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 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.
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 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.
The episode adds to a recent saga of ethically questionable moves by Noem, a 2024 hopeful who has centered the last year around base politics.
The governor recently 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 Willis Johnson, 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.
The attorney general’s announcement extends the contemptuous 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 guilty 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.
Seiler 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 told The Daily Beast. “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.”