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Judge Calls Secretary Gant to Court to Answer for Gosch Petition Irregularities

Last updated on 2013.01.08

Stephanie Strong speaks... and she gets a judge to compel Secretary of State Jason Gant to do so too... in court.

Recall that Stephanie Strong made a brief news splash when she announced she would run against Rep. Kristi Noem in this year's primary but then failed to make the ballot through her own petitioneering incompetence. Recall that Secretary Gant got awfully particular about some candidate petitions, which just happened to come from Democrats and which a judge subsequently validated, but willfully ignored clear legal violations on other petitions which just happened to come from a highly placed Republican, Speaker Pro-Tem Brian Gosch, who notarized his own petitions.

Stephanie Strong wants a little petition justice. In a writ of mandamus filed on her request Friday in the Seventh Circuit Court in Pennington County, recent Daugaard appointee Judge Robert A. Mandel orders Secretary Gant to either kick Rep. Gosch off the District 32 November ballot or come to court in Rapid City on October 3 and explain why he doesn't have to fulfill his legal duties. (See full document at bottom of this post.)

When I heard Strong was leading the charge against Gant's dereliction of duty, I had my doubts that she could pull it off. Last spring she appeared to fumble her effort to challenge Secretary Gant's rejection of her own petitions by not answering the phone. She also demonstrated a tendency to lose her focus on relevant constitutional questions and melt down into Tea Party hysteria.

But her filing on Gant's malfeasance on Gosch's petitions looks pretty good. She establishes that she is a registered voter in District 32 with standing to challenge Gosch's presence on her ballot. She points out the specific violations on every one of Gosch's petition sheets:

  1. Brian Gosch certified the three petition sheets his wife Heather circulated, invalidating those sheets under South Dakota Codified Law 18-1-17, which says notaries public cannot place their seal on documents to which they are principal parties.
  2. Jayme Scherr notarized Rep. Gosch's fourth petition sheet. Jayme Scherr also signed that sheet as a nominating voter. Jayme Scherr thus invalidated that document.
  3. By misusing their notary seals, Gosch and Scherr also committed a Class 1 misdemeanor under SDCL 18-1-12.2. (Strong's application for writ of mandamus doesn't mention that statute, but I'm offering Strong some pro bono support.)

Strong bolsters her case by submitting as Exhibit B Kevin Woster's boffo June 16 article on the Gant-Gosch scandal, in which she highlights these two points:

  1. Gant said that he couldn't take Gosch back off the ballot, but that folks who felt strongly (hee hee!) about the issue could take it to court. You asked for it, Jason!
  2. Gant's SoS predecessor, Chris Nelson, said his office had a clear policy of rejecting petitions notarized by the candidates themselves.

Secretary Gant whimpered and simpered in the same article that he needs the Legislature to make his legal duties clear to him in the 2013 session. Thanks to Stephanie Strong's legal fight, we may have the pleasure of seeing a judge make the law clear to Secretary Gant sooner than that.


  1. Testor15 2012.09.18

    Gant has set himself and the GOP up for some serious hurt by the basic lack of understanding of the constitutional responsibilities of his office. He and Powers were so busy implementing the policies of voter restriction and protection of their allies they lost sight of the legalities of their actions. Actually they probably never understood them to start with.
    Jason's ALEC first policy has put himself in jeopardy. It is very interesting the most painful bite is from the far right wing of his own party.

  2. Rorschach 2012.09.18

    The court will rule that Strong waited too long to bring this challenge. It will be summarily dismissed. Too bad Gant's partiality wasn't timely challenged.

  3. mike 2012.09.18

    I think Jackley would throw Gosch off the ballot for this particular issue. Jackley is a fair individual.

    Gant is starting to stain the other constitutionals and elected Republicans with his disregard for fairness and commonsense.

  4. SDGOPer 2012.09.18

    @ Rorschach Time lapsed may be a concern; however, the fact the judge signed the writ shows the issue has not been summarily dismissed already.

    @Mike It is concerning that Jackley did not investigate the blatant violations of the statute highlighted in this post. About 7 years ago our then Attorney General facilitated investigations into allegations that 6-7 campaign workers for John Thune violated 2nd class misdemeanor violations of our notary statutes. Todd Schlekeway and others went to court and ended up getting their hands slapped. Gosch's violation is a class 1 misdemeanor, and becoming much more notorious at this point.

  5. Dougal 2012.09.18

    I wish I shared Mike's view of Jackley's impartiality, but Marty's been a complete partisan bull since he got his political appointment to be Attorney General. The Republican way of dealing with an obvious violator like Gant is to double down, whitewash the stain and attack those who question their actions and motives. Gant deserves to be impeached, and how Jackley "investigated" the SoS office and delivered a clean bill of health to the press is more testimony to the corruption in Pierre. The news media in South Dakota is selectively blind to the corruption that 34 years of one-party rule is openly embraced in our State Capitol. They are scribes to power.

    Things will change only after the people of South Dakota get accurate, objective information about the litany of abuse and vote for sweeping changes.

  6. moses 2012.09.18

    Will the A.G. go after this or just give a pass again.

  7. mike 2012.09.18

    The only way Gant will get a second term is if Republicans run Theresa Bray against him again. (She was a bad candidate).

  8. SDGOPer 2012.09.18

    Does anybody know Gosch to be able to comment why he did not simply comply with the Secretary of State's office when they told him the petitions were invalidated by the self notarization's? It was January, he had several months to get new ones. The prudent course would to have been to comply and simply have the people re-sign. His actions, then Gant's gyrations, really make the SDGOP look terrible. Then again, so does the voting records that have been coming out.

  9. Les 2012.09.18

    While we wade through something that does not surprise many of us, lets not forget how an above average person operates in the SOS office.
    Roger Hunt was thought to be operating out of order by not disclosing the 750K donor to and sued by our state. SOS Nelson did not help his primary chances of election to any office after "MUTINY" on the GOP for doing the right thing.
    I doubt many of my demo friends across the aisle over here would have later voted for the accomplished man he is. Soo, we get what we got.

  10. mike 2012.09.18

    Are you saying Nelson would be better than Noem? Unforunately it is more important to have the look to get elected than to do a good job.

  11. Les 2012.09.18

    Rep Nelso, does have a good sound to it not?

    Unfortunately it was more about a mustache and an elixir for all that ails you.

  12. larry kurtz 2012.09.18

    Any member of a delegation representing the chemical toilet from the earth hater party would sound just like Gingrich-schooled Noem does. GAFG, 'Les.'

  13. oldguy 2012.09.18

    I have to wonder if SOS will ever run for relection. The story I hear around town is he travels more than he is even in the office. We need to elect some D so we can have a true 2 party system again as that is the best goverment style.

  14. Justin 2012.09.18

    Jason Gant is a lightweight in all ways other than mass.

    Marty Jackley looks complicit in every Gant screw up, especially his secret investigation that will never be made public.

    So can we confirm that this is the lawsuit Randazzo promised? David Montgomery seems to think so.

  15. Testor15 2012.09.18

    Jackley is in office to give mental ALEC lightweights like Gant cover for their transgressions. Marty will never go after Gant in any way. They gave each other campaign contributions and cover in the past.

  16. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.09.18

    Les, if you Republicans had put up Nelson against SHS, he would have drawn more Dems than Noem did. Nelson would have won a straight majority, I'm guessing 54%: 3 points out of Marking's 6, and 3 points out of SHS's column.

  17. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.09.18

    Justin, my guess is that yes, this is the lawsuit Randazzo was talking about. Strong lacks the bandwidth to write that legal brief herself. My bald-faced, undocumented speculation: Team Howie recruited a lawyer to ghost-write but wants to maintain some plausible deniability of direct involvement, just as Team Howie is doing with the anti-Gosch robo-calls.

  18. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.09.18

    And hey, back the truck up: what does AG Jackley have to do with this suit? If the judge likes what he hears from Strong, if he's not buffaloed by Gant and Gosch, and if he says "Gosch's petitions are invalid," poof!!! Gosch is off the ballot! AG Jackley couldn't stop that or refuse to execute whatever needed to be executed, would he?

  19. Testor15 2012.09.18

    Jackley is Gant's attorney in these matters as the chief attorney for the state of South Dakota. There are huge conflicts of interest to consider here but overall the AG office is representing Gant.

  20. Les 2012.09.18

    It seems a little odd. Would Marty be both the prosecution and defense in a case of fraudlent actions by either a constitutional or elected official of SD?
    Or, is this where AG Holder steps in and passes out weapons for a shoot out by the parties involved? Team Howie/Randazzo wins if that's the case with Gant.

  21. Justin 2012.09.18

    Complain to your legislators, Les.

    You already should have when Marty was given sole authority over his "investigation" of Gant without making anything public.

    If you have questions for Holder, file a FOIA request. We have nothing of the sort. In fact, we are the only state in the Union that has no standing ethics review committee.

    Conflicts of interest simply don't exist. Our legislative response is to tell anybody making accusations of ethics violations that it is their imagination and they will just have to trust Jackley.

  22. Les 2012.09.19

    Congress usually investigates in a federal situation like this. Sen Adelstein still has that opportunity.

    The six week barrier to anything of great substance happening in our state can be a problem as has been shown by the executive branch's exceeding power over the legislature. If there is a problem here, that is where the root could possibly be, Gant is not a leader of the party while Gov DD shows he is a great party change up guy with the six primary endorsements.

    At the end of the day, it's still the dancer that gets the review Jason.

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