Picture this: A Republican incumbent for office develops a health condition shortly before an election. During the process of his recovery, Democrats question whether or not the candidate is physically capable of holding office. Republicans respond with righteous indignation, pointing out that the important thing is to support the candidate’s recovery while ensuring voters the candidate’s condition should not prevent the office holder from being able to do the job. Then the Republicans quickly accuse the Democrats of being insensitive to people who live with disabilities and their value as employees.
In early 2002, Rep. Bill Pietsch (D22-R) suffered a stroke. According to state law at that time, if Pietsch resigned prior to the November election, voters would have a chance to vote on his replacement. However, if he waited until after the election, local Republicans would be able to nominate his replacement for the 2003 legislative session.
Democrats at the time questioned if Republicans were keeping Pietsch, who was very ill and living in a nursing facility, in office in order to avoid replacing him by election. At the time, then-House Majority Leader Wes Belter, (R) said the party could allow Pietsch as much time as possible to recover. Republicans also became very offended at the suggestion that Pietsch could not hold office in his current condition.
A few weeks after the election, just as Democrats had suggested, Bill Pietsch resigned from office and his wife Vonnie was appointed by local Republicans to complete his term.
I wonder if history is going to repeat itself in North Dakota.
Over the past week, much of this story has repeated itself. First, it was discovered that Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger was struggling with alcoholism and has been missing a significant amount of work because of it. Shortly after the story broke publically, Rauschnbuerger announced that he would be taking and indefinite leave of absence from his job while he seeks treatment. However, Rauschnbuerger has reportedly planned on continuing his re-election campaign once he returns from treatment.
After Rauschnbuerger began his leave of absence, his appointment in the November election, Jason Astrup, a Fargo attorney, announced that if he was faced with a health condition, he would resign from office. Astrup’s comments brought a response from NDGOP Chairman Robert W. Harms who compared Rauschenberger’s alcoholism to then AG Heidi Heitkamp 2000 breast cancer scare. He was quick to announce the race should “not be diverted by questions about a disease from which millions of Americans recover.”
Apparently, Harms does not want you to remember that Heitkamp was leading in the polls prior to her announcement and in fact then candidate John Hoeven benefited greatly from questions about her health.
The fact is that there are three possible outcomes for Republicans and the Tax Commissioners office. First is that Astrup wins election (something they will do anything to avoid). The second and I am sure their preferred outcome is that Rauschnbuerger is reelected and able to fully serve the duties of the office.
However, as we learned with Rep. Pietsch twelve years ago, Republicans can act as if they expect Rauschnbuerger to return to office until after the election. If he wins re-election he can resign and his replacement will be appointed by Governor Jack Dalrymple.
On a somewhat related note, When Jack Dalrymple was elected to be Lieutenant Governor of North Dakota in 2000; his former house seat was filled by Bill Pietsch.
It is not advantageous for North Dakota Republicans to be truthful about Rauschnbuerger’s condition or his ability to return to office. Hopefully North Dakota voters remember that as the chairmen of their party compares alcoholism to breast cancer and assures us that Rauschnbuerger will be fine.