I note with relief that the voters of the Fourth Judicial Circuit have kept Ravnsborg cronyism from creeping into our courts. Longtime Lawrence County state’s attorney John Fitzgerald won an unusual five-way contest for a judgeship in the eight-county northwest South Dakota circuit with 36% of the vote. Fitzgerald beat back a challenge from carpetbagger David Natvig, whose appeal to Trumpists unhappy with the impeachment of his pal Jason Ravnsborg only won him 20% of the vote, about the same as received by drunk-legislator-favoring Magistrate Judge Chad Callahan.
Natvig hadn’t lived in the Fourth Circuit prior to this campaign. He had been state’s attorney in Brule County in the central part of the state from 2003 to the end of 2018. Natvig then moved to Pierre when the worst Attorney General in South Dakota history appointed Natvig to direct the Division of Criminal Investigation. Natvig had never been a cop; his main qualification to direct DCI seems to have been giving money to Ravnsborg’s campaign. Natvig’s lack of qualifications showed: he was one of two Ravnsborg cronies whom Mark Vargo fired immediately upon taking office last June. Vargo has said the DCI under Natvig suffered from poor management and a failure to trust experienced staff.
The South Dakota Republican Party rejected Natvig’s attempt to snatch the nomination for attorney general away from Marty Jackley at the June convention, but not by much: MAGA extremists at the SDGOP convention came within seven delegates of putting Natvig in a position where he could do his old impeached pal a favor (even though Natvig assured us he wouldn’t do such a thing). Natvig then threw in for this other government job out in West River.
In six months, David Natvig has lost one government job and lost two elections for other government jobs. Maybe Natvig’s Republicanism will kick in and direct him to seek gainful employment in the private sector.
How unusual was the five-way contest in which Fitzgerald beat Natvig and three other challengers? Of 44 judgeships on the ballot across the state this year, only three had more than one candidate. The other two contests had just two candidates each. In one of them, in the east-central Third Circuit, Beadle County state’s attorney Michael Moore tried to unseat Judge Robert Spears. Moore was one of the prosecutors who made sure Ravnsborg incurred only misdemeanor charges and avoided any ugly criminal trial for driving distracted and killing a man. Moore lost to Spears by 737 votes, two percentage points.