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SD Political Expert: Public Confused by AG's Status

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If South Dakota's attorney general is removed from office, it would be the first time in state history that a state official would be impeached. (Adobe Stock)
If South Dakota's attorney general is removed from office, it would be the first time in state history that a state official would be impeached. (Adobe Stock)
 By Mike Moen, Public News Service - SD - Producer, Contact
March 4, 2021

PIERRE, S.D. -- Government accountability is part of the debate surrounding South Dakota's attorney general, who faces pressure to resign over a fatal crash, but a political expert said with conflicting actions, it's hard for the public to know whether its best interests are being served.

Many lawmakers, as well as Gov. Kristi Noem, have called on Jason Ravnsborg to resign over charges he now faces for fatally striking a pedestrian with his car last fall.

Ravnsborg refuses to resign, and although lawmakers introduced plans for impeachment, that effort essentially has paused following a gag order in his court case.

Michael Card, assistant professor of political science at the University of South Dakota, suggested it has resulted in confusion for the public.

"They're confused as to why the Legislature didn't appeal the judge's order, because it's clearly constitutional for the Legislature to entertain articles of impeachment," Card explained.

He observed residents might also wonder why the governor didn't appeal, even though she ordered the release of interrogation videos.

The attorney general faces misdemeanor charges, but his actions immediately following the crash have come under scrutiny.

Card pointed out the public might ask how an average citizen would have fared in this situation, but added the right to a fair trial is a key factor for policymakers to consider before acting.

Meanwhile, Card added if the Legislature waits until the criminal case is resolved to reconsider impeachment, there might not be as much public pressure at that point.

"As it drags out, I think it's less likely that the public will call for action that the legislators will respond to," Card projected.

However, he cautioned if Ravnsborg avoids any serious punishment, that might renew any calls from the public for action.

Card noted the release of the interrogation videos underscored the conflict between concerns about accountability and the right for the attorney general to receive a fair trial.

He remarked as publicly damning as they might be, wide circulation of the videos before a trial have raised questions among legal experts.

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