Marty Jackley is working awfully hard these days for a chance to take a pay cut.
That’s what will happen if he wins his run for the South Dakota Attorney General’s job, a position he held in the past for 10 years.
“If I win, I will make considerably less,” Jackley says. “But I’ve been in that position before when I left private practice to be the U.S. Attorney. I took a pay cut then, too.”
Jackley’s experience as both U.S. Attorney for South Dakota and the state Attorney General make him hard to beat in terms of experience on the job. He was appointed to fill the remainder of former AG Larry Long’s last term when Long was appointed as a judge. Then Jackley was elected to two four-year terms of his own, before leaving the office because of term limits and to run for governor.
He lost a contentious 2018 GOP gubernatorial primary to Kristi Noem and came late to endorse her in her successful general-election campaign against Democrat Billie Sutton. When I asked him if Noem was supporting his AG bid this year, Jackley said:
“That’s a question for her,” he said. “Right now I am working hard to get law-enforcement support, delegate support, and the support of South Dakotans.”
Noem spokesman Ian Fury did not respond to two emails I sent him asking if Noem would endorse Jackley in the AG race.
Jackley can’t worry about that right now. He has a lot of hard work ahead in his AG campaign.
Working hard means heading for Mitchell last Thursday night to be the keynote speaker at a GOP Lincoln Day Dinner there, then getting to Sioux Falls for a 7 a.m. mediation in a case he’s handling in his private practice. Then he drove back to Pierre in time to watch his daughter, Izzy, a sophomore at Pierre Riggs High School, play in a volleyball game.
Saturday morning he was up early to hunt ducks with his son, Michael, a senior at Riggs, before attending another of his daughter’s volleyball games in Pierre, then driving to Rapid City in time for the Lincoln Day Dinner Saturday night.
He’d planned on sitting in a tree at the old family farm near Vale with a bow in hand Sunday morning, but an early cup of coffee with his mom won out. He’ll get to that tree stand, though, as time allows.
And it doesn’t allow much.
It’s a crammed schedule for the 50-year-old Jackley, what with balancing private practice obligations, family obligations, and an active campaign for the attorney general’s job now held by first-term Jason Ravnsborg.
Ravnsborg’s political future is cloudy, and perhaps non-existent, following his no-contest pleas on two misdemeanor charges in connection with a fatal car-pedestrian accident late on the evening of Sept. 12, 2020, on Highway 14 just west of Highmore. Ravnsborg apparently was distracted when he allowed his Ford Taurus to drift out of the westbound lane and onto the shoulder, where 55-year-old Joe Boever was walking with a flashlight that investigators said was turned on.
Ravnsborg claimed he never saw Boever, whose face hit the windshield, sending his glasses inside the car. Ravnsborg dialed 911, telling the dispatcher who he was and that he’d hit something in the roadway. It was the dispatcher who first asked if it was a deer, and Ravnsborg said it might have been. A local sheriff came to the scene, but neither he nor Ravnsborg located Boever’s body.
The sheriff loaned his private car to Ravnsborg, who drove back to Pierre and returned to Highmore the next day, followed by his chief of staff, to return the sheriff’s vehicle. Ravnsborg stopped at the scene of the accident, discovered Boever’s body, and drove to the sheriff’s nearby home to report it.
Noem has called for Ravnsborg to resign. And the state Legislature is considering impeachment proceedings that had begun but were suspended pending the outcome of his criminal trial.
Ravnsborg hasn’t yet said that he won’t run for a second term. When asked if he thinks Ravnsborg will run, Jackley said: “I’ll leave all that to the current attorney general and to the Legislature. I’m just focusing on my race, my pathway, and trying to earn the job in 2022.
It’s a job Jackley says he loves, noting that he has missed public service since he left the AG’s office in January of 2019.
“I miss the people. That’s part of why I served as Jones County State’s Attorney and now am Haakon County State’s Attorney,” Jackley said. “I miss working with those devoted to public service. You’re working with like-minded people — the local sheriffs, state’s attorneys, first responders, victim-witness advocates, all those involved — to help protect the people.”
At this point, Jackley has the endorsement of 59 of the 66 state’s attorneys in South Dakota and 63 of the 66 sheriffs.
“That has been a very humbling experience, gaining their support again,” Jackley said. “I’m working in trying to obtain support from all of them.”
Jackley also has to line up support from delegates to the Republican Party’s state convention in 2022. AG candidates for both major parties are chosen at their conventions, rather than through a primary election. And despite his inexperience as a prosecutor, Ravnsborg did a good job of lining up delegate support in 2018.
When I asked Jackley if he still has an interest in another run for governor, he offered a fairly predictable response: “At this time I’m running for attorney general in 2022 and that’s my focus.”
Jackley doesn’t comment on the Ravnsborg case and hasn’t had any direct contact with it. He does know Nick Nemec, a cousin to Boever who has been outspoken in his criticism of Ravnsborg and the way the case has been handled.
“Nick is somebody I know. I’ve been on his farm and ranch, but I don’t represent anybody,” Jackley said.
When asked if he has any concerns about the demands of the AG’s job on his personal life, Jackley said: “I’m not sure I could have any less time than I have now, what with a daughter playing volleyball, a son playing high school football, me doing my private practice and running for AG.”
All for the chance to go back to public service, and take another cut in pay.