The latest in the furor surrounding Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauchenberger, who announced a leave of absence after I reported that he’d been struggling with alcoholism, is that he was actually involved in an accident on Tuesday before loaning his car to a man he’d apparently been drinking with:
According to the accident report from Bismarck police, Rauschenberger was driving his 2007 Chevy Tahoe at 8:21 a.m. Tuesday on North Washington Street about six blocks west of the Capitol when he rear-ended a vehicle that was stopped in traffic. The vehicle, a 2004 Dodge driven by a 41-year-old Bismarck woman, then struck a third vehicle in front of it, a 2013 Subaru driven by a 37-year-old Bismarck woman.
No one was injured. Rauschenberger’s vehicle sustained an estimated $3,000 in damage, while the other two vehicles each had about $1,000 in damage, the report states.
Rauschenberger told police he had looked down and wasn’t paying attention, and when he looked up it was too late and he struck the vehicle, the report states. He was cited for care required, which carries a $30 fine.
This is a big problem. Where Rauschenberger seemed to have earned some good faith when he came clean about his drinking problem after I confronted him about it, failing to mention this previous accident has probably squandered it.
It’s hard to say if this accident had anything to do with his drinking. Presumably, if Rauschenberger had been drunk, the officer would have cited him for it. The more conspiracy-minded among us might be inclined to believe some scenario in which the officer who investigated the crash recognized our Tax Commissioner and gave him a pass, but that seems unlikely. Certainly, if that were the case, the other drives involved in the crash would be speaking up.
More likely Rauschenberger crashed in the morning, saw it as his excuse to skip work, and decided to go drinking with his buddy in stead. I should mention that when I was investigating the second crash involving Rauschenberger’s vehicle that day someone who knows Ryan said they had seen him driving to a grocery store with damage to the front of his vehicle. I didn’t think anything of the damage at the time – I guess it slipped my mind – but this person later told me that upon reflection it seems like Rauschenberger was going to the liquor store.
This was around noon, so it would fit the timeline.
And the timeline is the question. Democrats want to know more about what Rauschenberger was up to Tuesday, and more about what he’s been up to since being appointed Tax Commissioner by Governor Dalrymple. And they’re right to ask:
North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party Chairman Bob Valeu released a statement Thursday saying he hopes Rauschenberger “is able to overcome this personal challenge and address his issues,” but he added that Rauschenberger is a public figure who admitted to using poor judgment Tuesday, “and this makes it a public matter.”
“There were already many unanswered questions yesterday. Today’s surprise decision by Rauschenberger to take a leave of absence, along with new information of his involvement in a traffic accident earlier on Tuesday morning, only raises more troubling questions,” Valeu said.
These are fair questions, regardless of who is asking them. Rauschenberger said in his statement released earlier today that he expects “to be back at work and on the campaign trail in just a few weeks.”
If he hopes to be successful on the campaign trail, Rauschenberger is going to have to answer the sort of questions Valeu and others are asking when he gets back. And, before he seeks treatment, he’d better spill the beans on any other ugly secrets which may be out there.
More surprise revelations are going to convince voters that Rauschenberger isn’t being honest with them. If there is any hope at all of Rauschenberger pulling a campaign victory out of this mess – and I can say that the Republicans I’ve spoken to are very gloomy about the prospects – he needs to demonstrate honest, a measure of contrition and a certainty that this stuff is behind him.
That’s going to be tough. After all, it was just Tuesday that Rauschenberger was blowing off work to get drunk in the middle of the afternoon with a rehab buddy.
And, from what I’m hearing, there are more ugly revelations to come.