Podcast: NDGOP Chairman Says “Party Will Take a Look At” Background Checks for Candidates

Former Secretary of State candidate Will Gardner announces his candidacy at a press conference. Gardner has since withdrawn his candidacy amid scandal. TOM STROMME/Bismarck Tribune

Over the weekend Republican Secretary of State candidate Will Gardner ended his campaign after a bombshell report in the Fargo Forum detailing a disorderly conduct conviction for some very creepy behavior on the NDSU campus back in 2006.

That put the NDGOP in an awkward position. As it stands now they have no official candidate against a very competent and well-funded Democratic challenger in state Rep. Josh Boschee. Gardner’s name cannot be removed from the primary ballot at this point, and thousands of ballots have already been cast in the primary thanks to early voting. He’ll likely win the primary in June, despite his withdrawal from the race, but NDGOP Chairman Rick Berg told me in our interview that Gardner can decline that nomination and keep his name off the general election ballot for November.

I asked Berg about the question of doing background checks on candidates. He said it’s “something as a state party we’ll take a look at,” but added that “it’s important we have a very open process.”

Meanwhile incumbent Secretary of State Al Jaeger, defeated by Gardner for the NDGOP’s convention endorsement earlier this year, is jumping back into the race as an independent candidate on the general election ballot. The expectation is that the NDGOP will issue an endorsement of Jaeger.

But could this mess have been prevented in the first place if Republicans did background checks on their candidates? I suspect that if NDGOP convention delegates had been aware of Gardner’s conviction back in April he wouldn’t have won their endorsement. Paul Schaffner, who was convicted of soliciting a prostitute last year, was at that convention campaigning in the U.S. House race.

He got just one delegate vote, probably because Schaffner’s conviction was well publicized before the convention.

I asked Berg about the question of doing background checks on candidates. He said it’s “something as a state party we’ll take a look at,” but added that “it’s important we have a very open process.”

I questioned Berg on what vetting the party does for their candidates now, and he said they mostly rely on the competitive nature of politics to out any potential problems with a given candidate. Which is fair, I suppose, but a basic public records search would have turned up Gardner’s conviction so that delegates could have factored it into their endorsement decision. And that sort of research would hardly close down the “open process” Berg touts.

Here’s the full audio of yesterday’s show. If you can’t catch it live 12-2pm on 970 WDAY AM and 93.1 FM you can always get the podcast.

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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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