit the Legislature in 2015 to put his GOP-insider influence to work lobbying for the health-industrial complex, first as VP for public policy at Sanford Health and now as chief of the South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations. The latest major public policy project Rave has been overseeing at SDAHO is a Medicaid expansion initiative.
Rave spoke in lukewarm code about Medicaid expansion and took no action to promote it when he had the chance to enact it as a legislator. Now as SDAHO president, he doesn’t appear to be doing much to move the ball, either. His organization announced a coalition in December, in a move that seemed timed and designed to weaken support for the active Medicaid expansion petition drive launched a month earlier by Dakotans for Health, which had been working for months to maximize the time it would have to collect signatures for its initiative. The Secretary of State approved the SDAHO coalition’s petition for circulation on March 25, but four weeks later, Dakotans for Health still looks like the only player in the field actively collecting signatures, gathering endorsements, and promoting the issue with updated Web content.
Rave apparently has been busy getting himself a new sinecure in state government. On Monday, Governor Kristi Noem announced she is appointing Rave to the Board of Regents. Rave appears to be part of a three-man partisan takeover squad: Noem is also putting former Republican legislator Jeff Partridge and her most recent chief of staff and career GOP insider Tony Venhuizen on the nine-member Board of Regents. Rave, Partridge, and Venhuizen don’t change the on-paper partisan make-up of the Regents—they’re all Republicans replacing Republicans—but we’re moving up a grade in cronyism from three relatively reasonable mainstream Chamber of Commerce Republicans to members of the Pierre Club who have won elections (Venhuizen as a campaign manager, not a candidate) and held leadership positions in the Capitol.
Regent isn’t a full-time job; members still hold down their full-time jobs and take time off for monthly meetings and occasional grand-poobah-pery. But especially in Kristi-land, you don’t get cushy, splashy appointments like that if you aren’t a Kristi loyalist. Kristi Noem has always opposed Medicaid expansion and the horse it rode in on. Continuing to fight Medicaid expansion is good for her political brand. It is thus highly unlikely that she would appoint a passionate public advocate for Medicaid expansion to any important position, especially not to a Board of Regents that she wants to remake and control as a wing of her culture-war campaign.
Rave has been a Noem shill since the beginning of her career as a political celebrity. Rave now enjoys a cushy appointment where Noem will expect him to do her bidding in bringing our public universities in line with her authoritarianism. Can we really trust Rave to work for Kristi, then step out of his Regental confabs and eagerly promote a Medicaid expansion initiative that would undermine Noem’s message, her vote total in 2022, and her springboard to the GOP Presidential primary in 2024?