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Why the impeachment of South Dakota’s AG is so extraordinary

When officials are impeached, it’s usually because of a corruption scandal. For South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, the story is ... different.


In the modern era, when elected officials have faced impeachment proceedings, it’s because a politician has been caught up in a scandal, usually involving corruption or sex. The story out of South Dakota, however, is something qualitatively different. NBC News reported:

The South Dakota House voted Tuesday to impeach state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg for his involvement in a fatal 2020 crash that has prompted state lawmakers to seek the removal of their fellow Republican from office.

If you’re new to this story, it was in September 2020 when Ravnsborg hit and killed a pedestrian, Joseph Boever, with his car. The state attorney general drove away after the collision, later claiming that he thought he’d hit a deer.

It was a day later that the South Dakotan returned to the scene and found Boever’s body in a ditch. Ravnsborg pleaded no contest to a pair of traffic misdemeanors linked to the incident — he did not serve any jail time — though Craig Price, the secretary of the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, told legislators he believed that Ravnsborg should have been charged with second-degree manslaughter.

Complicating matters, the state attorney general has faced accusations that he misled law enforcement about the incident. In fact, while Ravnsborg insisted he did not know he’d hit a pedestrian, the victim’s eyeglasses were found in the Republican’s car.

There’s a recording of a police detective who investigated the incident telling Ravnsborg, “His face was in your windshield, Jason. Think about that.”

Given all of this, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem urged the legislature to impeach Ravnsborg, which is what happened yesterday, though the vote was hardly lopsided: The state House voted 36 to 31, with most GOP lawmakers in the chamber opposing the resolution.

Image: Jason Ravnsborg
Jason Ravnsborg, South Dakota attorney general, speaks during a news conference outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 9, 2019.Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

At this point, Ravnsborg, the first elected South Dakota official to ever be impeached, has been suspended from his official duties as the process moves to the Republican-led state Senate. If a two-thirds majority votes to convict him, the state attorney general will be permanently removed from office.

Ravnsborg said in a written statement that he expects to be “vindicated” during the state Senate’s impeachment trial.

As for this fall’s elections, NPR reported yesterday, “Ravnsborg is positioning for a reelection bid. He would face a Republican challenger, former attorney general Marty Jackley, at the June GOP convention that decides its next nominee.”

In other words, at least for now, the state attorney general is not yet prepared to let a fatal collision and impeachment process get in the way of his re-election plans.