In 2006, you, good South Dakota voters, enacted Initiated Measure 5, proposed by economist Reynold Nesiba, to prohibit the Governor or any other state official from using state aircraft for anything other than state business. IM 5 is now part of SDCL 5-25-1.1:
Vehicles owned or leased by the state may be used only in the conduct of state business. No state officer or employee, except the Governor, law enforcement officers of the South Dakota Highway Patrol, law enforcement officers of the Division of Criminal Investigation, and conservation officers may use, or permit the use of, any state-owned motor vehicle other than in the conduct of state business. Nothing in this section prohibits any use of any state vehicle, if, in order to provide for the most efficient use of state equipment or personnel, supervisory personnel issue written instructions to any state employee to use a state vehicle for transportation:
- Between the employee’s permanent residence and work station; or
- Between the employee’s temporary residence or eating place and work station if assigned to a locality other than the employee’s permanent residence.
For purposes of this section, any aircraft owned or leased by the state may be used only in the conduct of state business. None of the exceptions listed above are applicable regarding the use of any aircraft owned or leased by the state or any of its agencies.
A violation of this section is a Class 2 misdemeanor. The violator is also subject to a civil action by the State of South Dakota in circuit court for the recovery of a civil penalty of not more than one thousand dollars plus ten times the cost incurred by the state for misuse of any aircraft owned or leased by the state. An action for the recovery of a civil penalty or compensatory damages shall, upon demand, be tried by a jury [emphasis mine; SDCL 5-25-1.1, last amended 2007].
On February 24, 2021, now-Senator Reynold Nesiba (D-15/Sioux Falls) asked the Attorney General to look into whether Governor Kristi Noem was violating SDCL 5-25-1.1 with her frequent flights for “personal use, out-of-state political campaigning, and attending partisan political events.” Then-highly distracted killer Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg sat on that complaint for seven months before punting it to the Government Accountability Board, which quietly discussed that complaint for ten more months before punting it back to the new Attorney General Mark Vargo, who apparently still hasn’t received formal notice from the GAB of its retro-punting.
While we wait for A.G. Vargo to find the file his predecessor must have left somewhere among the file cabinets, KELO-TV’s Jacob Newton publishes the flight logs and passenger manifests for state planes from January 2018 through August 2022 for our review of Noem travels that may violate SDCL 5-25-1.1.
Of particular interest is a flight of the state’s King Air 200 on May 30, 2019. The itinerary given is Pierre to Custer State Park, then to Vermillion and Aberdeen, back to Custer State Park, and back to Pierre. The passengers listed are Governor Noem, Noem’s senior advisor Beth Hollatz, Ryan Tennyson (possibly Highway Patrolman), Noem’s son Booker, Noem’s nephew Nash Grantham, Noem’s nephew Hunter Arnold, and Jack Ferguson. Jack Ferguson may be Jackson Ferguson, a friend of Booker who was attending Boys’ State in Aberdeen that week. Booker Noem, Grantham, Arnold, and Ferguson were all teenagers at the time, and none were state employees.
Governor Noem told KELO-TV’s Don Jorgensen that the complaint about her use of the state plane “is just a political hit job because I was the only one who had balls enough to say this attorney general that killed a guy and left him in a ditch and lied about it and covered it up shouldn’t be the attorney general anymore.”
What really takes balls is flying four teenage boys to Custer State Park for a weekend wedding and claiming that’s “state business”.
The complaint about Governor Noem’s use of the state plane has nothing to do with unwisely blabbering Jason Ravnsborg and his deadly driving. The complaint is a simple question of law and of Noem’s actions. Unless Governor Noem can explain how those four boys were conducting state business on or about May 30, Governor Noem appears to have violated SDCL 5-25-1.1, a law the voters wrote to stop exactly this sort of misuse of public resources for personal pleasure, and may face a Class 2 misdemeanor charge and civil penalty for misuse of state aircraft… assuming the current Attorney General can find his paperwork and his balls.