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Ellis: Ravnsborg Had Enough Votes for Acquittal Before Trial; Effective Prosecution Flipped Senators

Jonathan Ellis reports that, far from the sham hearing that Senators held to protect their drunk colleagues (one of whom is now the Republican nominee for Commissioner of School and Public Lands) with a pre-arranged outcome in 2020, last week’s historic Senate impeachment trial of killer Jason Ravnsborg was a real trial, with real stakes, and an unexpected outcome won by an persuasive prosecution:

Going into the trial, the attorney general’s team had counted votes. They were reasonably confident the Senate could not get to 24 votes, given the verbal commitments senators had made to Ravnsborg and his team.

But following an onslaught by the prosecution on the day of the trial, some of those verbal commitments switched their votes. As Ravnsborg tracked the votes during roll call, he learned he’d been betrayed by some. And when the magic number reached 24 on the first article of impeachment, his head slumped [Jonathan Ellis, “19 Months of Political Brutality Ends with Jason Ravnsborg’s Ouster,” Sioux Falls Argus Leader, 2022.06.27].

Prosecutors Alexis Tracy and Mark Vargo apparently made a difference. Going into the trial, at least ten Senators (only 33 attended the trial; 2 were absent; thus, it would only have taken 10 Senators, not 12, to prevent the Senate from mustering the 24 votes necessary to convict) had told Ravnsborg that they didn’t think he deserved to lose his job after killing a man. At least ten Senators were willing to leave this unethical, lying, habitually inattentive serial abuser of authority in office for six more months. Surely as cognizant as the defense of headcount, prosecutors Tracy and Vargo stepped into the politically thankless job of arguing the facts about Ravnsborg’s case and urging Republican Senators to admit that a Republican elected official had committed acts of unprecedented awfulness deserving his conviction and removal from office.

And the prosecutors succeeded. We do not know how many Senators they persuaded (Jason! send us your notes!), but they persuaded someone, obviously more than one on the second article of impeachment (which passed 31–2).

Last week’s trial mattered. The prosecutors made the difference between justice and corruption.


  1. scott 2022-06-27

    Who doesn’t love good old fashioned Republican betrayal?

  2. Misty 2022-06-27

    There was always the required number. The Argus, Austin Goss, Ellis, are anti-Republican and always report what isn’t true. Believe me they had them long ago.

  3. Jake 2022-06-27

    Ellis’ portrayal of the impeachment as a “sham” reeks of similar reporting’s on trump’s impeachments, almost akin to saying it was the wrong thing to do “impeach” such conduct. C’mon Jonathan, you’re better than this!! Not holding it (the trial) would have been a far worse story for our state than the results of it. Just because the prosecution did a real good job and the defense Ravnsborg gave simply didn’t match their efforts. Excellent prosecution doesn’t always meet excellent defense, esp. when there is none.

  4. larry kurtz 2022-06-27

    There are no surprises here. If it bleeds, it leads. The more hysterical the commentary the more papers get sold. The Argus and every other print product of the South Dakota Newspaper Association reads like bulletins for the SDGOP.

  5. larry kurtz 2022-06-27

    It must drive the extreme white wing of the SDGOP to the brink of madness that a Hebrew is Chair.

  6. 96Tears 2022-06-27

    It’s interesting that J. Ellis made these statements without attribution, other than leaving the reader to assume he had talked with somebody on Team Ravnsborg, which I kinda doubt.

    My own assumptions are based on watching the body language on the Senate floor and, of course, that narrowest of margins: One vote. The prosecution was well-versed, well researched and coordinated. The questions from the Senators provided a little insight to how they were perceiving the proceedings, especially Curd’s leading question which seemed to wander into the weeds. It seemed as though he was stretching to find some room for doubt that the prosecution would not address. He looked embarrassed when he sat down. Ravnsborg’s defense team just didn’t get much traction in countering the prosecution’s case. I believe Schoenbeck’s brilliant speech gathered the power of the evidence from the prosecutors with his own raw emotional pitch that Joe Boever could have been anyone that night and the frank reality of what was expected … a legislative decision, not a jury trial decision calling for proof beyond a shadow of doubt. If there were loose commitments to Ravnsborg, Schoenbeck made it clear those senators would have a hard time explaining a no vote when they got home.

    One vote made the difference on the first charge. When that failed to keep Ravnsborg afloat, all bets were off and seven of the nine No Votes decided their political integrity wasn’t worth wasting on Ravnsborg’s political future. To get Jason off the hook, I think Team Ravnsborg asked their supporters to hang in there for the first vote, and if that failed, they were free to do want they wanted. It’s not an unusual arrangement in politics. Judging by how deep and how passionate Schoenbeck needed to be in his pitch, I’m confident he knew he didn’t have it locked up.

    Team Ravnsborg blinked.

    The voting later in the week at the state convention tells me just how close America’s Party Girl Kristi Noem was to having Jason Ravnsborg next to her name on the 2022 general election ballot. For her presidential aspirations, that would make her the laughing stock of the 2024 GOP primaries. It would have demonstrated just how sickly and weak her stewardship of a small state like South Dakota has been, which, of course, it has been. She is still a coward when it comes to answering to news reporters in this small, rural state with its minimized press corps. Her practice run Sunday on ABC This Week and refusal to answer a direct question made her look like a 19th Century automaton at best. She would be well advised to hang up her spurs for 2024 (or maybe The Lew likes spurs, I don’t know).

    Ellis’ version of what we all saw is entirely too generous to Noem. He makes her actions of turning over the video of Ravnsborg’s interrogation appear somewhat heroic and breathless. What we saw was not the “blunt force” political act of taking “the unprecedented step of releasing investigatory materials to the public.” What we all saw was a desperate, craven amateur lashing out to damage a dumb killer from appearing on the ballot with her and spoiling her campaign to enter the 2024 presidential primary elections. What we all saw with the Ohio phone bank undermining the House impeachment hearings and dark money-bankrolled billboards calling out the House impeachment committee members by name was more lashing out because her 2024 ego trip was too precious to risk. The little princess was so mad at her own GOP legislators who didn’t kiss her ass she instigated a widespread purge of her own caucuses — a dumb move that backfired. Too many on Noem’s purge list will be back next year to help her stay in Pierre and stop pretending she’s presidential or vice presidential material.

    Noem nearly bungled this affair so badly, Jason Ravnsborg nearly escaped impeachment — by one vote in the House and one vote in the Senate in a 90 percent GOP legislature. Also, we all saw what happened at the SDGOP state convention. Jackley and Rhoden won, but by far, far too little margins, and Barnett lost to a no name nobody. Had that one or two or three votes gone the other way in the Senate, it’s very, very likely Ravnsborg would be submitted to the Secretary of State as the 2022 Republican candidate for Attorney General. Right under Kristi Noem’s name.

    No matter how scribe Ellis wants to paint this, this political effort was a disaster because one governor can’t exercise self control and has zero respect for the station of her office and for the people who have supported her politically. Definitely not ready for prime time. Too dumb to be governor in any state.

  7. grudznick 2022-06-27

    Speaking of the Demon Weed, has anybody found a ride for my close personal friend Bob and grudznick to the Rainbow Family of Living Light gathering next weekend, near Steamboat Springs, Colorado? We promise not to talk about the Demon Weed or Ravnsborg the entire ride, and will pay our share of petroleum.

  8. larry kurtz 2022-06-27

    Speaking of Hebrews, grud reminds us that nobody rides for free even it’s to the holy land.

  9. Jenny 2022-06-28

    Releasing interrogation videos to the public happens all the time, just not in SD. South Dakotans were just not used to this happening and were in shock. It was a bold ballsy move on Noem’s even if it was political, but she didn’t ‘nearly bungle’ this. Noem was as frustrated as everyone else for an investigation that went on for almost 6 months.
    The unconvincing and unimpressive Hyde County state’s attorney, Emily Sovell (who should have been recused from the start since she was a chum of Ravnsborg at USDlaw school) punted the ball by not going for 2nd degree manslaughter. The judge letting Ravnsborg off with a plea bargain and dropping one of the charges and the House Select Committee are the ones who f’d up, not to mention Sheriff Volek. You’re going after the wrong people, 96. Put your personal biases aside.

  10. Nick Nemec 2022-06-29

    Jenny is right. Sovell screwed up the prosecution. She is a small town lawyer more accustomed to doing land transfers and estate settlements than prosecuting serious crimes involving high profile defendants with top dollar defense lawyers. Sheriff Volek was a small town good old boy cop who probably didn’t even get out of his car the night of the crash, according to his own statement he didn’t bother to check the light in the ditch, which turned out to be Joe’s flashlight.

  11. Kurt Evans 2023-03-30

    This is a test to find out whether I’m still blocked from commenting.

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