I was curious to see how House members’ impeachment vote would affect their chances in the primary. I was hopeful that the Republican electorate would view refusal to impeach killer Jason Ravnsborg as a sign of unfitness for office. Alas, last week’s primary election results show little evidence that defending an irresponsible and incompetent killer overcame incumbency in Republican primary voters’ inclinations.
54 of our 70 House incumbents filed petitions to seek another term in Pierre. 45 filed for House again (one, Rep. Jennifer Keintz [D-1/Eden], has since withdrawn); 9 filed to switch to Senate. 32 of those candidates, all Republicans, faced primaries. Those primary incumbents (including those running for Senate) included 16 who voted to impeach Ravnsborg and 16 who did not vote to impeach Ravnsborg (including Ravnsborg’s law school chum Rep. Scott Odenbach [R-31/Spearfish], who skipped the House impeachment vote on April 12, Ravnsborg’s birthday).
Thirteen Republican Representatives who voted for impeachment won their primaries. Three impeachment Ayes lost.
Twelve Republican Representatives who did not vote to impeach Ravnsborg won their primaries. Four impeachment Nays lost.
Of the seven House incumbents who lost their primaries, four were running in new districts created in Senator Lee Schoenbeck’s Sparrow map:
- Sioux Falls Rep. Mark Willadsen (Aye on impeachment) was moved from District 11 to District 9 and lost his Senate primary to Brent Hoffman.
- Aberdeen Rep. Kaleb Weis (Nay) was moved from District 2 to District 3 and lost his House primary to District 3 incumbent Rep. Carl Perry (Nay) and the much richer and more personable Trumpist Brandei Schaefbauer.
- Centerville Rep. Richard Vasgaard (Aye) was moved from District 17 to District 16 and lost his House primary to District 16 incumbent Kevin Jensen (Nay) and radical right-winger Karla Lems.
- Tripp Rep. Caleb Finck (Nay) was moved from District 21 to District 19 and lost his House primary to Jessica Bahmuller and Drew Peterson.
Two of the House incumbents who lost their primaries lost Senate bids to incumbent Senators:
- Glenham Rep. and Speaker of the House Spencer Gosch (Nay on impeachment) lost to incumbent District 23 Senator Bryan Breitling of Miller.
- Sheridan Lake Rep. Tim Goodwin (Aye) lost to incumbent District 30 Senator Julie Frye-Mueller of Rapid City.
The last incumbent to lose last week was Sioux Falls District 13 Rep. Richard Thomason, who voted to impeach. Thomason lost to his seatmate Rep. Sue Peterson, who voted not to impeach, but he lost even more to Tony Venhuizen, a 20-year Pierre insider, current Regent, and former chief of staff to two governors, who conveyed to Ravnsborg Governor Noem’s wish that Ravnsborg take a leave of absence three days after Ravnsborg killed Joe Boever and who would have voted for impeachment.
The District 13 House primary was the only contest last week in which voters had an impeachment Aye and an impeachment Nay side-by-side on the ballot. In that one test, Republican voters picked the right-wing Nay over the less right-wing Aye, but they also elected a pro-impeachment insider who defines the South Dakota GOP mainstream. That District 13 result emblematizes both the ambivalence of the Republican primary electorate on impeachment, at least as a voting issue, and the question of whether they want to be led by mainstreamers or wingnuts.
The District 31 House primary pitted Rep. Mary Fitzgerald’s Aye against Rep. Odenbach’s skip on impeachment. District 31 reëlected both, though Odenbach got 278 more votes that Fitzgerald.
In western Rapid City’s District 34, Reps. Mike Derby and Jess Olson both voted to impeach. Both won their primaries. On the other side of the Skyline dinosaurs, eastern Rapid City’s District 35 Reps. Tony Randolph and Tina Mulally both voted against impeachment. Both won their primaries.
We’ll conduct another test of impeachment as a voting issue in November. 15 of the 25 House incumbents who won primaries face general election challengers; seven of those voted to impeach, eight did not. Another 13 House incumbents who drew no primary challenge must compete in the general election: nine of them voted to impeach, four voted against impeachment. Five of those Ayes are Democrats, so the general election will allow the general electorate to give eight Republicans—four Aye, four Nay—the first test of their impeachment vote.
But the primary vote indicates that, among Republican voters across the state, the impeachment of a lying, killing, and failing Attorney General did not stand out as a deciding factor in whether to vote for a legislator.