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Attorney emerges from impeachment trial with elevated profile

Tracy-Ravnsborg-Impeachment
SDPB
Clay County State's Attorney Alexis Tracy gives the prosecution's opening statement in the impeachment trial of Jason Ravnsborg.

The impeachment trial of former Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg brought many familiar faces to the Capitol in Pierre.

There was also someone many South Dakotans were probably not acquainted with: attorney Alexis Tracy, who was part of the prosecution team.

In her day job, she's the state's attorney for Clay County, serving her second term after being re-elected in 2020. She also serves as the president of the South Dakota State's Attorneys Association.

Tracy was the first attorney to take the podium during the Ravnsborg impeachment trial in the Senate, where she delivered an impassioned argument for Ravnsborg's conviction and removal from office. The subject of the proceedings was a fatal crash in September 2020, when a car driven by Ravnsborg fatally struck a pedestrian on the side of a rural highway.

Tracy argued that Ravnsborg lied about the crash and tried to use his influence as attorney general to escape consequences.

"Senators, the conduct of the attorney general in the aftermath of the death of Joe Boever had the potential to mitigate tragedy, and instead it aggravated those offenses," Tracy said in her opening argument. "A man lost his life due to the attorney general's distracted driving. In the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks and beyond that has transpired, the attorney general has had countless occasions to do the right thing. And at virtually every opportunity, he has chosen not to."

At the conclusion of the one-day trial, senators voted to convict Ravnsborg, remove him from office, and bar him from holding future elected offices in the state.

2021 Second Special Session of the SD Legislature

Preparing for the trial

Tracy said the timing allowed for the proceedings was one of the first things that stuck out to her when she was preparing. One hour was allowed for both opening and closing statements, with four hours allowed to present the case, including the cross-examination.

Tracy's opening argument was about 30 minutes.

"The thought of spending an hour giving an opening argument for a case, it's hard to keep a juror's attention that long," she said.

In preparation for the trial, Tracy reviewed other impeachment proceedings in other states but said she and the prosecution team stuck to presenting a case of facts.

"The facts were what the facts were," she said. "I trusted that the senators were going to review that and make the best determination.”

Tracy said in a traditional trial, prosecutors never engage directly in questions and answers with jurors. The environment at the impeachment trial, however, was different.

"When we would take breaks, senators would say hello to you or chat with you about something else in the community," Tracy said.

Because of the political nature of the trial, Tracy said she knew there were some aspects of the trial that were beyond the prosecution's control.

Some Republican leaders called on Ravnsborg to resign before the trial, but he refused. Tracy said she was disappointed the trial was necessary, but honored to have participated.

"It never should have come to that,” she said. “I hope it's something we in South Dakota never have to do again.”

Political Future?

Michael Card, an emeritus professor of political science at the University of South Dakota, said he was surprised to see Tracy give the opening statements.

"She's a powerful speaker," Card said. "She laid the case out, leaving no doubt about what the prosecution was going to do."

Tracy was added to the prosecution team by Mark Vargo, the longtime state's attorney in Pennington County who has more than 30 years of legal experience. Vargo has since been appointed the acting attorney general by Gov. Kristi Noem.

Tracy, who became Clay County state's attorney in early 2017, was also a Clay County delegate to the state Republican convention this year.

"If you're interested in politics and party politics, that's where you need to be," Card said.

Tracy has not announced any intention to run for higher office.

"I never say never about things," Tracy said. "You just never know where life will take you. I'm happy in Clay County right now, my kids are a part of this community, and my husband and I love this community, so that's where I'm focused on right now."

If she ever decides to seek higher office, Card said her performance during the impeachment trial will be a benefit.

"By doing a very good job, I think she'll be thought about," Card said. "By being direct and to the point, she gathered attention."

Card said politicians need name recognition, and after participating in the historic first impeachment trial for South Dakota, Tracy has it.

Marissa Brunkhorst is a junior at the University of South Dakota. She is from Hutchinson, Minnesota and is based out of the Vermillion studio.
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