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ARGUS LEADER: Gant trashes trust placed by voters

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Since he became secretary of state almost three years ago, Jason Gant has flirted with ethical boundaries, flexed his political muscle in a traditionally nonpartisan office and dodged public responsibility for every misstep.

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His latest blunder -- in effect denying an extension of voters' rights in the reservation communities of Wanblee, Eagle Butte and Fort Thompson -- continues a pattern of conduct that has damaged the reputation of the office to which voters elected him overwhelmingly.

Sadly, it probably will take years -- with or without Gant in his current role -- to restore credibility to an office once considered well above the political fray.

Under the circumstances, it might be tempting to ask for his resignation. But the reality is, with little more than a year left on his term, the ramifications of pushing such an agenda would be nastier than our state can tolerate.

Besides, political insiders know that the GOP, deeply irritated over Gant's leadership of the office, already is taking steps to ensure that Gant does not get the nomination next year for a second term.

Our recommendation: Grit our teeth until his term expires while urging him to not seek re-election, and watch him like a hawk.

Let the record show that Gant, in his short time in office, has:

• Hired noted political operator and ultra-conservative blogger Pat Powers, allowing him to continue to run his consulting business. Powers, finally, was forced to resign -- but not because Gant acknowledged anything wrong with the practice.

• Endorsed Rep. Val Rausch in a primary election for a Senate seat and then claimed to see nothing wrong with such actions. Previous secretaries of state were widely known for bringing a neutral approach to that important constitutional office.

• Instituted a flawed process of campaign finance reporting that favored some candidates over others, slowed the system for public disclosure and hindered the public's ability to examine the influence of special interests in local races.

• Applied election laws inequally to Democrats and Republicans, favoring the latter and even, in one case, allowing one GOP legislative candidate -- Brian Gosch of Rapid City -- to notarize his own petitions.

South Dakota long has been blessed with leaders who put the public's interest before their own and who, while never perfect, tended to learn from their mistakes. And we watch with horror as other states suffer the consequences of officeholders more focused on their political fortunes than the efficient and transparent operation of the public's business.

It is hard to know how such people ever get in office in the first place.

Now we know.

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