Republican candidate Deb Peters was elected last month to represent the people of District 9 in the South Dakota State House of Representatives, but on Monday she announced she would not in fact be serving her term.
Instead she has taken a position with a special interest and lobbyist group, the South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations (SDHHO).
The timing of Peters decision has been unclear, although she has insisted it came after the election. News Growl has learned that the latest day Deb Peters could have made her decision to apply for the new job was November 9th – just three days after winning her election on November 6th.
Deb Peters starts a “new endeavor”
News of Deb Peters’ plan to refuse to take her oath of office emerged on Monday. This, coincidentally, was Peters’ first day of work with the SDAHO as Vice-President of Communications and Member Relations. Newly elected Governor Kristi Noem will now appoint a replacement to represent the voters of District 9 in the new year.
In a press release issued on Monday Peters said, “I am excited to start this new endeavor with SDAHO. It is an honor and privilege to work with, and for, our healthcare facilities in South Dakota.”
When posting this statement on her campaign Facebook page, she explained to her supporters and constituents that the sudden change in direction was not planned. “This job opportunity came up after the election,” she said.
News Growl has since learned that the job opportunity actually existed at least two weeks prior to the election, and may have been made public much earlier.
The original online job postings for Peters’ new role have since been removed, but a copy of one from Keloland Employment was still in the Google Search cache as of yesterday. The search snapshot was taken on October 22nd, meaning that the job opening had been in the public domain for at least sixteen days before the November 6th election (and possibly much longer).
What is more, the closing date for applications was November 9th – just three days after Peters won her election.
Questions about job timeline
When Peters said the job opportunity “came up after the election” she may have simply meant that she was unaware of SDAHO’s job advertisements. If so, she was unaware of a job many other political insiders knew about.
Writing about Peters’ surprising news on his blog South Dacola, political cartoonist Scott L. Ehrisman wrote, “I did know that they have been looking for someone to fill the position (VP of Communications/Member services) for awhile.”
Deb Peters is an experienced politician, and presumably at least as well connected as a cartoonist. Before running for State House, she had served for eight years in the South Dakota State Senate and was president of the National Council of State Legislators.
For her account of events to make sense Peters must therefore have three highly eventful days between November 6th-9th: Over a 72 hour period she must have discovered a well-publicized job she was unaware of, made a sudden decision to not take the seat she had just won an election for, and then rushed an application for a position she lacked some of the qualifications for as listed in the ad (such as a degree in marketing, communications, or similar field).
It is an even more impressive feat considering that by her own account Peters was sleep deprived over this three day period. According to a Facebook post on her campaign page she stayed up most of the night of November 6th and worked well into the next day, removing campaign signs in freezing temperatures to put back into storage.
Peters is sticking to this account, however. In an emailed response to News Growl she said, “I ran for the legislature with the intent of filling the House seat; however, this opportunity came up after the election and when life throws you curve balls, sometimes, you need to catch one. I applied for the position not knowing I would get the job. This just happened.”
We asked Peters to confirm if she had applied for the job during the November 6th-9th window and not previously but she did not respond to our email.
Deb Peters: “I am not a loybbyist”
South Dakota law prevents former legislators from becoming lobbyists for two years after leaving office. In her email to News Growl, Peters also confirmed to us her new role fell within the boundaries set by legislation.
“I am not a lobbyist,” she insisted. “I am in Communications and Member Relations which allows me to work with healthcare organizations in the State. The Lobbyist for SDAHO is the President/CEO, Tim Rave.”
Rave, a former South Dakota State Senate majority leader, resigned his office to work for a healthcare organization in 2015. He was recently appointed as the permanent CEO of SDAHO and is indeed a registered lobbyist with the South Dakota Secretary of State (as is Peters’ fellow SDAHO Vice-President Gilbert Johnson, and SDAHO Director of Post Acute Care Tammy Hatting). Peters will be working under a registered lobbyist, and alongside registered lobbyists, but will not be herself a registered lobbyist (for at least two years).
News Growl asked Tim Rave to clarify the timeline of Peters’ appointment. A statement in Monday’s Argus Leader story attributed to Rave implied that Peters may have applied for her new role before the election, saying, “Peters applied for the job after it was posted.”
A possible meaning of this statement could mean Peters applied shortly after the job was posted, and we know the job was posted several weeks (at least) before the election. As of publication we have received no reply.
Meanwhile, the people of District 9 are preparing for two years of representation in the State House by a politician they did not elect. Or as Scott L. Ehrisman wrote in his South Dacola blog: “Once again a fake incumbent will be appointed by a Republican elect governor.”