The House of Representatives convenes tomorrow, Tuesday, at 11 a.m. at the Capitol to consider impeaching killer Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg. Seven House Republicans went on record with March 29 with the impeachment committee’s majority report saying Ravnsborg did nothing impeachable. Ravnsborg’s law school classmate Rep. Scott Odenbach (R-31/Spearfish)—who told investigators on December 7, 2020, that he gave legal advice to Ravnsborg on his September 15, 2020, press release about the deadly crash and averred for the public record that Ravnsborg is a “Boy Scout… a nice kind humble patriot that loves the country,” is declining to participate in tomorrow’s impeachment vote, which has the same practical effect as voting No.
Representative Will Mortenson (R-24/Pierre) is circulating draft articles of impeachment, but he’s declining to tell the media that he’s coming for Ravnsborg’s head. Tom Lawrence has Republican Representatives Charlie Hoffman, Fred Deutsch, and Tim Goodwin on the record in favor of impeachment. Lawrence cites the open ambivalence of several other Republican legislators as evidence that “the attorney general’s firewall of GOP backing—even outside of previous skeptics—might be in danger.”
You really shouldn’t need to play coy, Representatives. Jason Ravnsborg broke the law and killed a man. His fatal crash was part of a long pattern of reckless driving. He failed to tell the truth about his crime, and, as part of another long-standing pattern, he tried to use his official position to escape consequences for his actions.
Members of the House, impeach Jason Ravnsborg. You have no other moral choice.
But if enough House members let political games cloud their judgment, if Jason Ravnsborg escapes impeachment, what are we to do?
House members who do not vote to impeachment tomorrow should immediately resign. They will have demonstrated their inability to hold wrongdoers in elected office accountable for obvious and grievous crimes.
Absent such resignations (and there will be none, for cowards who cannot hold Jason Ravnsborg accountable will never hold themselves accountable), we may turn our attention to the June 7 primary. 32 incumbent House members face primary challenges—26 running for reëlection to the House, 6 trying to cross over to the Senate. Republican primary candidates, if you are trying to beat a sitting Republican House member, and if that Republican votes against impeachment tomorrow, you should immediately flood your local airwaves, doorknobs, and billboards with your incumbent opponent’s face next to unpleasant photos of Jason Ravnsborg (any photo will do). And you should immediately call Kristi Noem’s campaign and invite the Governor to come speak at your local primary campaign events.
Depending on how much damage GOP primary challengers can do, there are up to 18 House districts and one Senate district where Democrats are challenging incumbent House Republicans. Democrats, if you have a Republican opponent who fails to vote for impeachment tomorrow, you should slap Ravnsborg and your opponent on every online fundraising appeal you make, rake in big money, and hammer your Republican opponent as an enabler of corruption. Run on Ravnsborg every day, and force your opponent to defend and indefensible vote against impeachment. Every moment your opponent spends explaining the legal intricacies of why we shouldn’t impeach an elected official who breaks the law and kills a man is a moment when you are winning.
And in the 10 House districts and 7 Senate districts when Republican House incumbents face no Democratic opposition on the ballot, then if your representative votes against impeachment tomorrow, either immediately register as an independent and go collect 200+ signatures by April 26, or register Libertarian, go to the Libertarian convention in Chamberlain on April 23, and get yourself nominated for Legislature to run against your local impeachment coward.
Democrats might not be the only ones looking for independent candidates to challenge House incumbents. If good Goschy Republicans confuse their moral and constitutional obligations with their petty personal politics and vote against impeachment just to honk Kristi’s nose, the Governor could honk right back by using her mighty political machine to recruit conservatives to run as independents against any impeachment balkers. Seriously, Kristi: if certain Republicans want to play games with impeachment of this menace to your party, you can show them all how to play that game with eight million dollars.
Noem might not have to go as far as recruiting independents against anti-impeachment Republicans to make her point. She has plenty of Republican primary challengers she could back before risking any of her capital outside her party. But maybe such an investment would not be a risk. Maybe after three-plus years of hyper-partisan gubernatification, Noem could use Ravnsborg’s crimes and a vote against impeachment as a chance to demonstrate her ability to do what’s right, independent of party politics, even as she works to protect her party’s brand. After all, Jason Ravnsborg remains a total liability to his party. Keeping him on the payroll and on the ballot only makes Republicans look bad. Noem could fight that damage to her party by making clear that there is no room in her party or in South Dakota government for anyone who would defend Ravnsborg’s rank disregard for the law, public safety, and human life. She could walk into the Dell Rapids Dairy Queen and tell every voter there that she’d rather have Democrat Dan Ahlers come back to represent District 25 than suffer another term of impeachment-excusing Republican Jon Hansen in Pierre. Such a dramatic gesture could help remove Ravnsborg’s stain from her party and give her some useful bipartisan cred, and keep her Democratic gubernatorial opponent Rep. Jamie Smith from making too much political hay out of Ravnsborg’s crimes himself.
But the most pressing stain removal comes from wiping Ravnsborg off the ballot at the June convention. No matter how many Republicans vote against impeachment tomorrow, Ravnsborg is shamelessly plotting to march into convention to beg, borrow, or steal his way to the nomination. Seven counties have Primary Day contests for delegates to the SDGOP convention (June 23–25 in Watertown), and 194 precincts have Republicans competing for committeeperson positions, which also get to vote at convention. Many of those contests may be between followers Ravnsborg has recruited and sensible Republicans trying to put Marty Jackley and competence back in the Attorney General’s office. Jackley and Noem both should insert their cash and their names into those bottom-of-the-ticket contests and make clear to the party faithful that they face one simple question: do they want a real Attorney General, or do they want a useless, lawbreaking killer who will lose more lawsuits to liberals like Cory Heidelberger? (That last part shouldn’t be necessary, but it’s true, and it should give pause to any Ravnsborg nuts who think keeping Jason in office will help them win election lawsuits.) Anyone who answers, absurdly, that they prefer Jason over Marty should be crushed mercilessly with robocalls and get-out-the-primary-vote on June 7. Anyone who shows up at convention with a Jason button should be denied a seat. Noem and Jackley have the power to do that. They should use that power.
Outside all of that politicking, voters have a much simpler, easier obligation. Jason Ravnsborg is so incompetent and so morally bankrupt that he warrants an absolute response. If Jason Ravnsborg ends up on any ballot, vote against him. Watch the House vote tomorrow, and if your Representative doesn’t appear in the Yes column, vote against your Representative.
Of course, Jason Ravnsborg could spare everyone this moral choice by announcing his resignation before the House can vote. He could do so today to spare legislators the drive (and taxpayers the per diem). However, he could add to the drama by waiting until tomorrow—which an eager reader notes is Ravnsborg’s birthday, and which another eager reader notes is 19 months after he killed Joe Boever, so sure, let’s heighten the infamy of April 12—meeting the Speaker at the House Chamber door at 10:59 a.m., and handing him a copy of the letter of resignation that he is taking to the Governor’s office. By resigning within the next 24 hours, Ravnsborg would finally do Joe Boever’s family and the state of South Dakota some justice. He would remove his stain from our public institutions and his own party. And he would spare 62 House Republicans, even the ones who are willing to vote to impeach, from having to cast a vote that no one is eager to cast.