Jay Schuler’s Resignation Is a Symptom of This Ugly Moment in American Politics

Jay Schuler

On Monday, October 1, at 9:23am North Dakota Commerce Commissioner Jay Schuler sent an email with his thoughts on the controversy surrounding Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh from his official state email account to employees of the Commerce Department.

By 10:06am a Democratic state lawmaker named Erin Oban, who represents a Bismarck area district in the Senate, had emailed Governor Doug Burgum’s staff (PDF) about Schuler’s email after being contacted by three female members of the Commerce Department.

At 3:17pm Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki emailed out a press release announcing that the Governor had accepted Schuler’s resignation. Nowatzki maintains that Burgum didn’t fire Schuler. I’m dubious about that claim, as are many in the state’s political circles I’ve spoken to. Based on their editorial today, the Grand Forks Herald seems to feel that Burgum gave Schuler the axe too.

Schuler, for his part, said in an email to the Commerce Department after his resignation he didn’t feel the original email was offensive but that it was a mistake to send it.

In the span of a few hours, from the time he sent the email about Kavanaugh to the time his resignation was announced, Schuler’s career in state government was ended.

That’s blazing speed for government, and a sign of the reactionary and hyper-partisan times we’re living in.

I don’t think Schuler’s email should have cost him his job. Even Oban, who started this ball rolling on behalf of some constituents, told me she was surprised Schuler resigned.

“I certainly wasn’t expecting that outcome,” she told me in an interview yesterday. She went out of her way to make it clear to me that she wasn’t a part of any decisions made by Burgum’s administration. “I honestly had nothing to do with it,” she said.

At worst Schuler is guilty of getting a bit too political on state time. Which, as someone who has spent a lot of time reading the stuff state employees send one another on taxpayer time, isn’t all that uncommon.

Schuler should have received a slap on the wrist and been sent back to work. As it was, he either got fired or found himself in a situation where he felt he had no choice but to resign.

That should give us all pause.

If something as relatively benign and innocuous as Schuler’s email can cost a state employee – even a political appointee like Schuler – their job why would anyone want to go to work in state government?

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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