Embattled South Dakota AG told to prove he can still do his job by investigating Noem controversy exposed by Raw Story
WASHINGTON — South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg is refusing to resign, insisting he can do his job while navigating impeachment proceedings and charges of careless driving after he hit and killed a man with his car last year.
Now, one Democratic lawmaker is asking him to prove it — by investigating his boss, Gov. Kristi Noem.
South Dakota State Sen. Reynold Nesiba sent a letter to Ravnsborg Wednesday evening asking him to investigate whether Noem violated a state law that prohibits using the state air fleet for anything other than state business, following a Raw Story investigation into Noem's travel.
Nesiba's request seems designed to put Ravnsborg on the spot, and to test his loyalty to a governor who appears to have just hung him out to dry. Noem earlier this week called on Ravnsborg to resign and directed the Department of Public Safety to release two videos showing him being questioned by North Dakota investigators days after the fatal crash.
"It provides a public opportunity for him to be able to show that he's able to do his job, if that's what he's looking for," Nesiba told Raw Story in a phone interview on Thursday. "So I'm giving him a concrete task: Show me that you can do your job because in three weeks here, I'm probably going to have to vote on impeachment proceedings."
Nesiba's letter asks whether the state law limiting the use of the state plane to state business applies to the governor, and whether she violated any aspect of the law in her "personal or political travels," and if she did, what penalties should apply. He also asked Ravnsborg to investigate whether campaign staff, civilians or guests traveled with the governor and if so, whether the state was reimbursed.
The request comes after Raw Story reported, based on flight logs obtained from the governor's office, that Noem had used a state-owned airplane to travel to right-wing political conferences around the country, including events hosted by the National Rifle Association, Turning Point USA and the Republican Jewish Coalition.
In another instance, Noem flew on the state plane with her family to watch a state-themed float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and also spent time on that trip sightseeing and dining in New York City.
Noem defended all these trips as legitimate state business during a press conference last week.
"Whenever the state airplane is used, it has always been used according to the law. It has always been used for official business. It has not been used for campaign business," she said. "A lot of the political attacks we're seeing from the Democrats on this issue are wrong."
Noem's spokesman, Ian Fury, declined to comment further on Thursday, when asked about Nesiba's letter. A private spokesman Ravnsborg enlisted to manage the fallout from the accident referred questions about the letter to Ravnsborg's chief of staff, but the chief of staff did not respond to a request for comment.
At a news conference in South Dakota on Thursday, Noem said she hasn't spoken to Ravnsborg since the Sept. 12 accident, during which Ravnsborg struck and killed 55-year-old Joseph Boever. She also said the state plans to release more materials related to the investigation as soon as this week.
At the same news conference, Craig Price, the state's cabinet secretary for the Department of Public Safety, strongly implied that the administration did not buy Ravnsborg's side of the story.
"Law enforcement officers are held to a higher standard," Price said. "We don't expect ourselves to be perfect, but we do expect ourselves to be truthful."
Ravnsborg told investigators he thought he had hit a deer. That version of events has now been called into question as the materials Noem released show investigators found Boever's broken eyeglasses inside the Ford Taurus that Ravnsborg was driving, suggesting his face went through the car's windshield.
Nesiba also said his letter's timing is somewhat of a last ditch attempt to get to the bottom of Noem's travels. Given that Republicans in the state legislature have shown little interest in asking questions about Noem's travel, he said, the attorney general's office is the only appropriate place these issues can be dealt with.
But Ravnsborg was charged with three misdemeanors last week after the investigation into the crash. Lawmakers in the statehouse filed articles of impeachment against him on Tuesday. Now, as Noem ramps up pressure on Ravnsborg to resign, Nesiba is facing the prospect of a Noem-appointed successor taking the helm if the state's top law enforcement official does bow to public pressure.
"The governor's not going to appoint somebody who's going to do a rigorous examination of her use of state assets," he said. "If we don't do it, now, it's not clear to me when it would ever get done."
This is not the first request Democrats have made to the state's attorney general, but it is the first from a sitting lawmaker. South Dakota Democratic Party Chairman Randy Seiler last week called on Ravnsborg to investigate Noem's travel, as well.