Accusation surprises former pages

Jason Mann

Jason Mann

The sexual misconduct accusation against state Sen. Dan Sutton, D-Flandreau, has been a popular topic around South Dakota, including SDSU.

Each year, SDSU sends several students to intern with the South Dakota Legislature and many students are former pages. So when a page accused a senator of sexual misconduct during the 2006 legislative session, students couldn’t help but react.

“The announcement of the allegations caught me off-guard,” said Melissa Schram, a freshman pre-pharmacy and Spanish major. “I never suspected any of the senators of misbehavior. They behaved as perfect ladies and gentlemen toward us. In fact, they often went out of their way to be kind to us.”

Schram said Sutton didn’t give any of the pages special treatment or act differently than any of the other senators. He was friendly and quiet.

Stephanie Chase, a junior political science and biology major, was also surprised by the accusations.

“I was not assigned to Sen. Sutton, but interacted with him on a daily basis and I found him to be a caring, intelligent and concerned person and a very good legislator,” said Chase, who served as Senate intern in the Democratic office during the 2006 legislative session and also as a page during her senior year of high school.

Isaac Randall, a freshman dairy manufacturing major, worked with the page who accused Sutton of sexual misconduct. His family also knows the senator. He believes Sutton is a very nice person who doesn’t always think about the implications of his actions. He reminds people that Sutton hasn’t been convicted of any wrongdoing yet.

Another former page, Alissa Miles, a sophomore consumer affairs and Spanish major, remembers being advised very strongly to only interact with the legislators in a professional manner, no matter how well you know one of them. The page advisor made it very clear that if a page felt any action taken by a legislator was inappropriate, that page needed to tell the advisor immediately.

The accusation has led to discussions about possible changes or elimination of the page program, but former pages are upset that the latter would even be an option.

“I think that is a terrible, terrible idea. I was a page in high school and that is part of the reason that I ended up back in Pierre this last spring … Plus, it’s a lot of fun,” Chase said.

The Associated Press reported Nov. 27 that the Legislature is considering tightening the regulations about where pages are housed while in Pierre. The Legislature’s Executive Board approved policy changes that would require additional checking to make sure pages who arrange their own housing are staying in safe places.

“I am proud to say that I was a page in the capital, I will tell people about it for the rest of my life,” Miles said. “I met a lot of friends and my sponsor always told me that if I was ever looking for an internship to call him up and he would be more than happy to help me. Losing a program like this takes away from the next generation.”

A formal accusation was made against Sutton in October, although criminal investigation began in February. Sutton denies accusations that he groped the page.

In October, Gov. Mike Rounds agreed to hold a special session of the state Senate to investigate the charges against Sutton at the request of members of the state senate. The special session was scheduled to begin on Nov. 27. This would have been the first time either the South Dakota House or Senate met in a special session to discipline a member. After Sutton won his bid for re-election, plans for the special session were set into motion, but the special session will be canceled.

On Nov. 14, Sutton resigned as a senator for this term, which makes the session unnecessary because Sutton is no longer a sitting senator. However, Sutton did not resign from the term that would begin in January of 2007. Sen. Ed Olson of Mitchell says that the Senate will have to take action in January because Sutton would be returning to the same office and would be in the same environment he was in when the alleged groping occurred.