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Politics

State Senate removes Ravnsborg and disqualifies him from future offices

Jason Ravnsborg during Senate impeachment trial
SDPB
Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, center, during his impeachment trial Tuesday. He is joined by attorneys Ross Garber, left, and Mike Butler, right.

The state Senate has removed Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg and barred him from holding future state offices.

The votes came at the end of the first day of Ravnsborg's impeachment trial at the Capitol in Pierre. The trial was scheduled for two days, but senators finished their work at the end of day one.

Ravnsborg is the first statewide official to be impeached, removed from office and barred from holding a future office in the state.

The Senate's action closes a nearly two-year saga that began with a September 2020 accident, when Ravnsborg was driving a car that struck and killed pedestrian Joe Boever. Questions arose later about Ravnsborg's conduct following the accident, including his statement that he didn't immediately know he hit a person rather than a deer.

State Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, was among those who voted against Ravnsborg on Tuesday.

"If it was anybody besides the attorney general that did that to your neighbor, your family, your friend, we wouldn't be having this discussion," Schoenbeck said during a speech to his Senate colleagues. "Why this is dragged out, why we're even having this trial, is beyond me. This is only because of the assorted political agendas other folks have. There should have been a resignation a long time ago. There should have been contrition that hasn't happened, and there should be impeachment."

The state House of Representatives impeached Ravnsborg earlier this year with two separate articles. That led to the Senate trial. The Republican-controlled state Senate voted 24-9 in favor of the first article of impeachment, relating to crimes that led to the death of Joe Boever. Senators voted 31-2 in favor of the second article, which was for malfeasance in office.

Republican Sen. Tim Johns voted against both articles of impeachment. He said the results do not set good precedent.

“I think if you don’t like the job they do, you vote them out,” Johns said. “You don’t use impeachment. I think that’s supposed to be held for very egregious events. None of these — yeah, a man died. That’s the tragedy. That’s not a good enough reason to impeach.”

Ravnsborg's accident happened on a rural stretch of highway near Highmore. He pleaded no-contest to a pair of misdemeanor offenses in a criminal case stemming from the accident.

Ravnsborg declined to comment to the press on Tuesday.

So did Jenny Boever, the widow of the pedestrian who was killed.

Victor Nemec is a cousin to Joe Boever. He said he’s pleased with the outcome and glad it’s over.

“With me, there’s not really any closure because my cousin is still gone,” Nemec said. “But glad it swung our way and kind of gives me a little bit of hope for our state.”

The Legislature’s actions will set precedent for future impeachment proceedings.

Officials react to what Ravnsborg's removal means going forward.

Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo was the lead prosecutor in the impeachment case for Ravnsborg’s removal from office.

Vargo hopes the Senate vote means politicians can no longer use their position to get favor from law enforcement.

“I hope that it means some of the ‘do-you-know-who-I-am?’ ‘I’m the attorney general,’ using your position will be chilled,” Vargo said. “My first boss made it very clear that if you were ever pulled over and if the law enforcement officer saw your badge, you were fired. It was just a given.”

Republican Sen. Jim Bolin voted in favor of removal and disqualification. He hopes the Senate vote means no one is above the law.

“I think that more than anything else it means that we have a very high standard for elected officials and that everyone is subject to the same rules,” Bolin said.

Governor Kristi Noem gets to appoint a replacement attorney general to serve until January. The Republican Party is holding its convention this weekend, where it will choose a new nominee for the November election. 

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