Noem picks Mark Vargo for AG

Mark Vargo

Governor Kristi Noem today announced that she will appoint Mark A. Vargo to serve as South Dakota’s thirty-second attorney general. Vargo, a Rapid City attorney, was elected Pennington County state’s attorney in 2012 and has held that role since 2013. Prior to that, Vargo worked as a deputy state’s attorney in Pennington County and as an assistant U.S. Attorney. He is a graduate of Princeton University and Georgetown Law Center.

Notably, Vargo earlier this month was the lead prosecuting attorney in the State Senate trial of Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg; it was Vargo’s success in that trial (alongside his co-counsel, Clay County State’s Attorney Alexis Tracy) that created the vacancy he will now fill.

Vargo will complete the remainder of Ravnsborg’s term as attorney general, which ends in early January 2023. He is not a candidate for reelection and will presumably return to his role as Pennington County state’s attorney next year.

Following last weekend’s State Republican Convention, the Republican nominee for the new term is former Attorney General Marty Jackley. South Dakota Democrats will meet next weekend to consider potential nominees for the office; the Libertarian Party did not contest the race. There had been some thought that Noem, who had endorsed Jackley’s bid to return as AG, could appoint Jackley to fill the vacancy. Presumably, the appointment of Vargo will allow Jackley to focus on the fall campaign and to prepare to potentially wind down his private law practice.

Vargo is the third attorney general to take office through appointment. The first, Adolphus W. Burtt, was appointed in 1902 by Governor Charles Herreid, following the death of Attorney General John L. Pyle (the father of Gladys Pyle). The second was Jackley, who was appointed in 2009 by Governor Mike Rounds after Rounds appointed Attorney General Larry Long to serve as circuit court judge.

Vargo’s appointment also means that South Dakota still has never had a female attorney general. The office, along with that of Chief Justice and of Commissioner of Schools and Public Lands, has been held only by men since statehood in 1889.

Below is a list of South Dakota attorneys general:

1Robert DollardR1889–1893
2Coe I. CrawfordR1893–1897
3Melvin GrigsbyPOP1897–1899
4John L. Pyle1R1899–1902
5Adolphus W. Burtt1R1902–1903
6Philo HallR1903–1907
7S. Wesley ClarkR1907–1911
8Royal C. JohnsonR1911–1915
9Clarence C. CaldwellR1915–1919
10Byron S. PayneR1919–1923
11Buell F. JonesR1923–1929
12M. Q. SharpeR1929–1933
13Walter ConwayD1933–1937
14Clair RoddewigD1937–1939
15Leo A. TemmeyR1939–1943
16George T. MickelsonR1943–1947
17Sigurd AndersonR1947–1951
18Ralph A. DunhamR1951–1955
19Phil SaundersR1955–1959
20Parnell J. DonahueD1959–1961
21A. C. MillerR1961–1963
22Frank FarrarR1963–1969
23Gordon MydlandR1969–1973
24Kermit SandeD1973–1975
25William J. JanklowR1975–1979
26Mark MeierhenryR1979–1987
27Roger TellinghuisenR1987–1991
28Mark BarnettR1991–2003
29Lawrence E. Long2R2003–2009
30Marty J. Jackley2R2009–2019
31Jason R. Ravnsborg3R2019–2022
32Mark A. Vargo3R2022–2023

1   Pyle died in 1902, and Gov. Herreid appointed Burtt to succeed him.

2  Long resigned in 2009 to accept appointment as a circuit court judge, and Gov. Rounds appointed Jackley to succeed him.

3  Ravnsborg was impeached and removed from office in 2022, and Gov. Noem appointed Vargo to succeed him.