Earlier today I broke the news that Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger has been struggling with alcohol addiction causing him to miss work. The news broke after Rauschenberger loaned his car to a man he was “hanging out with” yesterday afternoon only to see that man – 22-year-old Jesse Larson – get arrested for DUI after crashing in Mandan.
According to media reports, Governor Jack Dalrymple is going to be speaking to Rauschenberger about “his health and his responsibilities,” but the Tax Commissioner is an elected office in and of itself. Dalrymple could not remove Rauschenberger if he wanted to. The Tax Commissioner can only resign or be removed from office through impeachment.
Obviously this is a very serious personal issue for Rauschenberger. He is a human being who needs to find a path back to health and sobriety.
That being said, we’re just months away from election day, and Rauschenberger is on the ballot. So what next?
It seems to me that there are two paths forward.
Rauschenberger toughs it out
Staying on the ballot would be a tough row to hoe. These revelations have turned what was a safe race for Republicans into a competitive one for Democrats, no question, and there are some questions Rauschenberger is going to have to answer honestly if he stays in the race. Questions like, how much time away from work has his struggles with alcohol caused? Why was he apparently partying with a 22-year-old man in the middle of a work day? Who else in the executive branch knew about these problems?
There’s also the issue of Rauschenberger’s father. Some have griped that Rauschenberger’s appointment came because his father, Ron Rauschenberger, is Dalrymlpe’s Chief of Staff. Those rumors never got much traction before, but that probably won’t be the case any more.
If Rauschenberger stays in the race, Republicans are going to have their work cut out for them. They need to avoid looking callous, pushing someone who is struggling with addiction to stay in the race, and they’ll have to battle accusations of nepotism and good-old-boyism.
Still, Republicans have a major advantage in the state, and these issues aside Rauschenberger has demonstrated that he is a sharp administrator and a competent campaigner. Voter empathy and partisan advantage might be enough against a creampuff Democrat candidate in Jason Astrup.
There is a method by which a party can replace their nominated candidate on the ballot, but not so long ago the law was changed to limit the circumstances under which that could happen. This is from 16.1-11-18 of the North Dakota Century Code:
You could argue that Rauschenberger’s problems with alcohol are a “debilitating illness,” but the real problem is that last sentence. You cannot replace an endorsed candidate on the ballot less than 64 days before the election.
By my count, we’re 62 days out. So that ship appears to have sailed.
Meaning that if Rauschenberger steps down, Democrats will finally have a statewide office holder again by default.
My guess is that Rauschenberger toughs it out, if only because stepping down leaves Republicans with no other choice.
Update: The NDGOP just sent out this press release today:
NDGOP Statement on Rauschenberger Seeking Treatment
North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Robert Harms made the following statement in response to news that North Dakota Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger has sought treatment for alcohol addiction:
“Our hearts and prayers go out to Ryan as he seeks professional help for this disease. He is an incredibly talented and capable individual who, like many of us, must face the challenges life sometimes gives us.”
“We have always believed that Ryan is a very capable and talented individual. Nothing that has happened has changed that opinion.”
Update: Here’s Rauschenberger’s full statement:
Earlier this year, I recognized that I was having problems with alcohol and sought professional help at Heartview. I have been receiving in-patient and out-patient treatment for the disease.
Yesterday, I had a relapse during which I showed poor judgment and lent my vehicle to an individual whom I met in treatment. He was later involved in a serious accident in Mandan. While I was not present or involved in the accident, I am grateful that no one was injured in the crash.
While I have taken time out-of-the-office for treatment, I have made every effort to ensure I fulfill the duties of my office and that the tax department continues to do exceptional work.
I am currently working with my counselors to get back on track. I am firmly committed to doing everything necessary to deal effectively with this disease and I believe my prognosis is good. I will continue to serve the people of North Dakota to the best of my abilities and will run a vigorous campaign for election this fall.