Will Gardner’s Campaign Implosion Is Will Gardner’s Fault

Former Secretary of State candidate Will Gardner

When Will Gardner defeated long-time Republican Secretary of State Al Jaeger at the NDGOP’s convention earlier this year some factions of the party hailed it as a great victory over “the establishment.”

I’m not sure that was really the case. Rather, I think it was rank-and-file North Dakota Republicans deciding that Jaeger had worn out his welcome in the office. They felt it was perhaps time for someone new with a more up-to-date skill set. Gardner, with a long background in IT, made that case effectively and won.

As a long time critic of Jaeger’s I was happy to see Republicans made that choice.

But Gardner’s campaign has imploded amid revelations about a 2006 conviction for disorderly conduct. Namely peeping into female form windows at NDSU, where he worked at the time, with his pants undone (as one law enforcement report stated). Those who viewed him as a champion against the hated “establishment” are now lashing out, imagining conspiracies which led to their candidate’s downfall.

One popular one is that it was other pro-Jaeger Republicans – again, “the establishment” – who dropped the dime on Gardner. But if that were the case, why didn’t they do it before the convention when it probably would have cost Gardner the endorsement?

It’s more likely that the reporter who broke this story – my colleague Tu-Uyen Tran of the Fargo Forum – was simply doing the sort of routine background work on candidates that journalists always do.

One popular one is that it was other pro-Jaeger Republicans – again, “the establishment” – who dropped the dime on Gardner. But if that were the case, why didn’t they do it before the convention when it probably would have cost Gardner the endorsement?

Another conspiracy theory is that Gardner is getting unequal treatment because Republican Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger, who admitted to struggles with alcohol addiction during his 2014 campaign and was arrested for DUI last year, hasn’t been asked to resign. I’ve been the target of some of this criticism because, despite being the person who broke the news about Rauschenberger’s struggles with alcohol in 2014, I’ve also defended him against critics saying he’s unfit for office.

This conspiracy theory asks us to treat Rauschenberger’s DUI (not to mention Democratic Secretary of State candidate Josh Boschee’s multiple convictions for alcohol-related reckless driving) as though it were equivalent to Gardner’s non-consensual voyeurism.

These are not at all similar situations. “Gardner’s crime seems sordid, whereas Boschee’s crimes do not,” is how the Grand Forks Herald put it today. That seems about right.

But there are other problems too which make Gardner’s situation unique.

He concealed this extremely troubling conviction from NDGOP convention delegates, denying them to decide the question of his candidacy without all of the available information.

Gardner has also tried to minimize his crime. He told Tran that he was “young” and “dumb” when the peeping incident happened, but in reality he was 29 years old. A police report said Gardner’s pants were undone, and his shirt was untucked, contemporaneous to the peeping. An officer also observed that Gardner’s wallet and belt were on the seat of his car and not on his person. All of this adds up to someone who was planning on having their pants down, but Gardner disputes these reports.

I’m not sure that Gardner has earned the benefit of our doubt.

What’s more, as the Herald points out, Gardner did his peeping on the property of his employer compounding the astoundingly poor judgment he showed.

There’s no evidence that Rauschenberger and Boschee, whatever their personal struggles with alcohol, have ever acted irresponsibly while on the job.

Rauschenberger and Boschee are treated differently because their situations are, in fact, very different.

Those imagining an anti-Gardner conspiracy, those seeing double standards where non exist, might be advised to keep something in mind: Gardner’s own actions are why his campaign exploded.

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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