I continue to puzzle over how a candidate as vile and unviable as killer Jason Ravnsborg can think he has a chance of winning reëlection as Attorney General. Even in the weird world of the South Dakota Republican Party, where the R label and full-time groveling can excuse manslaughter, convention delegates still have a choice between the unqualified and uninspiring Ravnsborg and horse-riding manly-man Marty Jackley, who did the job of Attorney General for nine and a half years. No matter how much Jason Ravnsborg has impressed local Republicans with his fishy last-place (by votes and spending) primary bid for U.S. Senate in 2014 or his little speeches on Islam and ballot questions and other things Republicans view as threats to South Dakota, but all he’s done in office is lose court cases to liberals like me. Why would any Republican stick with an ineffective and politically wounded Attorney General who has brought little but embarrassment to the party when it can replace him with Marty Jackley, whom even committed Democrats have to admit is a good lawyer?
Jackley should be a shoe-in for nomination by acclamation. The only way Ravnsborg can steal the nomination from Jackley in June may be to represent himself as the “Stop the Steal” candidate.
Consider that nationwide, the Republican Party is doing everything possible to rig the next election in their favor. Of particular relevance, they are using false claims of election fraud in 2020 to fuel campaigns to seize election offices at every level to control the counting of ballots. Republican Monae Johnson is already challenging sitting Secretary of State Steve Barnett with language suggesting she is responding to those false concerns:
In South Dakota, Secretary of State Steve Barnett defended the work of his office and blamed “disinformation, misinformation, mal-information” for lowering voter confidence nationwide.
“I can only speak to what went on in South Dakota,” he said. “I can’t speak to what happened in these other states.”
Barnett’s challenger, Monae Johnson, said she was “answering the call of concerned citizens” to run and criticized Barnett for sending absentee ballot applications during the pandemic and supporting online voter registration [Christina A. Cassidy and Julie Carr Smyth, “Election Skeptics Roil GOP Contests for Secretary of State,” AP via WCPT 820 Radio, 2022.03.31].
If Johnson is rallying Stop-the-Stealers to come vote for her in Watertown in June, Ravnsborg could sway those delegates and precinct committeepeople to his side. While Ravnsborg expressed his (reporter’s words) “deep appreciation for the U.S. election process and the peaceful transfer of power” when that process led to Trump’s inauguration in 2017, Ravnsborg participated in the Texas Attorney General’s effort to overturn the 2020 election. Ravnsborg’s Trumpiness evidently earned him a shout-out from Trump in January at his Texas rally. Ravnsborg was in Texas with several other Attorneys General on Texas AG Paxton’s invitation to tour the border; it appears every one of the AGs on that trip also joined the 2020 election challenge. If anyone is positioned to encourage fringe radicals to ignore facts and focus on stealing the next election as revenge for losing the last election, it’s Jason Ravnsborg, who pandered to the far right in his 2014 primary bid and has been pumping radicals to fill the GOP convention roster since January. He can tell the Stop-the-Stealers, “Hey! If you need to prove election shenanigans, you’ll need an Attorney General who’s willing to take your ‘evidence’ to court. And of course, if the Democrats allege any election shenanigans, you’ll need an Attorney General you can rely on to dismiss their baseless allegations out of hand. And if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s running over Democrats.”
But even this path has one huge obstacle: Kristi Noem. Every Trumpy nut who would pick Ravnsborg because he endorses Trump’s Big Lie will then hear Kristi Noem, the Trumpiest girl in the whole U.S.A., tell them Jason’s a putz! Vote for Marty! Trump may have read Ravnsborg’s name from a Sharpie’d note card at a podium in Texas, but all he knows about South Dakota is that Kristi looks cute in a hat and is going to put his face on Mount Rushmore. If Ravnsborg tries one more time to get his name to drip from Trump’s lips, Noem will visit Mar-a-Lago, bat her eyelashes, and remind Donald that Marty is her guy.
It’s one thing for Republican delegates to overlook facts about elections and car crashes; it’s another for them to overlook the facts of who has power in the party. Ravnsborg’s power rests solely on his ability to grovel and a measly $55K in the bank as of year end. That’s less money than Steven Haugaard has, and Haugaard isn’t going to beat Noem. Governor Kristi Noem has real power in South Dakota, plus a national following that put 120 times as much money into Noem as they did into Ravnsborg. She could buy every convention delegate a plane ticket to Florida and a room at Mar-a-Lago.
Even Marty Jackley can buy the delegates five times more steak and chips than Ravnsborg can. Jackley had $252K in the bank as of year end, and the people backing him can pour more money into his campaign coffers than Ravnsborg’s can. In any rational world, delegates look at who has the money and power and who makes the party strongest without dragging down the party’s image, and all but the blindest, dumbest Trumpists line up with Jackley. Only the lonely loonies stick with Ravnsborg, and Jackley and Noem may either tolerate their futile fringe votes at convention or, if the Ravnsborg backers make too much of a fuss, simply flex their muscle, decertify the Ravnsborg delegates, and kick them out of Watertown and the party.
All patriots must be on the lookout for Big Liars, Stop-the-Stealers, and the Republican opportunists who are willing to undermine democracy to gain power. Jason Ravnsborg would have no qualms about throwing in with such menaces to cling to the last good job he’ll ever get. But even that gambit is a longshot for an Attorney General who has lost the confidence of law enforcement, the public, and the Governor by breaking the law, killing a man, and lying about it.
One more wrinkle: Monae Johnson has also worked as a receptionist at Gunderson, Palmer, Nelson, and Ashmore in Rapid City. That’s Marty Jackley’s law firm.