South Dakota’s leading liberal and conservative blogs have said that candidates’ positions on the impeachment of killer Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg could affect the outcome of this year’s election. District 13’s four-way Republican House primary provides an opportunity to test that hypothesis.
The District 13 contest includes both of its House incumbents, Representatives Sue Peterson and Richard Thomason. Challenging them are infamous über-insider Tony Venhuizen and darkhorse Convention of States Constitution-wrecker Penny Baybridge. The incumbents split on impeachment: Thomason voted to impeach Ravnsborg and subject him to trial in the Senate; Peterson voted to let the killer off and face no threat to keeping office. The challengers also split: Venhuizen says he supports impeachment; Baybridge says she does not.
The Sioux Falls Argus Leader got the candidates to explain their positions on impeachment. Thomason and Venhuizen say impeachment is justified because Ravsnborg has lost public trust:
Thomason: “I voted to impeach the Attorney General because I do not believe he has maintained the trust of the people or of law enforcement due to his actions since the tragic death of Joe Boever. Public officials should always be held to a high standard and the citizens should have trust in them to carry out their duties. In my opinion, the Attorney General has broken that trust and he deserves to face a trial in the Senate.”
Venhuizen: “I would have voted for impeachment. Impeachment means that the Senate holds a trial, and I believe there is enough evidence to justify holding a trial. Due to his conduct, Attorney General Ravnsborg has lost the confidence of many South Dakotans, especially in law enforcement and the legal community, and that prevents him from doing his job effectively” [Joe Sneve, “Meet the Candidates: District 13 Primary Could Tip Scales in Republicans’ Power Struggle,” Sioux Falls Argus Leader, 2022.05.18].
Peterson and Baybridge make evasive excuses for keeping an ineffective manslaughterer in the highest law enforcement office in South Dakota:
Peterson: “I went into the special session leaning toward voting for impeachment. I listened to the hearings, reviewed the report released by the committee and spoke with members of the select committee. Contrary to their initial belief that there would be an abundance of evidence to warrant impeachment, committee members indicated that the evidence did not meet a clear and convincing standard. Based on their recommendation, especially those in law enforcement, who saw and heard all the evidence, including that not reported by the media, I voted not to impeach.”
Baybridge: “It is important to follow the rule of law. It should be further noted that the law should not be given the appearance of being weaponized by any group of people against another person just to take them out. Jason Ravnsborg went through the legal process and was charged with two misdemeanors. There was nothing in that decision or that process that would call for impeachment. Voting to impeach him set a precedent. If that becomes the new standard, how many elected officials in Pierre will we impeach going forward? Following the law, I would not have voted for impeachment” [Sneve, 2022.05.18].
Peterson says she paid especial attention to the recommendations of law enforcement, but as the articles of impeachment state, Ravnsborg has lost the faith of law enforcement. Over a year ago, three of South Dakota’s major law enforcement organizations said Ravnsborg had lost their confidence and recommended that he resign. The April 6 presentation that the South Dakota Department of Public Safety gave on the investigation of Ravnsborg’s deadly car crash seems to have supported key legislators’ position think impeachment was warranted. Baybridge gets hung up on the technicalities of misdemeanors and uses the code words (e.g. weaponized) deployed by Ravnsborg to distract legislators and the public with political conspiracy theories, but, like Peterson, Baybridge ignores the immediate and relevant facts of the Attorney General’s conduct, his lawbreaking, and his loss of the trust among law enforcement, elected leaders, and the public.
District 13, you have two Republicans asking for your vote who are willing to hold a fellow Republican accountable for breaking the law, killing a man, and lying about it. You have two others who will make excuses for a killer Republican who lacks the faith of law enforcement necessary to do his duties. Those divergent positions seem to offer a pretty good test of which candidates will represent you better in Pierre.