The Republican majority in the South Dakota Legislature is enjoying its power this week, kicking two Democrats out of Pierre. They've refused to allow the Legislature's Democrats to hire Ann Tornberg as their Senate caucus secretary and Kathy Tyler as their House caucus secretary.

Booting Tornberg is clearly political mischief. Democrats elected her as their party chair last month, so the Republicans are just being mean. The majority leadership has the authority to make or refuse appointments pretty much at its sadistic pleasure.

Booting Tyler is likely a punctuation mark on the vendetta Republicans went on to unseat Tyler from her District 4 House seat last fall after her outspoken resistance to Republican abuses of power like the EB-5 scandal. But instead of just owning this mischief, Republicans are trying to justify their firing as a legal matter. Speaker of the House Dean Wink (R-29/Howes) says he had to fire Tyler because the state constitution says former legislators cannot hold a state job for a year after their terms end.

Well, I'm all about the constitution. Let's review the language in question:

No member of the Legislature shall, during the term for which he was elected, be appointed or elected to any civil office in the state which shall have been created, or the emoluments of which shall have been increased during the term for which he was elected, nor shall any member receive any civil appointment from the Governor, the Governor and senate, or from the Legislature during the term for which he shall have been elected, and all such appointments and all votes given for any such members for any such office or appointment shall be void; nor shall any member of the Legislature during the term for which he shall have been elected, or within one year thereafter, be interested, directly or indirectly, in any contract with the state or any county thereof, authorized by any law passed during the term for which he shall have been elected [South Dakota State Constitution, Article 3, Section 12].

This statute exists to prevent clever legislators from passing a law that would create jobs and perks for themselves. It's a good idea. But read carefully:

  1. Was the office of caucus secretary created during Tyler's term? No.
  2. Was Tyler elected to that office during her term? No: the current legislature, after Tyler left, had to choose her.
  3. Was the contract of the caucus secretary authorized by a law passed during Tyler's term? No... unless the argument is that the caucus secretary's contract is authorized by the FY 2015 General Appropriations Bill passed last year and providing the funds for this year's Legislature.

If Democrats are violating the constitution by hiring Kathy Tyler to a state job, then nuke 'em... just as we should nuke any other former legislators whose organizations or businesses may be engaged in contracts with the state. (Let's all start sorting through contracts involving Russ Olson, Chuck Jones, and any legislative lawyers whose firms do work for the state.) But I'm not convinced the Republicans have constitutional cover for their partisan mischief against Tyler. I am convinced they have no such cover for their partisan mischief against Tornberg.