Two years ago, Senator Kris Langer and Senator Brock Greenfield drank heavily at a house party hosted by lobbyist Dean Krogman on the last long night of the 2020 Legislative Session and then showed up at the final coronavirus-remote Senate meeting in no condition to legislate. Senate President and Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden, who also attended that lobbyist house party with Langer and Greenfield and who also looked a little rough around the edges at that final Senate meeting, used parliamentary trickery to delay any immediate inquiry into the Republican Senate leaders’ obvious inebriation.
Legislating while drunk had to provoke some action from the Senate, and indeed, less than a month later, Langer and Greenfield apologized to a Senate Interim Investigatory Committee, which declined to censure and merely admonished the indulgent Senators.
Now Bob Mercer obtains a transcript of a secret Republican caucus phone meeting in which Republican Senators worked out that meager discipline ahead of time with Langer and Greenfield’s lawyer Marty Jackley, leaving the public hearing a face-saving sham.
What wasn’t publicly known at the time was that Republican Senators Jim Bolin of Canton and Art Rusch of Vermillion had worked with Marty Jackley on the plan beforehand and then privately discussed the plan with the Republican Senate caucus, minus Langer and Greenfield.
…According to the transcript from the April 2020 meeting of Republican senators, Bolin led off by recounting what he and Rusch, a retired circuit judge, had already negotiated with Jackley over a period of several days.
…Bolin read the apology, then asked Rusch if he had a copy of the admonition that had been agreed upon with Jackley [Bob Mercer, “Discipline of S.D. Senate Leaders Was Pre-Arranged,” KELO-TV, 2022.05.15].
Bolin, Rusch, and Jackley appeared to conspire to thwart the expressed will of the Legislature’s Executive Board, which voted to create an interim committee to investigate Langer and Greenfield’s conduct and report to the Senate. Senator Jeff Partridge said failing to form the committee that the Executive Board voted to firm would be problematic, and Senator Lee Schoenbeck agreed. Schoenbeck said that to properly sweep the matter under the rug, they needed to rig the panel with members who supported the Bolin–Rusch-Jackley deal:
Said Schoenbeck, “Let me say, the work you guys — it’s a great way to avoid a full pile of embarrassment for a lot of (unintelligible). But the way to fix it, Jeff is describing it, we should vote on a motion to appoint five caucus members who will support the Bolin-Rusch recommendation for apology and admonition. Because we also don’t want five people, any of the five that want to open it back up to some other donnybrook. That’s the motion we should vote on. And if a majority of us accept that, then we complied with E-Board” [Mercer, 2022.05.15].
Senator Wayne Steinhauer said that sounded like a great idea and moved to “short-circuit” the process:
Eventually Senator Wayne Steinhauer of Hartford made a motion. “Without making preparatory comments, if I could make them at the end, I’d move that the Republican caucus appoint five members as requested by the E-Board; that Senator Bolin picks the five; that the five, that Senator Bolin’s directed to pick those, that would be predisposed to accept the apology and the admonition; that the committee assemble at least once; request that Marty Jackley present the apology and the admonition; and that you move immediately to accept it and you vote as a block of five to accept it. That would be my motion.”
Steinhauer then explained. “I think that there — if we were to go to a lengthy trial, there are facts that would — we’d end up in this position anyhow. I think this is a great way to short-circuit it, crossing the E-Board or having an issue in the public eye where we did not follow the directions of the E-Board. We will at least have assembled a committee, we will have met at least once, and I think we’ll have taken appropriate action. That’s the reason for my motion” [Mercer, 2022.05.15].
Langer and Greenfield could have spared the caucus this trouble by simply resigning, but Bolin said there was no way Langer and Greenfield would take that kind of responsibility for their actions:
“I did have one conversation with Mr. Jackley on Easter Sunday afternoon that Senator Rusch was not involved with, and that question was again raised. And that — I’ll just tell you this, that was never — the question was raised — that is unacceptable to both Senator Langer and Senator Greenfield. And if that is part of the requirement, they are prepared to, I guess, use the phrase ‘lawyer up’ and fight to the end on that issue for everything. They’re going to withdraw their apology if that is, in fact, the desire of the caucus” [Senator Jim Bolin, in Mercer, 2022.05.15].
And Senator Rusch said the pre-arranged outcome, which Senator Deb Soholt referred to in the secret caucus call as a “sham committee”, was pretty much the only outcome Langer, Greenfield, and Jackley would accept:
Then-Senator Rocky Blare of Ideal expressed a similar reservation as Soholt and asked how tenuous the agreement with Jackley was.
Rusch answered, “If there’s any real major changes in this, I think that our deal will go away. Now I guess it’s always hard to define exactly what’s major changes, but we worked long and hard on both the language of the apology and the language of the admonition. So I don’t think that there’s much inclination on their part to detour from that very much” [Mercer, 2022.05.15].
Senator Phil Jensen, who originally raised the complaint about Langer’s drunkenness on duty, raised the prickly issue of Lieutenant Governor Rhoden’s own participation in the drunken revelry at Korgman’s house. Senator Bolin shut that dangerous talk down quickly:
Jensen spoke up again as the call neared the end. “I believe that the Senate is making a huge mistake by stacking the committee is my comment. And my question is: Has the governor had anything to say about
the lieutenant governor’s involvement at the party house the morning of the 31st?”
Replied Bolin, “Senator Jensen, I don’t know anything about that. And I — I know nothing about that. I don’t know anything about that. So –“
Jensen asked, “Do any members?”
Bolin continued, “…thank you — thank you for, I guess, your involvement” [Mercer, 2022.05.15].
Langer, who had filed to seek reëlection, withdrew her name from the ballot three months later. Greenfield returned to the Senate unopposed in District 2 and now is running for Commissioner of School and Public Lands. Rhoden is running alongside Governor Kristi Noem for reëlection. Rusch is not running for Legislature (though he and his wife Lana will be precinct committeepeople at convention), but Bolin is fighting for his primary seat against primary challenger and former legislator Nancy Rasmussen. And Jackley, of course, is Governor Noem’s choice to replace killer Jason Ravnsborg as Attorney General.
That the Republican caucus holds secret meetings and pre-arranges votes and actions shouldn’t surprise any observers of Pierre politics. But it is immensely surprising that a transcript of such a secret meeting exists, let alone falls into the hands of Pierre’s most experienced reporter a month before the Republican primary and the Republican convention. A document like this doesn’t just fall out of someone’s briefcase. Two years after an incident that got neatly swept under the rug by the usual Republican rigging, someone inside the SDGOP apparently wants to kick that dust up again. To get a sense of who might have leaked this transcript and why, let’s watch which candidates try making hay out of this evidence of Republicans rigging the Legislative process to protect their naughty leaders.