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South Dakota Legislature starts impeachment process against Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg

The South Dakota House of Representatives approved in a 58-to-10 vote to jumpstart the impeachment process with a 9-member committee to review an investigatory file and consider drafting articles of impeachment against Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg for his role in a deadly crash over a year ago.

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Jenny Boever, center, widow of Joe Boever, wipes away tears while sitting next to her mother Deanne Smith and Joe's cousin Nick Nemec while in the gallery listening to the House chambers vote on impeachment during Tuesday's special session at the state capital in Pierre. The special session was called in regard to impeachment hearings for S.D. Attorney Jason Ravnsborg who killed Joe Boever in a vehicular crash last year. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

PIERRE, S.D. — Lawmakers in Pierre opened a historic impeachment inquiry into South Dakota's embattled attorney general on Tuesday, Nov. 9, establishing a select committee in the House of Representatives and moving one step closer to drafting an impeachment article that could, ultimately, remove Jason Ravnsborg from office for his role in a deadly crash last year.

Any vote on impeaching Ravnsborg weeks, or even months away. Impeachment can be brought for "misdemeanor in office," according to state law .

While the House on Tuesday voted in a bipartisan and wide margin, 58-10, to move ahead with a nine-member select committee to investigate and bring any article to the larger body, some lawmakers remain skeptical of the inciting charge against Ravnsborg. In August, the Republican AG pleaded "no contest" to criminal misdemeanors in the death of Joe Boever along a roadside west of Highmore, South Dakota, in 2020.

Before Tuesday's vote, Rep. Fred Deutsch , R-Florence, told the chamber he still doesn't "fully understand" Ravnsborg's "impeachable offense."

"Is this the fact that there were misdemeanors committed?" asked Deutsch, a bellwether of the conservative voting bloc in the House. "Is this the fact that there was a tragic accident that resulted in the loss of life of an innocent man?"

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Family members of Boever, who watched Tuesday's vote from the gallery, have disputed the word "accident," for describing the deadly crash that happened on Sept. 12, 2020, when Ravnsborg's car veered onto the shoulder and struck Boever.

Nevertheless, Deutsch and others voted to go forward with the committee. While 10 hard-right members of the body voted against the resolution, the voting bloc appeared fractured, with Rep. Mary Fitzgerald , R-Spearfish, saying such an inquiry would dispel the notion "there are two tiers of justice — one for the rich and powerful, and one for everyone else."

In approving the impeachment inquiry, the House also approved on a voice vote an amendment brought by Rep. Will Mortenson , R-Pierre, to open up some of the records the select committee will be viewing to the public.

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Rep. Will Mortensen speaks during the special session on Tuesday at the state capital in Pierre. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

The select committee, under the amendment, "shall redact all confidential or nonrelevant information" from the investigatory report before that report becomes public.

"We can only have a fair process if we have a transparent process," Mortenson said.

It is unclear how much discretion the committee will have in deeming what is or is not considered relevant. An earlier version of the amendment that had been circulated merely redacted "confidential" information.

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The select committee's hearings are expected to take place in public, a member of the committee told Forum News Service. Just how long — and how in-depth — the committee's deliberations will go is not yet known.

Days after Ravnsborg pleaded no contest, Gov. Kristi Noem directed the Department of Public Safety to hand over an investigatory file on Ravnsborg's crash to House Speaker Spencer Gosch in deciding whether to bring impeachment articles against Ravnsborg.

Both the House and Senate approved a motion giving the impeachment special session flexibility, to be called in or out of session.

The vote came amid the sound of rehearsing bagpipes drifting into the House's chambers. The music was part of the services for former Gov. Frank Farrar, who was lying in state at the Capitol.

The House and Senate will also take up a second day of redistricting conversations later on Tuesday afternoon.

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The House votes 58-10 to proceed with impeachment of S.D. Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg during the special session on Tuesday at the state capital in Pierre. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

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