Democrats nominate candidates for every statewide office -- except attorney general; GOP lashes out

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Jul. 10—FORT PIERRE, S.D. — The South Dakota Democratic Party held their 2022 state convention Friday and Saturday in Fort Pierre, nominating candidates for every constitutional office except for the Office of the Attorney General.

By failing to nominate a candidate for attorney general, Marty Jackley, the state Republican party's nominee, will automatically win the November general election, assuming the post as South Dakota's 33rd attorney general.

Jackley is no stranger to the position. The Sturgis native and University of South Dakota graduate served for a decade as the state's 31st attorney general before opting not to run for reelection in 2018.

In the 2018 election cycle, the Democrats put up Randy Seiler — a lifelong South Dakotan, veteran, former U.S. attorney and current chair of the state Democratic Party — against Jason Ravnsborg. Seiler lost in the general election by roughly 34,000 points.

Ravnsborg's term as attorney general, which was marred and cut short by a removal for crimes and malfeasance in office relating to the fatal crash in which Ravnsborg struck and killed a pedestrian, led state officials, most notably Gov. Kristi Noem, to question the integrity of the office.

After Ravnsborg's removal from office in a June impeachment trial, Noem appointed Mark Vargo, a Republican who led the prosecution of Ravnsborg before the state's Senate, to replace him.

With Jackley now assuming the office, by the time his term ends in 2026, a Democrat will not have held the office since Kermit Sande was defeated by Bill Janklow in the 1974 election.

Though the Democratic party failed to make a nomination for attorney general, the party did nominate candidates for all six other constitutional offices.

Lieutenant Governor

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jamie Smith, who currently serves as the minority leader in the South Dakota House of Representatives, announced Thursday he selected Jennifer Keintz, a first-term state representative from Eden, to serve as his lieutenant governor.

In his announcement, Smith called Keintz "a proven leader and advocate for all South Dakotans."

"I was really excited to be asked to run with Jaime," Keintz told Forum News Service in a phone interview Thursday afternoon, one day before the state convention commenced. "We got to know each other during my last two years in the Legislature, and he was a tremendous leader for our caucus and I know he'll be a great leader for the state."

Keintz was unanimously confirmed by the party, guaranteeing her spot on the ticket this November. Smith and Keintz are running against Noem and her current lieutenant governor, Larry Rhoden.

Secretary of State

Electors at the convention nominated Tom Cool, of Sioux Falls, to serve as the Democratic candidate for secretary of state.

Currently serving as the executive director of the Council on College Admission in South Dakota, Cool unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the South Dakota Senate in 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2020. He also lost the 2018 election for state auditor.

"I want to register every qualified voter in South Dakota. Count every vote," Cool said. "I appreciate the nomination from the South Dakota Democratic Party."

Cool will square off against Monae Johnson, who defeated incumbent Steve Barnett in the Republicans' convention in June.

State Treasurer

John Cunningham, of Sioux Falls, was nominated to serve as the party's candidate for state treasurer.

Cunningham studied public administration at Harvard University, according to his Facebook page, and previously worked as a business analyst at Manatron, a software development company that contracted with local governments.

"I want to make sure all of the money entrusted to the state of South Dakota is handled properly, ethically and legally," Cunningham said.

Cunningham will compete with Josh Haeder, the state's incumbent treasurer, in November.

Public Utilities Commissioner

Minnehaha County Commissioner Jeff Barth, of Sioux Falls, was nominated by the party to the ticket for public utilities commissioner.

A veteran and retired telecommunications worker, Barth was first elected to the Minnehaha County Commission in 2006, and has won his reelection bid every cycle since.

Outside of the county commission, Barth ran unsuccessfully twice for a seat in the South Dakota Legislature, earning 37% of the vote in the 2016 general election for District 25 Senate and less than 19% of the vote — in a field of four — for the 2020 race for District 25 Representative. In 2012, Barth lost the Democratic primary for U.S. House of Representatives to Matt Varilek, who later fell to Kristi Noem.

Despite the results of his prior candidacies, Barth said he plans to win this time around.

"It's an honor to accept this nomination. I plan to win this election and serve the people of South Dakota as the next Public Utilities Commissioner," Barth said.

Barth will take on Chris Nelson, the incumbent, in the general election.

Commissioner of Schools and Public Lands

Democrats nominated Tim Azure, of Wessington Springs, for commissioner of schools and public lands.

"I look forward to running. I'm going to put as much time as needed into my race. I love this great state and I want to work for the folks of South Dakota," Azure said.

Azure will face Brock Greenfeild, a current state senator from Clark, on the November ballot.

State Auditor

Stephanie Marty, of Sioux Falls, was nominated in the race for state auditor.

A former senior compliance officer with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Marty now serves as an advocate for transgender youth with The Transformation Project, according to her LinkedIn.

A statement from Marty was not provided by the South Dakota Democratic Party.

Marty will challenge current auditor Rich Sattgast on the November ticket.

The last time a Democrat served in a statewide constitutional office was in 2006, when Steve Kolbeck, of Brandon, was elected as public utilities commissioner.

With a long-standing domination on constitutional offices, the governor's office and the state's Legislature, the state's Republican Party doesn't seem to be afraid of losing their grip in this election cycle.

On their official Twitter account, the South Dakota GOP issued a brutal message on Saturday, personally attacking the candidates and the state's Democratic Party as a whole.

"South Dakota Dems just announced their slate of no-name and failed candidates of past elections that piled out of the liberal clown car today," the GOP's tweet reads. "They will provide little challenge to the experience and credibility of the Republican nominees. Good luck ..."

The attack led to many Twitter users fighting back in the comments, calling the message immature and encouraging voters to vote blue.

"You may want to consider reassigning an adult to manage your Twitter account @sdgop ... the junior high/high school mentality doesn't cut it," said Twitter user @PrairyFyre.

"Wow. This is the state GOP? You sound like a mean girl in junior high. Zero class and once again demonstrating no true leadership, just derision, snark and nastiness. Disgusting," said @CWillyWally.

"Here's to voting for class. Vote Blue," said @katjjames.

The tweet even got the attention of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jamie Smith, who said South Dakotans are tired of mean-spirited politics.

"This is the kind of classless and mean-spirited politics that South Dakotans are so tired of," Smith tweeted. "It's time to get back to treating each other with respect and delivering real solutions for South Dakotans. Our state deserves better. If you're tired of this, please join my campaign."

South Dakotans will head to the polls on Nov. 8.