HURON – A long career as a private attorney and as a prosecutor of hundreds of state and federal cases has led Randy Seiler to want to become South Dakota’s next attorney general.
It’s a decision that stays true to a personal commitment he made decades ago in Vietnam – that when his military service was over, he would come back to his home state and give back to his community and state.
“My career has focused generally along those lines,” he said at the District 22 Democratic Forum on Thursday.
As attorney general, he said his priorities would be addressing drug addiction with treatment and recovery programs, pushing for more state government transparency, streamlining the consumer protection division and keeping South Dakota children safe.
Seiler grew up in Herreid, a small Campbell County town in north central South Dakota. When a major federal court case was tried in the community’s main street theater, he played hooky from school and observed the attorneys argue their positions from a seat in the back row.
“That stayed with me over the years and I’ve just been so impressed in terms of the law as an instrument for social change, the law as an instrument in terms of what it means to us in our society,” he said.
But Seiler said it’s been painful for him to see the rule of law under attack.
“The intersection of law and politics is sometimes a very difficult intersection in terms of balancing one versus the other,” he said.
If elected, he pledges to never play politics with the rule of law.
“I don’t intend to use the attorney general’s office as a platform for higher office,” he said. “I have no political aspirations. I do not plan to run for governor.
“I just want to be your lawyer and do the best job I can representing the people of the state of South Dakota,” Seiler said.
After high school, he enrolled at South Dakota State University, unsure what career path to pursue at that time. He admits he wasn’t a good student. When he was drafted, he joined the Air Force, where he served three and a half years, including one tour in Vietnam.
He came home and went back to college where he earned a degree in criminal justice. His first foray into politics was a job in the Kneip administration in the 1970s.
When that job ended, Seiler went to the University of South Dakota School of Law, where he excelled and graduated with honors.
After clerking for a federal judge in Sioux Falls, he opted to return to Herreid where his aging parents still lived rather than accepting any of the job offers he got from bigger city law firms. It’s a decision he says he has never regretted.
Seiler spent 14 years as a street lawyer in his hometown, then was hired as an assistant United States attorney.
“It’s been a huge experience in terms of my trial experience,” he said.
He has also been chief deputy in the United States attorney’s office, and was United States attorney until President Trump’s election. Since then he has filled in as Hughes County state’s attorney and remains under contract as deputy state’s attorney and as attorney for the Lower Brule and Crow Creek Sioux tribes.
On the first felony court day when he was Hughes County state’s attorney, lawyers and the judge worked through 39 felony cases, 38 of which had a methamphetamine connection.
“Methamphetamine is what’s driving our criminal justice system today,” Seiler said.
“It’s readily apparent, I think, that you can’t treat addiction with incarceration,” he said. “We have to do something differently than we’re currently doing.”
He says that doesn’t mean giving drug dealers a pass; they need to be behind bars for a long time, he said.
Seiler said he will work with the established task forces in a strong enforcement effort against those who sell drugs, but also work on prevention programs. It is not necessarily something impacting only young people. The addiction rate is highest among those in the 35- to 45-year-old age range, he said.
Public corruption issues will also be a priority, he said.
State officials should not be able to feather their own nest after leaving government positions for private consulting businesses and have no-bid contracts because of their time with the state, he said.
He cites the EB-5 and Mid-Central Cooperative scandals.
“It’s not just white collar crime in terms of somebody getting away with something,” Seiler said. “In both of those instances there were real human tragedies.”
Seiler said he’s been asked his opinion on school sentinel programs, in which teachers are armed.
“If it keeps children safe and it’s a decision made by the local school district, local school officials and parents, maybe that’s the solution for that particular school district,” he said.
Statistics also show that 4,000 children are sexually abused in South Dakota every year, he said.
“If we had 4,000 children coming down with some disease every year, we would be up in arms, storming around and demanding a solution,” Seiler said.
If it involves looking at confidential agreements that have been entered into, for example, with members of the clergy, for example, he said the state owes it to the children to do that.
PHOTO BY ROGER LARSEN/PLAINSMAN
Democratic attorney general candidate Randy Seiler addressed the District 22 Democratic forum on Thursday.