On Friday, The Forum dumped a story on Will Gardner— the Republican endorsed candidate for North Dakota’s Secretary of State. As you’ve probably heard, Gardner was caught in a peeping incident at NDSU in January of 2006. The end result was pleading down to a disorderly conduct charge, paying $225 worth of court fees, and serving one year of probation.
We published an article on the situation just two days ago expressing how problematic the ordeal was.
After less than 48 hours of The Forum article being published, Gardner ended his bid to become Secretary of State with this post on Facebook:
“In light of recent events, I have decided to withdraw from the election of Secretary of State. This is the best decision for my family and me.”
The quick decision was surprising to many— even supporters close to the campaign were caught off guard. The entire situation was unexpected. Apparently most knew nothing about the conviction. And within less than 48 hours, the Republican Party went from having a candidate to basically not having one at all.
Just days after the NDGOP State Convention last month, I received a message from someone within the party who said there was people with information that could sink Gardner’s campaign. The kicker here? They weren’t told what the information was, and it wasn’t Democrats that had it— it was Republicans. And the message was clear— if certain powers that be wanted a different candidate, those with the information had the power to make it happen.
We published an article last month in which I pointed out that Will Gardner’s defeat of 25-year incumbent Al Jaeger was a blow to establishment politics. His campaign had ruffled some feathers, but his convention victory sent some into a tizzy. And it looks as though someone – or a group of someone’s – just couldn’t let it go.
Undoubtedly, some folks think this was the work of Democrats. But the thought defies political logic. I’m not saying that they didn’t have the information too, but it makes no sense for them to drop the bomb now. Such things are better left to October in the weeks leading up to a general election.
Others will say that this was just The Forum reporting on something they discovered. And while I suppose that’s a possibility, I’m not sure that makes a whole lot of sense either.
It’s obviously speculative, but right now the evidence suggests that someone within the NDGOP provided the ammunition necessary to end Will Gardner’s bid for the Secretary of State’s office.
Last night, the NDGOP State Executive Committee held an emergency meeting. While we’ve not been made privy to all the details of what was said, we do have this statement from the party:
“The North Dakota Republican Party supports Will Gardner’s decision to withdraw from this fall’s election for Secretary of State. ‘We are moving forward now that Will has ended his campaign,’ said Rick Berg, party chair. ‘Now the Republican Party will turn its attention to ensuring that strong Republican leadership remains in the Secretary of State’s office and we are actively exploring our options in pursuit of that goal.’ (Emphasis Added)
As you can see, the intent of the party is to find someone that can jump in the race. According to NDGOP Chairman Rick Berg, that could happen one of two ways:
- Convince someone to file as a write-in candidate by tomorrow’s 4pm deadline.
- Convince someone to gather 1,000 signatures and file as an Independent candidate by the September 4th deadline for the November general election.
Option 1 makes little, if any, sense. It’s simply too high risk. That write-in candidate would have to convince enough primary voters by June 12th to write in their name in order to edge out Gardner— whose name will still be on the ballot.
Option 2 makes the most sense and is exactly what I eluded to in Saturday’s article when I wrote:
“…I wouldn’t be surprised to see Al Jaeger change his mind, file the necessary paperwork, and jump back in the race as an Independent candidate for the office he reluctantly walked away from just over a month ago.”
Well, guess what? If you haven’t seen already, Al Jaeger has announced he is doing exactly what I speculated he would on Saturday. Yes, Jaeger will be an Independent candidate for the office he now holds. His candidacy lends to the idea that sinking Gardner’s campaign came from within the Republican Party, not without.
In addition to all of this, there’s another aspect to be considered. When it comes to the poor behavior of some others within the party, there’s often the turn of a blind eye and second chances given. One need look no further than a number of alcohol-related offenses to find examples of this.
The most prominent among them is current State Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger. As you may recall, he was arrested for a DUI last fall. And it wasn’t the first time his issues with alcohol had been the subject of headlines. But it makes a huge difference when you’re the establishment’s man. Yet, we later expressed the view that people needed to quit making excuses for him. Something we documented an example of in late December:
“Apparently Rauschenberger spoke to [a State Committee Meeting] that included: Governor Doug Burgum, Lt. Governor Brent Sanford, NDGOP Chairman Kelly Armstrong, NDGOP Executive Director Dane Ferguson, U.S. Senate Candidate Tom Campbell, other State Officials, some State Legislators, District Chairmen, and others.
“In his speech, Rauschenberger acknowledged his personal issues, said he hasn’t officially decided whether to run for re-election, spoke about issues relating to his office, and reportedly even opened it up for questions at the end, in which he welcomed any topic– including personal issues.
“Apparently nobody took him up on the topic of personal issues, but one woman in the gathering voiced her support by saying that everyone makes mistakes and that he’s done a great job and should run again. To this, nearly everyone in attendance erupted in applause. Not only this, but Governor Burgum even interjected before Rauschenberger sat down and voiced his support.
“And there we have it. In a matter of minutes, at one State Committee Meeting, we seem to have all the answers as to how the NDGOP, Governor Burgum, and others are going to handle Rauschenberger’s DUI… make more excuses, play the supportive role, hope he can pull it together, and support him for a re-election bid.”
And this coming from the same party who, at least in part, is made up of legislators that voted to toughen up DUI laws back in 2013.
One of the most baffling examples of Republican support, for someone with a sordid history, is our current Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler. Not only do court records show a nasty divorce, infidelity with “a long-time friend”, admission to using alcohol to excess and illegal substances, but there was also a history of violence between her and her former fiancée. By the way, one of those instances with her fiancée occurred in July of 2014, while on state business in Florida at the expense of taxpayers. And that’s not even mentioning a past shoplifting charge and a Game & Fish violation. Quite simply, she has a history of poor judgment— to put it mildly. Even more recently, we’ve documented her deception regarding the State Standards and associated testing vendor.
Yet, in spite of all this, what has the NDGOP done? Nothing. In fact, after a 2015 incident regarding Baesler and her fiancée, they issued her their Letter of Support at the 2016 State Convention and she continues in her capacity as Superintendent of Public instruction today.
Apparently the NDGOP has decided that putting the lives of others in danger by driving drunk isn’t really that big of a deal when it comes to holding office and representing the party. Nor does it matter if the candidate they support has a history that resembles something found in a Lifetime movie special and literally parades around the state lying to people about issues related to the office they hold. No, none of that seems to matter.
But give them a candidate who made an admittedly horrendous decision 12 years ago, paid the price, and by pretty much every standard has lived a life worthy of admiration since… well… that candidate must be shunned.
Let me be clear… there’s simply no excuse for the decision Will Gardner made 12 years ago. But is such a thing completely beyond redemption? Is it a disqualifier for life? Is it really worse than the other things the NDGOP has seemingly had no problem getting past? Apparently Rob Port at the Say Anything Blog – who admits himself to having had a DUI – thinks so. In fact, he says:
“…treating those crimes as equivalent to Gardner peeping in windows at girls as they dress is ridiculous.”
I disagree, but not because I think they’re equivalent. I believe there’s an argument that can be made that DUI’s are worse. After all, as wrong as it was, is peeping worse than potentially killing someone while driving intoxicated? I don’t think so.
What I believe we have here is inconsistency. In addition to that, it may be yet another example of the game of politics in which some folks within the NDGOP just couldn’t stomach the fact that their candidate didn’t win. And because of that, did they set out to literally destroy the candidate that they didn’t approve of?
I’m all for accountability. But I also believe in redemption— that people can and do change. The way Will Gardner was treated was unnecessary.
I can’t help but wonder how things would’ve played out if this would have been someone like Wayne Stenehjem or Doug Burgum? Would all the same people – so critical of Gardner – have grabbed their pitchforks, torches, and lynch ropes on the way to demanding that they resign from the offices they now hold? Call me skeptical, but I doubt it.