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Gant Loses Petition Challenges, Compounds Mistrust with Primary Endorsement

Last updated on 2014.06.04

Hyper-partisan Secretary of State Jason Gant is on a losing streak. First he loses in his effort to keep Charlie Johnson off the District 8 ballot against gubernatorial yes-man Senator Russell Olson. In that loss, Gant never acknowledged that it was his own election-oversight machine, in the person of the Lake County Auditor, that committed the technical error Gant used to toss Johnson's nominating petition.

Then Friday the state Dems land the double-whammy, winning the other half of their lawsuit to restore Mitchell professor David Mitchell's petition and place him on the District 20 House ballot. (Even I was pessimistic we'd win that one, but hey, let's roll!)

Dem lawyer and District 13 Senate candidate Sam Khoroosi completely shut down one of Gant's arguments against Mitchell's petitions. Gant had contended Mitchell had invalidated some of his own petitions by notarizing them himself. Khoroosi noted Rep. Brian Gosch (R-32/Rapid City) had self-notarized the petition that put him on the 2012 ballot. Faced with the prospect that Jeanette Deurloo or Jackie Swanson could use the same logic to kick the Republican Speaker pro-tem off the ballot, Secretary Gant fell silent on the self-notarization argument.

And now Secretary Gant is catching heck for endorsing another Daugaard yes-man, Rep. Val Rausch, in his effort to oust Senator Tim Begalka in the GOP primary that he is supposed to impartially oversee. The same man who told Pat Powers he couldn't blog while working in the Secretary of State's office tells David Montgomery that the Secretary can put on his party hat the moment he steps out of the office.

Apparently top election officials in other states engage in similar political activity, and of course, South Dakota has no laws or ethics rules that forbid Gant from endorsing candidates. But Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie says Gant's partisan activity damages his office:

"We are first and foremost stewards of the democratic process," said Ritchie, a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. "Taking a position ... which some secretaries do decide to do, is damaging of that public perception of that openness, fairness (and) lack of bias in the election process" [David Montgomery, "After Gant Endorses, Questions Follow," that Sioux Falls paper, 2012.05.27].

Gant whimpers that he can do whatever he wants because South Dakota has enough safeguards to keep him from fiddling with the election results. But his predecessor Chris Nelson says that's not the issue:

Nelson avoided endorsements primarily to prevent the appearance of impropriety, not because he had the power to meddle with results, he said.

"The system has checks and balances in there that really would prevent any election official from doing anything that would affect the outcome of the vote totals," Nelson said. "I just didn't want to give that appearance that I was favoring one side or the other" [Montgomery, 2012.05.27].

Chris Nelson understands that ethical behavior is a matter of principle, not just practical outcomes.

Former Secretary of State Joyce Hazeltine also tut-tuts Jason the Hutt:

"Personally, I don't like to see it happen," said Hazeltine, who said she was "a little bit concerned" when she heard about Gant's endorsement of Rausch. "I think it's going a little bit too far as far as our duties in the office were. But things have changed quite a bit since I was there" [Montgomery, 2012.05.27].

Joyce is right: things have changed. Secretary Gant has degraded the office from one deserving the public trust to a cabal of partisan hacks to be viewed with deep suspicion.

p.s.: I am certain Secretary Gant is not in cahoots with militant lesbians. Alas, such cahootsification might be an improvement.

Update 10:23 CDT: Mr. Montgomery updates with a 2007 survey from the National Association of Secretaries of State listing some additional precautions various states take to keep their top election officials from engaging in partisan monkeyshines.


  1. larry kurtz 2012.05.28

    Separation of church and state should end at the cathedral doors, right? Gant was bought and paid for at his Catholic Confirmation.

    More ethical lapses in the chemical toilet: how novel.

  2. Donald Pay 2012.05.28

    I always appreciated the professionalism of Joyce Hazeltine and Chris Nelson, and the staff. I think one of the things that contributed to trust was that they weren't hyper-partisan. You knew they were Republicans, but you also knew they were going to be fair.

    Elections have pretty good adminstrative checks and balances, but scrutinizing petitions doesn't. You have to trust that the process and the people who do it are fair, or be prepared to take everything to court. It's looking more and more that Gant is not doing that job well. Whether hyperpartisanship is at fault, or incompetence within the office, he better figure it out, and make some changes.

  3. Mark 2012.05.28

    Well said, Mr. Pay.

  4. mike 2012.05.28

    Gant is playing with fire. He could easily be a one term SOS if he is challenged at the convention in 2 years.

  5. testor15 2012.05.28

    In two years Gant and peepee will own electoral process. We cannot wait.

  6. Les 2012.05.28

    Again, well said Donald. Trust. If we had it in politics, partisan as well as non partisan issues would greatly diminish.

  7. Stephanie Strong 2012.06.05

    Conservative Republican Constitutionalists like myself are having ethical issues with Jason Gant, Secretary of State of South Dakota. We The People have common beliefs in The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution for our safety and our prosperity.

    We need to use the Federalists Papers as a guide. The Original Intent is a book by David Barton about Supreme Court rulings that have stripped the Constitution of the founders' original meaning. It was published in 2000 by WallBuilders of Alemedo, Texas.
    The book emphasizes religious aspects of the Constitution, especially the doctrine of separation of church and state. Thus, you would not come to “Original Intent” to get a lot of detail about Constitutional Law in the arena of education, for example.
    However, the book is a useful summary of case law in its area of emphasis, although the associated commentary is deficient. And as we shall see the thesis is critically flawed.
    The Table of contents is not outlined so it is difficult to get a quick handle on the argument David Barton is setting forth. Nonetheless, his theme centers on the phrase “separation of church and state” which he attempts to show was not part of the original intent of the founding Federalists. Initially, the author draws on judicial evidence, historical evidence and the religious tendencies of the founders to make his case.
    In Chapter 8 the author discusses eight Supreme Court landmark religious liberty cases which followed the 1947 Everson case. the latter introduced the “wall of separation” terminology. In these he claims the Supreme Court rewrote the original intent of the drafters of the Constitution. Subsequently, he argues that the court erred by relying on a selective use of history.
    Later chapters demonstrate how the new subjective standard of judicial opinion is altering the Constitution and Constitutional law in fundamental ways. The law is in a state of flux because the Constitution has become whatever the justices say it is. This new era of positivistic law began in the 1930s and 1940s.
    The problem with the book is that the thesis is flawed. The founders did in fact intend to separate their new government from the controlling influence of biblical law. David Barton is oblivious to this fact or where he sees it, actually lauds it.
    In Chapter 8, “Rewriting Original Intent”, David Barton makes the definitive statement that “there is simply no historical foundation for the proposition that the Founders intended to build the “wall of separation” that was constitutionalized in Everson…” The actual words, “wall of separation” do not appear, but the wall is nonetheless set in place by Article VI, Section 3.
    This paragraph very clearly disestablishes Christianity as the “coin of the realm” so to speak. When the Constitution says that “no religious test shall ever be required for any office…,” it makes it illegal to require a newly elected officeholder to swear allegiance to govern according to the Bible. It thus established the U.S. Constitution as a pluralistic and secular document, completely divorced from religious influence.
    Near the beginning, David Barton alludes to Article VI, but praises its effect. He asserts that, “…it was therefore not within the federal government’s authority to examine the religious beliefs of any candidate” (p.34). He adds with approval that “The Founders believed that the investigation of the religious views of a candidate should not be conducted by the federal government, but rather by the voters in each state.”

    Take a look at (The Original Argument: The Federalists' Case for the Constitution, Adapted for the 21st Century “Original Intent” Glenn Beck

    Also, take a look at this article,, the Secretary of State has a PAC that donates money to certain candidates

    " Senate GOP leader leads primary-active PAC
    Senate Republican leader Russ Olson of Wentworth is chairman, and Rob Skjonsberg of Pierre — the first of three chiefs of staff for then-Gov. Mike Rounds — is treasurer of a political action committee, Leading South Dakota, that’s serving as a wheelhouse for donors to get money delivered to four Senate Republican incumbents who are in difficult primary races. The PAC has sent $1,000 apiece to the campaigns of Sen. Tom Nelson of Lead, Sen. Deb Peters of Hartford, Sen. Mark Johnston of Sioux Falls and Sen. Bruce Rampelberg of Rapid City. The donors include $2,000 giver David Bockorny of Washington, D.C., and, at $1,000 apiece, Rounds, Jeff Erickson of Dell Rapids, Daniel Loveland of Sioux Falls, Dennis Duncan of Parker, Jeff Broin of Sioux Falls, Harry Christianson of Rapid City, and Jeff Lautt of Dell Rapids, as well as $1,000 from the South Dakota Ethanol Producer PAC, 3M’s PAC and Pfizer’s PAC. Another $250 came from Secretary of State Jason Gant’s PAC called Committed to Victory. Most of those donations were made in 2011 or early this year prior to the primary contests taking shape. Nelson faces Lawrence County commissioner Bob Ewing of Spearfish. Peters is challenged by Rep. Lora Hubbel of Sioux Falls. Johnston’s challenge comes from Scott Bartlett of Sioux Falls. Rampelberg is in a rematch that he narrowly won in 2010 against George Ferebee of Hill City.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.06.05

    Yadda yadda yadda. I'm unclear as to whether Ms. Strong is citing Mr. Barton as an authority or not. But if Ms. Strong had plagiarized this entire article, and not just the top half, she'd have seen this key theocratic passage at the end that declares the Founding Fathers to be execrably secular screw-ups:

    The deconstruction of the Constitution by the Supreme Court is the inevitable result of the initial rejection of God and biblical law as the basis for the new government. By rejecting the absolute, the founders guaranteed that their posterity would end up awash in a sea of subjectivity.
    In conclusion, Mr. Barton calls for a return to “original intent” of the founders to establish a limited federal government based on religious principles. But the fundamental flaw in his thesis makes this an untenable solution [no author indicated, "A Review of David Barton's Original Intent," America Betrayed, Sep. 2008].

    The Mercer blog post that Strong pastes in toto is his June 2 entry here.

  9. Coltar 2012.06.18

    ^^^^ Lulz on Lulz on Lulz - Fantastic find CAHeidelberger!

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.06.18

    Thanks, C! Plagiarism-sniffing is my specialty.

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