It can be done. A politician who commits grievously illegal acts can be removed from office, even if they are a Republican in a GOP-controlled state, as today’s impeachment of South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg conclusively proves.
We already knew that any Democrat in a similar position would be shuffled out of power post-haste as the example of former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo so clearly shows. The quick resignation of New York Lt. Governor Brian Benjamin today after his arrest on corruption charges only further proves the point that Democrats are held accountable for their behavior.
Don’t even get me started on the railroading of former Senator Al Franken (D-MN) for questionable accusations of sexual harrassment for what was clearly a comedian setting up a bit for the camera.
Unlike any of the above-mentioned Democrats, Jason Ravnsborg pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges related to a deadly nighttime pedestrian fatality — one that he initially denied even being aware of. Ravnsborg struck and killed a 55-year-old pedestrian while driving home from a South Dakota Republican Party fundraiser in September of 2020.
He later said that after the collision, while still in his car, he thought that he had hit a deer or other large animal and called 911 to report the collision, despite the fact that an investigation later determined that the body of his victim, Joseph Boever, had been partially stuck inside Ravnsborg’s vehicle and his victim’s glasses remained in the car.
His plea deal in the case — after a lengthy delay in having charges filed against him — netted him a measly fine of $1,000 and court costs for operating his vehicle while using his cell phone and driving outside his lane. Ravnsborg didn’t even bother to attend his won sentencing hearing.
Such behavior — and “an extensive record of documentary evidence,” including nearly six hours worth of interviews with South Dakota detectives about his actions on that fateful night — may not have led Ravnsborg to resign in shame as any non-Republican attorney general responsible for such crimes may have, but did inspire South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem to call for his resignation.
When he refused, saying that he still believed he could effectively perform his duties as attorney general, dutiful Republican state representatives drafted articles of impeachment, likely in support of Noem’s desire to rid herself and the party of a political liability.
Today, the South Dakota House of Representatives voted to impeach Ravnsborg, citing his “numerous misrepresentations and misstatements of fact to law enforcement and the public,” and accusing him of having “misused the assets of his office,” making him the very first South Dakota official to ever be impeached.
Here are the articles of impeachment that they passed, setting Ravnsborg up for a trial in the State Senate to determine his final fate next month:
The first article cites his crimes in the death of Joseph Boever.
“(1) On the evening of September 12, 2020, Attorney General Ravnsborg failed to operate his vehicle within its proper lane, crossed outside such lane, diverted his attention from the road, and struck pedestrian and Highmore, South Dakota, resident Joseph Boever;
(2) Joseph Boever died immediately from the collision; and
(3) Attorney General Ravnsborg pleaded no contest and was found guilty of two separate crimes, including illegal lane change, the crime that caused the death of Joseph Boever.”
The second article addresses Ravnsborg’s conduct in office after the accident took place.
“(1) Immediately following the collision, Attorney General Ravnsborg identified himself by his official title and made a direct misrepresentation to the dispatch officer, misleading first responders as to the crime he had just committed;
(2) During the investigation, Attorney General Ravnsborg made numerous misrepresentations and misstatements of fact to law enforcement and to the public regarding his conduct surrounding his criminal acts; and
(3) Attorney General Ravnsborg used assets of the Office of the Attorney General to benefit himself personally with respect to the investigation into his criminal activity.”
Although it was reported that not a single representative spoke in the attorney general’s defense at the time of the votes, it must be noted that the final tally of 36-31 reached only the minimum number of votes to pass and had more Republicans voting to oppose the impeachment than those who voted in favor of it.
Ravnsborg’s response to the impeachment was a statement pointing out the precedent that the lawmakers were taking.
“No state has ever impeached an elected official for a traffic accident,” he said, while accusing Governor Noem of having “seized and politically weaponized” the incident.
Hopefully, Ravnsborg’s impeachment will be followed by a swift conviction and his replacement as South Dakota Attorney General.
An even better outcome would be for it to be only the first of many forced impeachments of Republican officeholders who have violated the law.
Original reporting by Aaron Keller at Law & Crime.