Noem appoints business owner, former sheriff’s deputy to state Senate seat

By: - February 12, 2024 3:00 pm
The South Dakota Capitol building in Pierre. (Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)

The South Dakota Capitol building in Pierre. (Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)

Gov. Kristi Noem has filled the state’s last remaining legislative vacancy. 

Marine Corps veteran, longtime former law officer and current small business owner Mike Walsh will fill the District 35 state Senate seat left open by the departure of Jessica Castleberry. District 35 includes the far eastern side of Rapid City and most of Box Elder.

State Supreme Court clarifies conflicts of interest; Noem pledges to fill legislative seats

Castleberry resigned last year in light of news she’d accepted federal COVID relief funding for her child care business after voting on legislation that set up the program and gave the state the authority to spend the money. She is now paying back about $500,000 to the state in monthly installments. Former Rep. Jess Olson, also a Rapid City-area lawmaker from District 34, resigned shortly after Castleberry for health reasons.

Noem decided not to fill the seats until the state Supreme Court offered an advisory opinion on the extent of the state constitution’s prohibition on conflicts of interest, which meant that two seats went unfilled in the state Capitol for more than half of the 2024 legislative session.

The court ruled Friday in that case. The court decided it’s acceptable for lawmakers to have contracts with the state if those contracts flow through the general appropriations bill, as that bill merely allocates funding to agencies that later decide how to spend it. Lawmakers who vote on bills that allocate funding directly to programs cannot be paid to provide services through those programs.

The day after the decision’s release, Noem appointed former lawmaker Kristin Conzet to fill a District 32 seat in the House of Representatives (which Rep. Becky Drury vacated recently when she moved and was appointed to fill Olson’s seat in District 34). 

The announcement of Walsh’s appointment to the open District 35 Senate seat came Monday. In a press release announcing his selection, Noem lauded his years in the military and law enforcement, and his status as a small business owner who “understands the challenges of creating a successful enterprise, providing a strong work product, and supporting employees.”

Walsh, a Republican, has also been involved with the Fraternal Order of Police and serves as a key spouse for Ellsworth Air Force Base. Key spouses offer support and resources to the spouses of military members, and work to communicate family concerns to military leadership.

He retired as a captain with the Minnehaha County Sheriff’s Office in 2021.

The newly appointed senator owns Walsh Polygraph, a Rapid City-based firm that provides lie detector services to clients in North and South Dakota and Wyoming, according to the company’s website.

Walsh has contracts with the state Department of Corrections to provide polygraph services for inmates, and a contract with the state Department of Public Safety to provide the same as part of the background check process for law enforcement officers. 

 

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John Hult
John Hult

John is the senior reporter for South Dakota Searchlight. He has more than 15 years experience covering criminal justice, the environment and public affairs in South Dakota, including more than a decade at the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.

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