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South Dakota attorney general ‘actively reviewing’ Gov. Kristi Noem’s controversial family meeting

South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg speaks to reporters in front of the Supreme Court in Washington on Sept. 9. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
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South Dakota’s attorney general is reviewing a controversial meeting that Gov. Kristi L. Noem (R) organized for her daughter and the state employee charged with leading the agency that moved to deny her application to become a certified real estate appraiser, which prompted allegations of abuse of power among some state lawmakers.

“I have been contacted by concerned citizens and legislators,” the state’s attorney general, Jason Ravnsborg, told the Associated Press in a statement Tuesday. “I am actively reviewing their concerns and I will be following the steps prescribed in codified law in relation to those questions.”

It’s not clear what steps Ravnsborg plans to take and his office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post.

Noem reportedly organized a meeting in her office on July 27, 2020, to discuss “appraiser certification procedures” which included her daughter Kassidy and Sherry Bren, the head of the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation’s appraiser certification program, Bren’s supervisor, and the state’s Labor Secretary Marcia Hultman.

While Noem’s daughter secured her certification months later, in November 2020, Bren says she was subsequently pushed to retire in a conversation with Hultman. That’s according to an age-discrimination complaint Bren eventually filed against the Department of Labor and Regulation.

Bren settled with the state for $200,000 on March 31 of this year, but the department did not admit fault and she agreed not to disparage it in public, according to a copy of the complaint shared by South Dakota Public Broadcasting.

Bren told the AP that she was presented during the meeting with a letter from Noem’s daughter’s supervisor complaining about a lack of “timeliness and professionalism” in the certification process. The letter stated the application for a license upgrade had been denied but state records reportedly show an official denial was never issued.

National and state Democrats have criticized Noem for her role in calling the meeting. Noem, a close ally of President Donald Trump, is one of several up-and-coming Republican politicians thought to be considering a run for president in 2024.

The Democratic National Committee, on its website, cited an AP interview with Richard Painter, in which the former chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush said it was “clearly a conflict of interest and an abuse of power for the benefit of a family member.”

South Dakota’s House Democratic Leader Jamie Smith said in a release from the state party accusing Noem of abusing her position to help her daughter become an appraiser that “I’ve never seen a clearer case of nepotism.”

Noem has hit back on Twitter, blaming the media for “trying to destroy” her children.

Now, the ball is in Ravnsborg’s court. Although both he and Noem are Republicans, they have gone head-to-head recently: After Ravnsborg pleaded “no contest” to two misdemeanor charges in a 2020 car crash that killed a pedestrian, Noem called on him to resign or be impeached by the South Dakota House of Representatives.

In a statement at the time, Ravnsborg said: “Partisan opportunists from both sides of the aisle have manufactured rumors, conspiracy theories and made statements in direct contradiction to the evidence all sides agreed upon. These are the same people who try to take others down at any cost.”

The state House is set to debate whether to start the process of impeaching Ravnsborg in November.

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