Since You Asked, Secretary Jaeger

Secretary of State Al Jaeger gestures while testifying on a bill to designate the capitol's Memorial Hall into state statute with that official name. Jaeger was testifying in front of the the House political subdivisions committee during the 2017 session. TOM STROMME/Bismarck Tribune

Last week I wrote a print column noting that the North Dakota Republican Party has some vulnerable spots on the statewide ballot, among them long-serving Secretary of State Al Jaeger.

Here’s what I wrote about Jaeger, specifically:

Also vulnerable is Secretary of State Al Jaeger who is, by a country mile, the longest serving of our current statewide office holders. He’s got two four-year terms on Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who has the second longest tenure.

Jaeger took office in 1992, the same year Bill Clinton was elected to his first term as president. The same year Jay Leno premiered as the host of The Tonight Show. By the end of his current term Jaeger will have been in office for 26 years.

The incumbent has told Republicans he’s running for another term. Not everyone in the NDGOP is happy about it. There is trepidation that Jaeger’s struggles to modernize his office, not to mention a slew of costly mistakes such as lost candidate paperwork and mishandling of ballot initiatives, could become campaign issues for an aggressive challenger.

Those paragraphs drew a response from Jaeger himself today in the form of a letter to the Fargo Forum in which the Secretary of State accuses me of being critical without “naming any sources or providing specific examples.”

But then, oddly enough, Jaeger goes on to address a specific example of his office losing a candidate’s paperwork:

Port’s first claim was related to “lost” candidate paperwork. During the 24 statewide elections occurring since 1993 while I have served as the state’s chief election official, there was one incident four election cycles ago when a mistake occurred. Each day, my office receives hundreds of pieces of mail and in the opening of that mail, a candidate’s filing inadvertently became attached to a business document.

The candidate Jaeger is referring to was Libertarian Party candidate Joshua Voytek whose name was nearly left off the ballot because of the error. That Jaeger acknowledges this happened makes what he refers to as my “claim” into substantiated fact. It happened. It was an error, whatever Jaeger’s explanations.

Jaeger also pushes back at my claim that his office has mishandled ballot initiatives:

His second claim is that I have mishandled ballot initiatives. During my tenure in office, approximately 80 initiative petitions have been submitted. I do not recall a petition that was not processed according to state law and when challenged in court, our decisions have been upheld each time.

Unfortunately for Jaeger, I can recall two ballot measures which were not handled correctly according to the law. In 2008 a ballot measure aimed at cutting income taxes was approved for circulation by Jaeger’s office despite incorrect formatting. A small error? Perhaps, but Jaeger’s office made the same error with a ballot initiative related to fenced hunting in 2010, and Jaeger admitted the error.

Interestingly, during that same 2010 cycle, Jaeger kept a measure related to North Dakota’s pharmacy laws off the ballot because of a technicality related to how the petitions were circulated (the signature pages didn’t have the measure language attached). That was the right call, but it’s odd that errors by Jaeger’s office were glossed over while a small error by a measure committee was enough to keep their issue off the ballot.

Anyway, Jaeger accuses me of lacking “sources and examples,” but that’s just not true.

There has been a laundry list of problems in Jaeger’s office of the years – including among other things an IT project overdue and over budget – and while publicly Republicans will be standing behind the incumbent, privately there is deep worry in NDGOP circles that Jaeger is going to draw a strong challenger and lose.

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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