There’s at least one lawyer we can convince to come work in Pierre….
Holy cow—paint me wrong again! I thought that appointing Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo as South Dakota’s Attorney General might create an appearance of conflict of interest that would direct Governor Kristi Noem’s attention elsewhere for a replacement A.G. But a week after the Senate convicted and removed the impeached Attorney General, Governor Noem has appointed Vargo to fill the vacancy he made possible just one week ago with co-prosecutor Alexis Tracy:
Governor Kristi Noem has appointed Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo as Attorney General effective today.
“Mark Vargo returns integrity, experience and stability to the Attorney General’s Office,” said Governor Noem. “He is an outstanding prosecutor who has the respect of law enforcement agencies and prosecutors statewide. Mark will provide the leadership the office needs until the next Attorney General is elected in November and takes office in January.”
Vargo has more than 30 years of professional and public legal experience. He graduated from Princeton University in 1985 with a Bachelor of Arts degree and earned his law degree with honors from Georgetown Law Center in 1988. He has served as an Assistant State’s Attorney for Florida’s Dade County, Assistant United States Attorney for the District of South Dakota and has been Pennington County State’s Attorney since 2013. He was nominated in 2010 for a U.S. Department of Justice’s Director’s Award and was named the South Dakota Prosecutor of the Year in 2015. Vargo has been active in the Rapid City area serving as an adjunct professor, high school debate coach and youth soccer coach.
Last week, Vargo was the lead prosecutor in the Senate impeachment trial against the former attorney general.
“I am honored to have been asked by Governor Noem to serve as the Attorney General,” said Vargo. “I have worked closely with the Attorney General’s office in the past and have a high respect for the abilities of the staff. My goal is to provide office members the necessary support so they can keep doing their job and honoring the rule of law for the citizens of South Dakota.”
Vargo will serve as Attorney General through Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. The new Attorney General is scheduled to be sworn in Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023 [Office of the Governor, press release, 2022.06.28].
As I said last week, Vargo and Tracy achieved what I doubted was possible: convincing the Republican Senate to impeach a Republican Attorney General. In the impeachment trial, both Vargo and Tracy demonstrated exemplary prosecutorial skill and professionalism under unusual public and political scrutiny. Tracy might have been just as good a pick, but Vargo has more experience.
Appointing Mark Vargo Attorney General also makes political sense for Governor Noem. She could have put her thumb on the scale of the November election by appointing her endorsee, Republican nominee Marty Jackley. Instead, she has chosen an outsider, someone who is not aspiring to higher office who can focus on simply serving as an interim Attorney General, helping clean up the mess left by the bumbler he just impeached and clear the decks for whomever the voters choose in November (assuming, of course, that the South Dakota Democratic Party will seize this moment of tumult and offer voters a choice).
Vargo’s appointment also gives Noem cover from all the tomato-chuckers, including many in her own party, who said she pushed impeachment so she could “install a loyalist.”
I will vouch for Mark Vargo personally: he is no Noem loyalist. At the very least, he is no corrupt toady who will shred evidence to protect Noem from any credible allegation of lawbreaking. Mark Vargo—Attorney General Vargo, we should say now—is his own man, committed to seeking and telling the truth, enforcing the law, and serving the people.
Now, Attorney General Vargo, don’t let me down. Six months isn’t a long time to make a difference. But you can restore South Dakota’s confidence in the office by executing your duties with diligence and integrity… and firing any lingering Ravnsborg cronies.