PIERRE, S.D. — The jade plant was blocking the legislator's view.
"Can we just leave the jade plant right where it is?" bellowed a masked man in the second row of the House State Affairs committee.
And with that tender symbolism, the first effort to impeach a constitutional officer in South Dakota history was open to proponent testimony.
Lawmakers had already amended the bill to, effectively, punt on the resolution until a county judge weighs in. The question of whether Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg was fit to hold office after striking and killing a man with his Ford Taurus walking on a roadside last September could be addressed once the criminal proceedings over three misdemeanors was complete.
But that man's cousin rose in favor of the resolution on Wednesday, March 3.
His voice quivering, the jade plant — removed and then reset on the dais — near him, Nick Nemec told a story about Joe Boever.
Nemec said his cousin moved back home to Highmore, S.D., a few years ago to get his feet underneath him. He worked at the grocery store. He picked up gardening, even propagating and gifting jade plants to friends and neighbors after a good deed.
"Joe was an average Joe," said Nemec, describing his cousin's turnaround — buying a house, getting married — after returning to his hometown.
Nemec also said what has sat on a lot of South Dakotans' minds in the days, weeks, and now months after news first broke that the attorney general not only hit and killed a man but that the local sheriff offered him a car to drive back to Pierre: What would happen if the circumstances were reversed? What if it'd been Boever — not Ravnsborg — who drove the car Sept. 12, was speeding and distracted and struck and killed a powerful state official along a dark roadside on a rural highway.
"We all know that working-class, blue collar Joe Boever would be in either jail or prison," Nemec said.
And then Nemec sat down. His was the only proponent testimony of the morning. No opponents spoke either.
Earlier, the impeachment resolution's prime sponsor, Rep. Will Mortenson, a Pierre Republican who represents Hyde County to the east of where Boever was struck and killed, reaffirmed his call that impeachment is "an exceptional mechanism" and that is appropriate in this case.
"This is not personal, and it's not political" Mortenson said. "We've never had such an occurrence where the official refused to resign after the fact."
But everything has changed in the aftermath of Sixth Judicial Circuit Court Judge John Brown's gag order, issued Feb. 25, hours after Gov. Kristi Noem at a news conference threatened to release more evidence in the investigation. Two days earlier, Noem had called for Ravnsborg's resignation.
Brown called Noem's directive "unusual," a violation of Ravnsborg's due process rights as a criminal defendant, and ordered that the three hours of video that the Department of Public Safety had already posted be yanked from a state website. He also precluded "any member of state government" from talking about the case publicly.
Lawmakers seem to think that includes them.
"I feel that this strongly inhibits our ability to conduct a fair and transparent hearing," said House Speaker Spencer Gosch, R-Glenham, who offered the amendment to pump the brakes on the proceedings until a verdict is reached in court.
So when Nemec stepped down, few more words were uttered. The committee voted 13-0 to approve the resolution, as amended, sending the state's first impeachment inquiry as quickly into the wilderness of unknowns as it arrived.
An attorney representing Ravnsborg has declined to respond to multiple requests from Forum News Service. The prosecuting attorney is not talking to media. And the court docket on the first — and only — magistrate proceeding in Hyde County has yet to be assigned a hearing date.
Meaning the state — and Boever's family — may have many more days to wait until getting any answers.