As I’ve reflected, there’s no question in my mind that the biggest upset to come out of last weekend’s NDGOP State Convention in Grand Forks was Will Gardner’s defeat of Al Jaeger for the party’s endorsement to be Secretary of State. Jaeger went into the convention as an incumbent of 25-years— one of the longest serving elected officials in North Dakota history.
Gardner’s upset didn’t come without some pushback. I wrote about that the day before the convention started. His simply pointing out the current challenges and inadequacies of the Secretary of State’s office didn’t sit well with some of Jaeger’s supporters. His web site specifically identifies those issues as proactive leadership, office efficiency, and election integrity. One state representative even suggested Gardner’s “criticisms seem to come right out of the progressive Democrat playbook even though he is running as a Republican”. A ridiculous assertion to be sure.
In spite of the criticisms directed at Gardner leading into the convention, he didn’t back down from his messaging while addressing delegates. Just days before the convention, U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland struck down North Dakota’s affidavit rule for elections. Gardner pointed out that Judge Hovland was critical in his ruling for the length of time it took the state to file their motion to expedite his decision. Gardner also had a statement from a long-time employee of the Secretary of State’s office in which she was appreciative of Jaeger’s years of service, but expressed her sentiments that it was time for a change.
Yet, the strength of Gardner’s speech came in the form of his vision for addressing the challenges he has identified throughout his campaign. In a document handed out to delegates, Gardner explained his goals for his first 100, 200, and 300 days in office.
When his turn to speak arrived, Jaeger didn’t do himself any favors. While trying to rest on his laurels of 25-years in office, Jaeger pretty much confirmed the challenges Gardner had identified. In silence, delegates listened as the current Secretary of State spent his time putting out proverbial fires. In short, he was on the defensive. He was a man without a vision for the future.
As the voting came in district by district, it was evident that Jaeger was in trouble. One tally after another came out in favor of Gardner. And when the votes were all in, it wasn’t even close. Gardner pulled off the upset with 679 delegate votes over Jaeger’s 438.
Struggling with the reality of defeat, Jaeger initially considered turning in the necessary signatures to move on to the primary for a rematch. But by Sunday morning, cooler heads prevailed and Jaeger agreed to abide by the results of the convention— a decision that led delegates to give Jaeger an exceptionally long standing ovation.
Last week, when I wrote about Al Jaeger and his supporters being threatened by the candidacy of Will Gardner, I ended with this:
“… delegates for the North Dakota Republican Party are going to have a choice. It’s a simple one really. They can choose to have more of the same – embodied in the candidacy of Al Jaeger – or they can send a message to the Bismarck Swamp that it’s time to turn the page to a new chapter in our state’s history.”
What took place during Saturday’s Secretary of State’s race, at the NDGOP State Convention, was undoubtedly a blow to establishment politics. The entitlement of office, so often granted to incumbents and those they wish to succeed them, was rejected. Delegates sent a clear message that it’s time to turn the page. I believe that’s a good thing for the NDGOP and North Dakota politics in general.