South Dakota’s legislature has impeached Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, convicting him of committing a crime that caused someone’s death and of malfeasance. The impeachment stemmed from a September 2020 incident in which Ravnsborg’s car struck Joseph Boever on a dark road.
Ravnsborg said in his 911 call that he thought he had struck a deer. But his actions following the call left little doubt that he knew that was a lie, and he knew he had hit a human being.
The AG was charged with two traffic misdemeanors. He was fined $500 for each citation, but the state Senate convicted him after an impeachment trial pushed by Gov. Kristie Noem.
Noem was a bitter rival of Ravnsborg, a rising star in South Dakota Republican politics. The attorney general had investigated Noem following her suggestion that he take a leave of absence after the accident.
After Ravnsborg was quietly pressured to take a “leave of absence” by Noem’s chief of staff three days after the crash and later faced public calls from the governor for his resignation, he showed an increasing willingness to disrupt the political establishment by taking up investigations into the governor and those aligned with her.
In an April letter sent to House lawmakers on the eve of the impeachment vote, Ravnsborg said he would not resign in part because his office “has multiple ongoing investigations into the Governor’s alleged activities and people associated with her.”
One of those investigations involves Noem’s pressure on a state agency that denied her daughter a real estate appraiser’s license. There were charges of campaign finance violations, including her use of the state plane to get to political events.
But it’s not likely the new attorney general — expected to be an ally of Noem — will pursue any charges.
Noem’s name has become more prominently mentioned in the GOP conversation for 2024. She has a lot going for her as a woman, a prominent midwestern governor, a politician who’s right on the issues, and a telegenic personality, if not an inspiring speaker.
A star of the coronavirus pandemic, Noem had become an unexpected Republican sensation in 2020 and into last year, at the height of partisan warring over the pandemic. As she theatrically defied mask and vaccine mandates and cast South Dakota as a “beacon of hope” for the skeptical and recalcitrant, she became a staple on Fox. CNN branded her “the female Trump,” while Trump himself encouraged Noem to primary her state’s “RINO” senior senator, John Thune (an invitation Noem declined). GOP state and county party chairs in early presidential nominating states began inviting Noem to speak at their events, and her stock rose among the Conservative Political Action Conference set. Last summer, she earned a personal takedown in the impeccably parlor-liberal pages of Vanity Fair — a badge of honor for any Republican.
But she has no natural base, and her small state makes it difficult to launch a national campaign. Noem would need a boost from a high-profile Republican — perhaps Trump himself — to be taken seriously.
For now, Noem can content herself with being on top of South Dakota’s political heap. She’s expected to cruise to a second term this November.
After that, the sky’s the limit.