In August of 2006 Democrat state Rep. Merle Boucher announced that he was seeking treatment for alcohol addiction.
Boucher was on the ballot that year in District 9, though facing no opponent. Boucher got treatment and stayed on the ballot. He was re-elected and served in the state House through 2011. In 2010, he represented the Democrats on the statewide ticket, running against Republican Doug Goehring for Agriculture Commissioner.
“We support Merle’s decision to seek help,” Democrat state party chairman Jim Fuglie said at the time of Boucher’s decision to get help. “It’s not an easy thing to do, and we commend him for it. He has been a strong leader for us in the state House of Representatives.”
Fuglie’s words sound remarkably like NDGOP Chairman Bob Harms’ recent comments about Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger seeking treatment. “Our hearts and prayers go out to Ryan as he seeks professional help for this disease,” Harms said in a statement last week after SAB broke the news of Rauschenberger’s struggle with alcohol. “He is an incredibly talented and capable individual who, like many of us, must face the challenges life sometimes gives us.”
Republicans no doubt hope that Rauschenberger can make a turnaround like Boucher did. Which brings me to the point of this post: Rauschenberger deserves a chance to try.
Last night during my television segment with Chris Berg on Valley News Live I was asked if I thought Rauschenberger should resign. After all, the Grand Forks Herald editorial board has suggested it as has Rauschenberger’s Democrat opponent Jason Astrup. But I said I’m waiting for more information.
I want to hear Rauschenberger speak after he’s spent some time in intensive treatment. I want to hear him explain what happened over Labor Day, and make his case for continuing as North Dakota’s Tax Commissioner.
When news broke of Rauschenberger’s struggles many in the political world, including Democrats, insisted that what was most important was Rauschenberger’s health. That alcoholism is an all-too-common affliction, but one from which full recovery is possible. Some of these same people are now changing their tune, insisting that Rauschenberger should resign before he gets a chance to find sobriety again.
But that’s opportunism talking. These people sense blood in the water, and politics seems to be trumping empathy.
Rep. Boucher proved that North Dakota voters can be forgiving of these sort of problems, and that’s as it should be.
If the treatment doesn’t take, then Rauschenberger can step down. But maybe it will, and maybe this all was the “rock bottom” he needed to rebound.
And maybe that rebound is what his political enemies, hoping to replace him with a Democrat, are afraid of.
Rauschenberger has some tough questions to answer, but if he answers them well and can demonstrate that he’s put these problems behind him, he shouldn’t be disqualified.