SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota—Less than a day after the Associated Press reported that South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem strong-armed the state into giving her daughter a real estate license, the state attorney general she tried to oust is on the case.
“I have been contacted by concerned citizens and legislators,” Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg wrote in a Tuesday statement. “I am actively reviewing their concerns and I will be following the steps prescribed in codified law in relation to those questions.”
Democratic state lawmakers had raised concerns that Noem had improperly pressured the head of the state’s appraiser program, Sherry Bren, to provide her daughter a license after she was denied one.
Bren was then forced out from the job a week later and was given a $200,000 settlement to rescind an age discrimination complaint, the AP reported. The governor’s spokesman said the incident was a political attack and that Noem was helping cut “bureaucratic red tape,” though he did not deny the facts of the story.
The attorney general’s announcement extends the contentious professional relationship between Noem and Ravnsborg.
Noem demanded Ravnsborg’s resignation earlier this year after it emerged that he had killed a man while driving. He first claimed he thought he hit a deer before then arguing that the man was suicidal.
When Ravnsborg, who pleaded no contest to two misdemeanors and faced no trial, said he wouldn’t resign, Noem urged the state legislature to launch an impeachment inquiry. The legislature said it plans to consider one when it returns for a special session in November.
Nick Nemec, a Holabird farmer, former Democratic state legislator, and cousin of Joe Boever, the man killed by Ravnsborg, said he isn’t convinced the latest investigation will bear any fruit.
“My gut on the Noem investigation tells me Ravnsborg is talking a good game, but I have my doubts that a Republican in South Dakota will do a real investigation of another Republican,” he told The Daily Beast.
Wednesday’s ironic twist in fortunes set residents abuzz in South Dakota, a state that pays close attention to politics and the ongoing controversy surrounding its two top officials.
“My quick take is we have a long history of corruption in state government and we’ve reached full circle,” Geri Mattern, 53, a stay-at-home mom from Eureka, told The Daily Beast.
Mitchell resident Kyle Miskimins said the saga meant “we all lose” but Brian Shanks, 65, a retired school superintendent in Elk Point, had a different take. “Great comedy, just funny as hell,” he said. “Who could write a better script?”
Ray Oines, 63, a Brookings office manager, said it might end up being a win-win. “Maybe they will take each other down,” he mused.
The episode adds to a recent string of ethically questionable moves by Noem, a 2024 hopeful who has centered the last year around base politics.
The governor raised eyebrows when she commissioned a personal office desk equipped with a gun holder made by prison labor, one she reportedly received a hefty discount for. Noem also deployed a state National Guard unit to the Mexico border this summer using funds from a “private donation,” one The Daily Beast later reported was supplied by a Tennessee billionaire who specializes in junk cars.
Both incidents came a year after she supplied former President Donald Trump with a replica of Mount Rushmore—with his head installed next to Abraham Lincoln’s—and after a hotel group tied to Noem’s campaign chair raked in millions from her COVID-19 grant program.
South Dakota Democratic Party Chairman Randy Seiler, a former U.S. attorney who ran against Ravnsborg in 2018, said the attorney general needs to adhere to requests from legislators to look into the nepotism matter.
“I do think that’s the responsibility and obligation of the attorney general to follow up and conduct that investigation,” Seiler told The Daily Beast.
He compared it to Noem requesting Ravnsborg investigate Aaron McGowan, who was forced to resign as Minnehaha County state’s attorney in 2019 following reports of inappropriate messages sent to employees, including asking a female employee to deliver alcohol to his home in exchange for a day off with pay.
Seiler said, once again, a public official has acted in a manner that warrants investigation. “Certainly there’s a prima facie case here that needs to be looked at,” he said.
He said he doesn’t know if the fact that Noem has called on Ravnsborg to resign or be impeached will impact the latest inquiry.
“I don’t travel in Gov. Noem’s or AG Ravnsborg’s circles,” he said. “I would hope the attorney general would conduct himself appropriately and ethically. If he could not do a fair and impartial investigation, he would recuse himself and assign someone else.”