The big news over the weekend revolved around now former Secretary of State candidate Will Gardner. Gardner was caught in a peeping incident at NDSU in January of 2006. The end result was pleading down to a disorderly conduct charge, paying $225 worth of court fees, and serving one year of probation.
It was immediately evident that the news would be problematic for the Mandan businessman. And in less than 48 hours of the 2006 incident going public, Gardner dropped out of the race, basically leaving the NDGOP with no candidate heading into the June 12th primary.
As I predicted in the article we published on Saturday, current Secretary of State and long-time Republican incumbent Al Jaeger decided he’d get into the race again by collecting 1,000 signatures and running as an Independent.
On Sunday night, I was told that at an emergency NDGOP State Executive Committee Meeting, held that same day, that the party was weighing its options, planning on the possibility of issuing a Letter of Support to an Independent candidate, and that the candidate would likely be Al Jaeger. So, in all, news of his jumping back into the race came as no surprise.
In considering all of this – and other aspects of the situation – it appears that Will Gardner’s candidacy may have been torpedoed from within the Republican Party.
As a result of what will undoubtedly go down as one of the most unique and unfortunate moments in North Dakota political history, we are left to wonder if political parties should begin vetting their candidates through background checks? NDGOP State Chairman Rick Berg acknowledged to The Forum on Friday that the party has no formal method of vetting candidates.
While some legal troubles come to the forefront as news headlines – like Republican U.S. House candidate Paul Schaffner getting caught in a prostitution sting, a number of elected official’s alcohol-related offenses, or Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler throwing a glass candle at her fiancée’s head – Will Gardner’s past proves that not all troubles are known.
If parties are going to go down the road of vetting candidates through background checks, then it seems to follow that they’ll have to make a determination of how in-depth those checks will be and what behavior will disqualify a candidate. Would there be a time lapse for some poor decisions in which forgiveness could be extended and candidacy allowed anyhow? Would party leadership stringently craft the rules and qualifications in the bylaws? Or would the party simply serve as a vetting mechanism and let delegates and voters decide if the candidates were acceptable or not?
In terms of party politics, answers to these questions would be important. If parties were to implement qualifications for their candidates that were too stringent, it may actually cause some candidates to seek office through alternative parties with less stringent rules or to go the Independent route.
Regardless of what each party determines its vetting process to be, if any, there is one thing every candidate must come to realize in today’s political climate— secrets don’t typically last for long. Whether it’s the media, an opposing party, or people from within their own; past imperfections are likely to be exposed. A candidate who believes otherwise is either in denial or completely naïve.
If secrets are going to come out, perhaps it’s best that candidates fess up to them on their own from the get-go of their campaigns. An unwillingness to do so probably means it’s best to stay out of the oftentimes nasty arena known as political candidacy.
I personally believe a vetting process would be a good thing— for all involved. Had one been in place, it could have prevented the unique and unfortunate situation now playing out in the Secretary of State’s race.