Something Jonathan Ellis wrote last week about the chances of impeaching killer Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg has me wondering if any Republicans in Pierre know how to use their power either for the public good or their partisan interests.
Ellis wrote that Governor Kristi Noem’s “aggressive” push to impeach Ravnbsorg may make it harder to impeach him because “some lawmakers” suspect she wants to replace Ravnsborg with a “loyalist” who could stop Marty Jackley from winning the nomination for Attorney General in 2022 and getting his old job back.
Your consideration of impeachment should revolve around one question: has the Attorney General behaved in such a way that the public good is better served by reversing the public will expressed in the 2018 election and removing an elected official from office?
If the answer is no, the Governor’s opinion and motives are irrelevant. Don’t sign the petition for a Special Impeachment Session; if convened for such a Session, don’t vote to impeach or convict.
If the answer is yes, the Attorney General has behaved in such an egregious way, then it still does not matter what the Governor thinks or what political schemes she may have up her sleeve. An elected official who does not deserve and cannot carry out his duties should be removed as soon as Constitutionally possible. To refuse to carry out your duty to impeach because you are annoyed by gubernatorial pressure or because you don’t want to hurt a political pal’s chances of winning an election is a violation of your own oath to uphold the Constitution and grounds for your own removal from office.
I said the same thing to Democrats who worried that impeaching Donald Trump (the first time) could have led to his removal and replacement by Mike Pence, whose competence and sanity would have made it harder for Democrats to retake the White House in 2020. Political calculations should be irrelevant to impeachment: if the subject of impeachment is a menace to the Constitution and the public good (and Donald Trump was, and Jason Ravnsborg is), our sole duty is to impeach and remove that menace. To leave in power a person unfit for power, just to achieve some personal or political goal, is unjustifiable.
But forget high-minded talk of sworn obligations to the Constitution and the public good. Let’s look at impeachment purely from the Machiavellian perspective Ellis attributes to the Governor (he calls her an “executioner“, a title smart campaigners should file away for use in campaign ads against her) and enough unnamed lawmakers to make his column about an impeachment backfire worth writing. Suppose you’re angling to help your pal Marty get back at Kristi and get back to Pierre.
If you had political guts, you wouldn’t pursue that goal by stalling the impeachment of Jason Ravnsborg. You’d get Jackley to run for Governor in 2022. Tell him Kristi is vulnerable in the general because of her gross mishandling of the pandemic (2,115 Deaths, Courtesy of Kristi the Executioner—does the GOP want that poster coming out in October?). Then keep quiet about the pandemic in the GOP primary and just hammer Kristi on how she spends too much time seeking the national spotlight and flying to Florida and Texas to pay attention to legislation and daily governing back home. Hit her with the transgender snafu, sexual harassment in the prisons, and her $9,000 desk, and you’ll win at least 55% of the Republican electorate.
And if Marty tells you he’s worried he can’t raise enough money to beat Kristi next June, remind him that there are plenty of Republicans nationwide who would love to knock Kristi off the 2024 campaign trail and who would recognize that the cheapest way to do that would be to hand her an early loss in her own state, at the hands of a reliable Republican with no Presidential aspirations whatsoever. Run Marty up the 2022 SDGOP primary flagpole, and money will come pouring in from Pence, DeSantis, Haley, Christie, and other contenders seeking to narrow the field.
But if that’s too bold a move, if Marty won’t run for Governor and is committed to being Attorney General again, then again, why are you worrying about impeachment? GO ahead: impeach Ravnsborg. Hand Noem a chance to appoint some lackey who she’d rather have in office than her nemesis Jackley. That appointee still won’t have an advantage over Jackley in the contest for the Republican nomination. Noem’s appointee will walk into the Republican convention next summer with maybe five months of experience as Attorney General. That’s hardly enough time to bring any state criminal trials to conviction, let alone score any big wins in the United States Supreme Court. Jackley did the job for over nine years. Noem’s lackey won’t rack up any kind of real record in that brief time in office. Besides, Noem’s appointee will be too busy will be playing campaign catch-up with Jackley, who’s been busy hitting all the county GOP dinners and locked up endorsements last spring from 63 sheriffs and 58 state’s attorneys.
Jackley has a near-lock on the A.G.’s nomination whether you impeach Ravnsborg or not. You might actually boost his spectacular chances of winning the nomination by impeaching Ravnsborg and putting Noem on the spot. If she fills the impeachment vacancy with anyone other than the eminently qualified and clearly willing Jackley, the blatant snub rubs that many more Republicans the wrong way. Noem looks nakedly petty and loses not only clout at the 2022 SDGOP convention but maybe also local donations and votes in November.
The only way Noem keeps Jackley from getting the nomination for Attorney General next summer is if she storms into convention with her executioner’s axe (I’m really liking this image) demanding that delegates back her pick or else. A rational Noem would see that continuing her feud with Jackley isn’t worth the capital she’d burn. Who serves as Attorney General doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in the bigger picture of her running President in 2024.
So, legislators, whether you’re playing Constitutional defender or inside baseballer, there is no scenario in which you can justify weighing the Governor’s intentions against moving forward with impeachment. Jason Ravnsborg disregarded the law and public safety, killed a man, and lied about it. You have a duty to impeach him. Carrying out your duty will not impact your political fortunes or those of Marty Jackley one bit; it may marginally improve his chances.