RAPID CITY, S.D. - A state legislator on Monday accused a congressman of using intimidation to quash the legislator's rumored political ambitions, and the congressman denied it.
State Rep. Scyller Borglum, R-Rapid City, said in an April 29 news release that she met with U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., and two of his associates Saturday evening before the Lawrence County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner fundraiser.
“What started as praise for Borglum’s efforts, energy, and ambition quickly turned into a multitude of threats from the newly elected congressman,” Borglum’s news release said.
The release said Johnson demanded to know whether Borglum plans to challenge U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., in a primary election. Rounds is up for re-election in 2020.
The release labeled the meeting as a “DC-style ambush” consisting of “backroom politics that feels more like what Hillary and Pelosi would pull.”
Borglum claimed in the release that Johnson said Rounds’ team is doing opposition research on her and would “expose the ‘dirt’” if she runs against Rounds. Borglum also claimed that Johnson said the Rounds team is calling financial donors to ensure Borglum is “completely boxed out and unable to run for any future office.”
Johnson acknowledged that the meeting took place and that he had been told by various politicos that Borglum was considering running against Rounds. Johnson said he told Borglum he could not support her if she challenges Rounds, but Johnson denied making any threats.
“I was trying to provide her good counsel,” Johnson said by phone from Washington, D.C.
He thought the meeting went well, he said, until he saw the Monday news release.
“It was a friendly conversation,” Johnson said. “After the meeting we exchanged friendly texts. We talked later that night at the event briefly. I never got the sense that it wasn’t a friendly conversation.”
Johnson added that he has conducted hundreds of meetings with people over the years to recruit candidates or to offer advice to candidates and prospective candidates.
“Without exception, they have all taken it in the well-intentioned way that I’ve offered my counsel,” Johnson said. “Until this weekend. This was the single exception.”
Johnson was elected to his first U.S. House term in November, on the same day Borglum was elected to her first legislative term. Both of their positions are up for election again in 2020.
Johnson was well known among South Dakota Republicans prior to his run for the U.S. House, having served in such high-profile positions as chief of staff to former Gov. Dennis Daugaard and as an elected member of South Dakota’s Public Utilities Commission.
Borglum was a political newcomer prior to being elected a state legislator, which is a part-time position. She also works at RESPEC as an engineer. Although she shares a last name with the late Gutzon Borglum, who carved Mount Rushmore, she has said she is not related to him.
Regarding her future ambitions, Borglum said in the Monday news release, “I haven’t confirmed or announced any run for a higher office. I’m not even thinking about that.”
In an interview Monday, Borglum said she does not plan to run against Rounds or Johnson in 2020 but is considering running for re-election to the Legislature.
Borglum has taken several actions that led some observers to suspect she has higher political ambitions. She has hired a communications director who sent Monday’s news release on her behalf. She has been attending Republican Party Lincoln Day dinners in counties statewide, and she has been conducting her own Rural Education Listening Sessions in communities statewide. She has formed a political action committee called Women in Politics, or WiP PAC.
Borglum said her statewide activities have been motivated by a desire to be a good legislator and to help other women get elected to political offices.
Regarding her decision to issue a news release about her meeting with Johnson, she expressed a desire to expose his alleged behavior and said she has “nothing to lose” because of retribution she has already suffered from the meeting. One example, she said, is her removal from the speaker list for a Republican women’s conference this summer.
Borglum said she has had no contact with the Rounds campaign. Rounds' campaign spokesman, Rob Skjonsberg, expressed confusion about Borglum’s release, saying he “can’t decipher its meaning.”
Rounds has not officially declared himself a candidate for re-election, but Skjonsberg said Rounds is preparing to run.
“Anyone who challenges us is going to have to defend their own record,” Skjonsberg said. “We’re pretty proud of ours.”