Back in February, when Governor Kristi Noem was raining leaks and impeachment hellfire on killer Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, Senator Reynold Nesiba offered the A.G. a chance to fight back by doing his job and investigating the Governor’s possibly illegal use of the state plane for her national campaigning:
For over seven months, the Attorney General did not respond. But Tuesday, the same day that he said he is “actively reviewing” concerns about Noem’s nepotism in favor of her real-estate-appraising daughter, Ravnsborg got back to Senator Nesiba and said he is passing (punting?) Nesiba’s concerns about Noem’s state plane abuse to the Government Accountability Board:
In a letter dated Tuesday, Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg said he referred the request to the Government Accountability Board. If the four retired judges who sit on the board determine state laws were violated, they can request a criminal investigation.
Ravnsborg said in the letter that laws on state airplane use apply to the governor [Stephen Groves, “South Dakota AG Passes Plane Inquiry to Accountability Board,” AP, 2021.09.30].
Ravnsborg still sounds incompetent when he says he’s passing this matter to the GAB because handling Senator Nesiba’s questions “would require considerable resources and investigation.” The GAB, a Legislatively watered-down version of the 2016-voter-approved ethics panel that terrified legislators into a hasty repeal in 2017, is four retired judges appointed by the Governor and one assistant from the AG’s office. One would think, as Senator Nesiba suggests, that an independently elected state prosector with a whole team of lawyers and the Division of Criminal Investigation would have considerably more resources to bring to bear on an investigation of Executive Branch corruption than a panel that meets every few months and has apparently not once in the four years of its existence called any state official into a public hearing to investigate corruption.
But this is Jason Ravnsborg we’re talking about, an A.G. who has the time to attack his own citizens’ initiative rights but needs seven months just to take a pass on a request for an investigation of violations of state law.
Ravnsborg’s sitting on Nesiba’s request until this week stinks of headline opportunism. It doesn’t take seven months to read Nesiba’s request, determine that the statute that Nesiba cited (and sponsored and helped campaign for in 2006!) says exactly what it says, and decide to avoid the heat and hand the matter to the GAB. It seems more plausible that Ravnsborg sat on this issue until it became clear that he would face impeachment and that he might be able to take some heat off himself by stoking the firestorm of scandal that has engulfed the Governor this week. The action also comes in tandem with his swift settlement of the wrongful death lawsuit, which would have kept his name in ugly headlines right through the impeachment proceedings into the 2022 convention season, when Ravnsborg hopes absurdly to still be standing for the Republican nomination for a second term. Ravnsborg’s spasm of action this week signals no newfound commitment to justice but merely a fight for his political life.
That said, Ravnsborg has at least shown some political acumen in seizing the moment. When better to launch Nesiba’s complaint about Noem’s frequent travel back into the headlines than a week when she visited five states in five days? (The timing almost makes you think the Republican Attorney General is still reading this blog… which is great, Jason, as long as you aren’t doing so behind the wheel.)
Regardless of the calculations leading to the Attorney General’s referral, the Government Accountability Board has a real case in its hands, the Governor’s possible misappropriation of public funds (item #5 of the GAB’s jurisdiction under SDCL 3-24-3) and use of public money not authorized by law (item #9 under SDCL 3-24-3). Get to work, GAB!