The following text (in blue) was written by SD Representative Stace Nelson and sent to me yesterday in response to my offer to Representative Nelson to present it to you unedited.
For those who have not seen or read the two previous articles on this subject that have appeared here, I have provided links to both here:
Letter Alleges South Dakota Republicans Legislative Misconduct (12/13/2011) and A Bad Smell Is Coming From The South Dakota Capitol (12/14/2011).
I have found Representative Nelson to be forthright, frank and respectful.
Having read this letter, I am concerned for the integrity of the legislative process in the State of South Dakota. I fear that some legislators have willfully and willingly participated in a conspiracy to discredit and obstruct the performance of other duly elected representatives of the people of South Dakota.
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HERE IS REPRESENTATIVE NELSON’S LETTER:
Sir, thank you for the chance to set the record straight.
Early during last year’s session, it is reported that Republican Majority Leader Representative David Lust, Speaker of the House Representative Val Rausch, and Assistant Majority Leader Justin Cronin had a closed door meeting with the Director of Legislative Research Council (LRC) Jim Fry.
It is reported that Mr. Fry was berated for the LRC staff’s helping legislator’s file numerous bills that leadership disagreed with and were in opposition to. In the context of this conversation, comments were purportedly made that SD House GOP leadership were in fact Mr. Fry’s bosses or to the effect that they held considerable sway in his continued employment. Leadership personnel allegedly instructed Mr. Fry to have LRC staff members provide these leadership members’ information and access to bills that other legislators were working on with LRC staff members.
While seeking legal advice regarding the problems observed in Secretary of Agriculture’s sworn testimony at a hearing on July 13, 2011, I was advised by LRC staff that there was a way to take action via my position on the Agriculture Committee. Incidentally, that information was relayed on to Representative Lust, and several other legislators. Additional questions were asked of what I could do about Representative Chuck Turbiville instructing LRC Director Jim Fry to withhold research material I requested on a bill I was researching to require legislator’s cumulative voting records be placed on their LRC profile page. At that time, the LRC staff member angrily reported the above circumstances and confirmed that the staff member was in fact forced to disclose confidential information regarding Representative Manny Steele, Representative Lora Hubbel, & Representative Hal Wick’s bills and that the LRC staff member had in fact provided information to Representative David Lust and interacted over that received information by email.
The LRC staff member is one of the most respected persons at LRC.
This information was provided to me in the presence of a constituent who was also a party to the hearing in which the testimony was in question. The LRC staff member reported in disgust that it was the worst abuse of authority, in the legislature, that he had witnessed in the decades he has worked at LRC. It is my understanding that the LRC staff member has email records of these interactions. The LRC staff member has confirmed this complaint to several other legislators that I am aware of.
This meeting was never cleared with the caucus, nor was it reported to us. When confronted in July, Representative Lust confirmed the meeting; however, claimed it was in part to ask LRC to only send freshman legislators to leadership if they had questions while working on legislation. Since then, other legislators have confirmed that the meeting with Director Fry occurred as in the first paragraph.
On July 13, 2011, I personally called Representative Lust and followed up the receipt of the complaint with emails and telephone calls about the matter in an attempt to rectify the problem of their tampering with bills, the hiding of votes of bills, the apparent tampering with the fiscal note from last year, and the ongoing obstruction of my and another legislator’s research on making voting records more accessible online.
I followed up with an email in August about the problem to the whole GOP caucus with the explicit intent to fix the problem without recrimination or retaliation. I cannot relate what happened at the October House caucus retreat; however, I can confirm that I have continued to press this matter with an eye towards correcting the problem.
As I warned Representative Lust from the onset, the cover-up on such matters make them worse and will surely tarnish innocent people that had no involvement. After Representative Hubbel was gerrymandered out of her district, and I was removed from the Agriculture Committee as obvious retaliation with also the expressed reasons of my opposition to the dairy, and matters related in confidence in caucus, it was clear that the lights needed to be turned on to the misconduct.
1) Yes, as articulated. I am also personally in possession of confirmation of Representative Turbiville’s instructions to withhold my research information.
2) Many of the LRC staff members are lawyers, legislators are provided instructions from the LRC that our research & interactions with LRC staff members are in fact confidential as we are individually “clients” in those circumstances. Legislators’ misconduct is not protected by law. They are just like anyone else, misconduct is not confidential.
3) We have still not received a response to our letter of 12/6/2011 to Jim Fry, signed by six legislators. All of the signers are aware that after I confronted Representative Lust in July, he reportedly demanded LRC provide him any and all LRC staff email(s) or other correspondences indicating he instructed LRC staff members to violate the confidentiality of legislators. That request was apparently not obstructed by the Executive Board. The results are unknown. After we actually receive a letter, we will consider an appropriate response. Of curious note, such a decision would be made by the Executive Board in public, not by a single member without LRC consultation. I am very interested to see this letter.
4) That is up to the legislators that committed the misconduct. If the media, and South Dakotans, fully understand the extent of the problem, they may yet feel the public’s desire for them to do the honorable thing and make amends. If not, and if the matters are not corrected during session, rules indicate that a special session can be called to deal with the problem.
Of special note, Representatives Turbiville & Rausch have claimed to the media that they were unaware of these charges or were first finding out about them. Emails & my personal interaction about these matters with them, indicate those claims to be false upon their utterance.
There is more; however, this gives you an idea of the problem. The real concern is, we have only heard from one LRC staff member. The extent of the tampering & obstruction is yet to be determined.
For my part, I am willing to waive my interests in my own emails in this matter remaining out of the public domain and will authorize LRC to release them. I am also willing to assist the media if they desire to resort to the courts to require the information be released.
As you may have ascertained, I have no political ambition. I will never seek anything higher than the the SD State Legislature, and I have no desire to be in a leadership position in the House. I knew when I confronted Representative Lust in July that I might incur their wrath; however, my duties to the integrity of our legislature, the violated legislators, my constituents, and to the LRC staff member, required I take action.
I hope and pray that you realize how many innocent people that have been put out by this misconduct. The stress this has caused the people who did the right thing by signing the letter, LRC staff members, family members, and innocent legislators who only want our legislative process to be the honorable process South Dakotans expect and should receive.
God bless & Semper Fidelis.
Respectfully, your public servant,
Stace Nelson Representative, District 25 (Hanson, McCook, Northern & Western Minnehaha Counties) South Dakota House of Representatives
South Dakota State Motto: “Under God The People Rule”
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