North Dakota’s Secretary of State race just got interesting— for all the wrong reasons. And it all happened with one article published last night on the Forum. Apparently Will Gardner has an event in his past that it seems almost nobody knew about. Gardner, of course, is the endorsed candidate for the North Dakota Republican Party. He scored a stunning victory over long-time incumbent Al Jaeger at last month’s state convention— causing Jaeger to drop out of the race.
According to the Forum:
“When Will Gardner was leaving his job at North Dakota State University just after midnight on Friday, Jan. 13, 2006, he said he was surprised to see a young woman undressing in front of a window at a freshman dormitory on campus.
“He went closer to get a better look.”
Timothy Motl – who was an NDSU security guard at the time – wrote in his report of the incident:
“I observed the individual approach one of the windows on the lower level near the center of the building and peer into the window and then move onward towards the next window and moved along the building in a northerly direction…
“Where there were interior lights within the room, I observed this individual try to peer in-between the window covering partitions and then move to the next window.”
Police were called to the scene, where Gardner initially denied the allegations, but was ultimately arrested and charged with “surreptitious intrusion”, which is defined by the North Dakota Century Code as:
“An individual, with the intent to arouse, appeal to, or gratify that individual’s lust, passions, or sexual desires…”
The maximum penalty for being convicted of such a charge was 360 days in jail and a $3,000 fine. But Gardner struck a deal, pled guilty to disorderly conduct, was sentenced to 30 days in jail, and paid $225 in court fees. Ultimately, the jail time was suspended, while he served a year of probation.
At the time of this incident, Gardner was 29 and employed by NDSU as a webmaster. He quit his job later that month and moved on to new employment— something he now says was done because he felt bad about what had happened.
In regards to the 12-year old incident, Gardner told the Forum:
“I messed up. It was stupid. I was young and immature.”
But will such a statement fly with voters? To some, it’s one thing to make such a mistake when you’re single and in your late teens or early 20’s; but Gardner was 29, married, and had two children— which leads into another aspect of this entire situation.
Politics is a nasty thing. And when people commit to supporting certain candidates and campaigns, they’ll often do just about anything to win— even if it means destroying their opponent. The sad thing about this situation is that Will Gardner’s family will suffer for it— after living the last 12 years of trying to put an obviously stupid mistake behind them.
Think of it… what will things be like for Gardner’s children when they attend school now? The likelihood is that some – if not all – of his children didn’t even know about it. And what about his wife, who likely suffered the most when her husband violated her trust 12 years ago? Now, she gets to live it all over again— only this time in a much more public setting. Say what you will about Will Gardner – like him, hate him, give him a pass, or call him a creep – but today I feel awful for his family. His wife and children don’t deserve this.
There’s no question that Will Gardner is to blame for his own actions. As the old saying goes, “You get to make your choice, but you don’t get to choose your consequences.” If Gardner honestly thought that this wasn’t going to become an issue, if he secured the Republican Party’s endorsement, then he’d have to be completely naïve. These things don’t remain in a pile of dusty legal files for long when one takes up seeking a significant political office.
Do I believe in redemption? Absolutely. And I’m guessing that most of us have things in our past that we’d prefer not be dug up and paraded around as a reminder of how absolutely stupid we once were. After all, when we truly make changes in our lives and improve, those mistakes shouldn’t define who we are.
Should have Will Gardner known better 12 years ago? Yes. Should have he been more forthright about what happened when he first started his campaign? Probably. Yet, I understand why he wouldn’t. Again, most people wouldn’t want their mistakes paraded around by others. Why would they parade them around themselves— especially if you now have family and friends that didn’t know about them in the first place? Having said that, this is politics. It’s the nature of the game. Expect it, face it, and deal with it or stay home.
It remains to be seen where Gardner’s campaign goes from here, but it’s obvious that his past is currently a problem. And it appears this was a surprise to everyone— including the North Dakota Republican Party. Can Gardner’s Democrat opponent, Josh Boschee, make political hay out of a singular event that occurred 12 years ago? Especially when he’s had his own run-ins with the law?
North Dakotan’s have been pretty forgiving of infractions regarding alcohol – as evidenced by our current Tax Commissioner – but this situation might prove to be a different story. And it may just hinge on how Gardner handles the situation. Can he convince the electorate that it wasn’t an ongoing problem? That he’s a changed man? That it’ll never happen again? That it doesn’t disqualify him from the office of Secretary of State? We’ll find out.
Meanwhile, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Al Jaeger change his mind, file the necessary paperwork, and jump back in the race as an Independent candidate for the office he reluctantly walked away from just over a month ago.