South Dakota House votes to impeach Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, 36 to 31

ByLois C

Apr 16, 2022 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

PIERRE, S.D. – The South Dakota House of Representatives has impeached Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg.

The vote took place just after noon Tuesday, following nearly an hour of debate over whether Ravnsborg’s actions related to a fatal car crash in September 2020 warranted the action. Republican lawmakers met behind closed doors prior to the floor debate for almost two hours to discuss Ravnsborg’s fate as well.

Rep. Will Mortenson (R-Pierre), who carried the original resolution on impeachment, carried the resolution Tuesday.

“Our top law enforcement officer has mislead law enforcement during the investigation of his crimes,” said Mortenson during debate on the floor. “Never before in our state’s history has it been that a state official criminally ended the life of one of our citizens, and then refused to resign from his post.”

Rep. Ryan Cwach (D-Yankton) helped push the resolution as well. Cwach was one of two lawmakers on the “Select Committee on Investigation” who voted to recommend impeaching Ravnsborg.

Cwach honed in on Ravnsborg’s conduct in the aftermath of the accident.

“I do not know that he knew that he hit a person at that time, but he definitely did not believe he hit a deer in his text messages (he sent after),” Cwach said. “In a letter, (Ravnsborg) indicated that the accident occurred on the road, or roadway. We now know that is not true.”

The final vote was 36 to 31, the bare minimum that House lawmakers needed to advance the resolution to the Senate. No lawmakers rose on the floor to speak against impeaching Ravnsborg. The case now moves to the State Senate for a trial, which by law must come at least 20 days after the House vote. It takes a two-thirds majority in that chamber to convict on the impeachment charges, 24 senators.

Joe Boever’s family, included his widow and mother, were in attendance for the vote.

“We were happy… For this man to come along and take it away, it is just unbelievable,” said Jenny Boever, Joe Boever’s widow. “I just want people to stop and think, this could happen to anybody.”

Monday evening, House leadership and other close confidants of the Attorney General’s attempted to appeal to Ravnsborg to get him to resign before the vote, because it was the “right thing to do,” and to avoid being the first state official in history to be impeached.

Ravnsborg seriously considered the resigning, but ultimately informed House lawmakers just hours before the vote that he did not intend to resign.

In a statement Tuesday evening, Ravnsborg indicated that he now intends to fight the resolution in the Senate.

“The House of Representatives voted and I respect the process but I look forward to the Senate trial where I believe I will be vindicated,” Ravnsborg said.

While Ravnsborg technically maintains the title of Attorney General, he is suspended unless he is acquitted during a Senate trial. Chief Deputy Attorney General Charlie McGuigan will take over most of the day-to-day operations in the meantime.

Story continues below

Atty. Gen. Jason Ravnsborg (file)
Atty. Gen. Jason Ravnsborg (file)
What led up to the vote?

Ravnsborg struck and killed Joseph Boever, who was walking along Highway 14 near Highmore, on Sept. 12, 2020. He later pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor traffic charges, neither of which held him criminally responsible for Boever’s death.

Several groups and individuals have called for Ravnsborg to resign in the wake of the crash, most notably Governor Kristi Noem. Three South Dakota law enforcement groups previously issued a statement calling for Ravnsborg to step down. However, Ravnsborg refused to resign.

A House committee was formed to decide on recommending whether or not Ravnsborg should be impeached. Despite pressure from Noem, including a letter from the Public Safety Secretary, that committee recommended against impeaching the Attorney General. That vote was along party lines, with all Republicans voting against recommending impeachment. Some GOP lawmakers even voiced concerns that Noem had taken too active of a role in the process.

Last-minute fireworks

Just hours before the proceedings Tuesday, Ravnsborg sent a letter to the House of Representatives, asking for them to vote against impeachment.

Ravnsborg also sent out a second document addressing various evidence, allegations and misinformation regarding the incident, citing how he was treated differently in the process because he is the Attorney General and downplayed any “conspiracy theories or speculation” surrounding the incident.

Many lawmakers who spoke during the impeachment proceedings referred to the letter and document.

Noem tweeted a response to the letter in the hours leading up to the vote, calling it “bizarre,” and saying that the people of South Dakota “deserve to know the truth.”

Noem also tweeted after the vote in the House, saying lawmakers “did the right thing.”

How each South Dakota lawmaker voted
Lawmakers who voted yes, to impeach Attorney General Ravnsborg Lawmakers who voted no, not to impeach Attorney General Ravnsborg
David Anderson (R) Doug Barthel (R)
Aaron Aylward (R) Drew Dennert (R)
Hugh Bartles (R) Caleb Finck (R)
Arch Beal (R) Lana Greenfield (R)
Rocky Blare (R) Randy Gross (R)
Shawn Bordeaux (D) Jon Hansen (R)
Kirk Chaffee (R) Steven Haugaard (R)
Roger Chase (R) Greg Jamison (R)
Ryan Cwach (D) Kevin D. Jensen (R)
Sydney Davis (R) Phil Jensen (R)
Mike Derby (R) Chris Johnson (R)
Fred Deutsch (R) Chris Karr (R)
Becky Drury (R) Sam Marty (R)
Linda Duba (D) Liz May (R)
Mary Fitzgerald (R) John Mills (R)
Tim Goodwin (R) Rhonda Milstead (R)
Erin Healy (D) Paul R. Miskimins (R)
Charles Hoffman (R) Tina L. Mulally (R)
Jennifer Keintz (D) Ernie Otten (R)
Lance Koth (R) Marty Overweg (R)
Trish Ladner (R) Carl E. Perry (R)
Oren Lesmeister (D) Kent Peterson (R)
Will Mortenson (R) Sue Peterson (R)
Jess Olson (R) Tom Pischke (R)
Peri Pourier (D) Tony Randolph (R)
Tim Reed (R) Rebecca Reimer (R)
Taylor Rehfeldt (R) Bethany Soye (R)
Lynn Schneider (R) Mike Stevens (R)
Jamie Smith (D) Richard Vasgaard (R)
Tamara St. John (R) Kaleb Weis (R)
Richard Thomason (R) Spencer Gosch (R)
Larry Tidemann (R)
Mike Weisgram (R)
Mark Willadsen (R)
Dean Wink (R)
Nancy York (R)

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By Lois C