PIERRE, S.D. – The South Dakota House on Wednesday left the impeachment of the state's attorney general in doubt as lawmakers moved to delay evaluating whether he should be impeached until the conclusion of the criminal case against him for hitting and killing a man with his car.
The House State Affairs Committee amended a resolution to impeach Republican Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, striking the articles of impeachment and replacing them with language that said he could potentially be impeached. The resolution, which will next head to the full House, holds no requirement that lawmakers take up the issue once the criminal case has concluded.
The lawmakers' move was a step back from impeaching the state’s top law enforcement agent. Just a week ago, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem and some lawmakers had pressured him from every conceivable angle to resign. But Ravnsborg defied those calls, even as the articles of impeachment were filed.
Ravnsborg is facing three misdemeanor charges for striking and killing Joseph Boever, 55, who was walking on the shoulder of a highway late on Sept. 12. Dates have not been set in Ravnsborg's criminal case.
House Speaker Spencer Gosch, a Republican, had argued that a delay was necessary after a judge last week ordered Noem and government officials to stop releasing evidence in the investigation. He said that a “fair and transparent” hearing on impeachment was not possible while lawmakers are under a gag order.
Rep. Will Mortenson, the Republican who filed the articles of impeachment, continued to push for Ravnsborg’s removal from office, saying he had lost the trust needed for the job. But he conceded that a delay was necessary.
However, Nick Nemec, Boever's cousin who has been outspoken against the attorney general since shortly after the crash, confronted lawmakers with his frustrations. He brought a jade plant that Boever had propagated, setting it beside him as he told lawmakers how he felt Ravnsborg should have faced more serious charges.
“I’ve spent a lot of sleepless nights driving that section of highway, trying to wrap my head around what happened to my cousin,” Nemec said.
He also said his family has dealt with attacks from “internet trolls who have been busy blaming Joe with false accusations."
After Nemec's statement, the House committee unanimously passed the resolution without discussion.
Gosch has asserted it would require a special session of the Legislature to reconvene for impeachment, which would need support from two-thirds of both chambers. That creates a higher vote threshold to move forward with impeachment than if the House were to take up the matter during this year's legislative session.
If the Legislature reconvenes, the House would need a simple majority to advance the impeachment charges to the Senate. There, it would require two-thirds of senators to convict and remove the attorney general from office.