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Four Legislators Backed Misguided Petition to Prevent Vargo from Returning to Pennington County Position

Bob Mercer reports that Senator Julie Frye-Mueller (R-30/Rapid City) signed and helped circulate a petition that called for Attorney General Mark Vargo to permanently resign from his position as Pennington County State’s Attorney. Vargo took temporary leave of that position at the end of June when Governor Kristi Noem appointed him to fill the vacancy created by the conviction and removal from office of impeached killer Jason Ravnsborg, which conviction Vargo and co-prosecutor Alexis Tracy secured in the historic impeachment trial before the Senate on June 21.

The Pennington County Commission rejected that petition on a 3–1 vote July 19, and rightfully so: the petition was based on extralegal hand-wringing about non-existent conflicts of interest. Frye-Mueller and lead petition Tonchi Weaver threw at the commission a hodgepodge of highlighted statutes (original document available in the July 19 commission agenda packet), but not one of the statutes cited explained how any conflict of interest exists between two positions that Vargo does not and will not occupy at the same time. Nor did the statutes cited by Vargo’s enemies indicate that the county commission has any authority to remove and permanently replace the state’s attorney. To the contrary, Vargo’s opponents cite statutes that give the county (SDCL 3-4-9) and the circuit court (SDCL 7-16-2) authority to name temporary replacements for an absent state’s attorney, but statute explicitly forbids the court from making permanent appointments, and the county statute says its temporary appointment lasts “until the member or officer is able to fulfill the requirements of office,” which is exactly the scenario Vargo and the county have agreed to: once Marty Jackley is inaugurated come January, Vargo comes back to Rapid City to complete his own elected term.

Attorney General Vargo responded preëmptively to the petition with his own letter to the commission (added to the agenda packet July 18). In that letter, Vargo asserted that, far from creating a conflict of interest, serving briefly as Attorney General would help him come back and be a better State’s Attorney and serve Pennington County’s interest in recruiting lawyers:

I am proud to be part of a great team at the AG’s office and a great team at Pennington County. I believe that my work over the next six months will make me a better State’s Attorney when I return, with greater knowledge of the inner workings of the AG’s office. I also believe that the reach that I will have over this time frame will also enable Pennington County to have great reach in recruiting and retaining attorneys, which is one of the greatest challenges that we anticipate over the coming years. I get a fair amount of grief from my fellow State’s Attorneys about my alleged “relentless” recruitment efforts. All I can say to them is: “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

I appreciate the Commission’s continued support. The next six months will allow me to work for the good of the people of South Dakota while protecting and promoting our home, Pennington County [Attorney General Mark Vargo, letter to Pennington County Commission, July 19 2021 agenda packet, 2022.07.18].

Ha! If anyone should be angling to stop Vargo from returning to his office in Rapid City, it’s not Weaver and other Pennington County residents; it’s state’s attorneys from everywhere else in South Dakota who see Vargo promising to use the connections he makes in his six months in statewide office to recruit all the good lawyers to come work with him in Rapid City in 2023!

As Mercer notes, Senator Frye-Mueller isn’t the only lawmaker whose antipathy toward Vargo and his removal of their pal Ravnsborg have produced an inability to read basic law. District 35 Representatives Tony Randolph and Tina Mullally and District 33 Representative Phil Jensen also signed the anti-Vargo petition.

Rep. Tony Randolph's signature on remove-Vargo petition, circulated by Toni E. Weaver, notarized for submission to Pennington County Commission 2022.07.17.
Rep. Tony Randolph’s signature on remove-Vargo petition, circulated by Toni E. Weaver, notarized for submission to Pennington County Commission 2022.07.17.
Signatures of Rep. Tina Mullaly and Rep. Phil Jensen on remove-Vargo petition, circulated by Toni E. Weaver, notarized for submission to Pennington County Commission 2022.07.17.
Signatures of Rep. Tina Mullaly and Rep. Phil Jensen on remove-Vargo petition, circulated by Toni E. Weaver, notarized for submission to Pennington County Commission 2022.07.17.

Randolph and Jensen, like Frye-Mueller, resisted calling a Special Session to impeach Ravnsborg. Unlike Frye-Mueller, who skipped the Senate trial and conviction vote for her brother-in-law’s funeral, Randolph, Jensen, and Mullaly voted against impeaching Ravnsborg.

Bonus Petition Problem: Weaver and Frye-Mueller signed petition sheets that they circulated, which is, of course, a no-no, since a circulator cannot witness her own signature.

Toni E. Weaver's signature on remove-Vargo petition, 2022.07.17.
Toni E. Weaver’s signature on remove-Vargo petition, 2022.07.17.
Toni E. Weaver's signature as circulator on same sheet of remove-Vargo petition, 2022.07.17.
Toni E. Weaver’s signature as circulator on same sheet of remove-Vargo petition, 2022.07.17.
Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller's signature on remove-Vargo petition, notarized for submission to Pennington County Commission 2022.07.19.
Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller’s signature on remove-Vargo petition, notarized for submission to Pennington County Commission 2022.07.19.
Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller's signature as circulator on same sheet of remove-Vargo petition, notarized for submission to Pennington County Commission 2022.07.19.
Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller’s signature as circulator on same sheet of remove-Vargo petition, notarized for submission to Pennington County Commission 2022.07.19.

11 Comments

  1. All Mammal 2022-08-01

    So snowflakey.

    Why would you boo-hoo around when we actually have a badass attorney working for us? Mr. Vargo kept his promise to return something to me. He said it could take a year and, naturally, I had expected to nag him when I eventually was tired if waiting in the far off future. I was tickled when I received a notice to retrieve my property on the day that year was up. He is an exceptional attorney, and not just because he honors his word.

  2. larry kurtz 2022-08-01

    GOP infighting gets me out of bed every morning at five hoping to learn the big tent fire took every single one.

  3. grudznick 2022-08-01

    Ms. Mullaly, she of the fancy beads, and Ms. Mueller, she of the vacant brain, are sent back by those insaner than most who grudznick does not allow at my breakfasts. And that Ms. Weaver, as pretty as she may be, may no longer attend either.

  4. Darkstar in the Morning 2022-08-01

    Of course they did.

    What else did we expect from these four?

    Tonchi Weaver is a threat to the good people of Rapid City and Pennington County, and the rest aren’t any better.

  5. Bob Newland 2022-08-01

    Tonchi Weaver is so distasteful even the distasteful-in-his-own-right Bill Napoli gavels her down at “Wingnuts” luncheons.

  6. Bob Newland 2022-08-01

    Mammal, you had a reasonably good experience with Vargo. I have seen at least two sides of the dude. I agree he’s better than most in his position, but that’s a low bar. It could be that he’s learning and becoming better. I’d like to believe that.

  7. grudznick 2022-08-01

    To be fair, Bob, we must acknowledge that Mr. Napoli gavels down most everyone, even the Brute, Mr. Rhoden, and Napoli barely left the lunch with his own skin.

  8. Bob Newland 2022-08-01

    You, grudznutz, would not even know about the Napoli v Rhoden affair had it not been for my intrepid reportage.

  9. DaveFN 2022-08-02

    For all his objective admirable actions, Vargo remains an egotistical jerk at the subjective level.

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-08-02

    Yeah, Dave, but he’s a perfectly legal egotistical jerk. Weaver, Frye-Mueller, and friends can’t point to any statute saying that a big ego is grounds for removing an elected official from office. I wish they could, because we could impeach Noem instantly.

Comments are closed.