BISMARCK - North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger plans to seek re-election as an independent in November after the Republican-endorsed candidate dropped out once his 2006 peeping arrest surfaced.
Jaeger, a Republican who has been in office since 1993, said Monday, May 21, he conferred with Republican Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem about his legal options and determined an independent run was his only viable path to re-election.
“I know the office well. I believe I have a good record,” Jaeger said.
Jaeger will need 1,000 signatures by Sept. 4 to appear on the November ballot.
Mandan businessman Will Gardner won the North Dakota Republican Party’s endorsement at April’s state convention. But Gardner said Sunday he would exit the race after The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead reported he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct 12 years ago after prosecutors said he had “peeped in numerous female dorm rooms” at North Dakota State University.
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Jaeger still hopes to have the party’s backing.
“I decided a year ago that I would run one more time, and that was changed at the convention and I honored what the convention decision was,” Jaeger said. “But now circumstances are different today.”
State Republican Party Chairman Rick Berg said he was planning an imminent meeting of the party’s executive committee to discuss their plans, but he laid out a process in which the party would give a certificate of endorsement to an independent candidate after the June 12 primary election. Under that scenario, Republicans technically wouldn’t have a candidate on the November ballot because Gardner would have declined the party’s nomination, Berg said.
Berg previously said party leaders had discussed encouraging a Republican to mount a write-in campaign for the June primary to defeat Gardner. But more than 10,000 mail-in and absentee ballots have already been cast, Jaeger said.
“It would be pretty difficult for somebody to beat Will as a write-in candidate,” Berg said.
Democratic state Rep. Joshua Boschee is his party’s candidate for the office, which oversees the state’s elections, maintains business records and licenses contractors, among other duties. Roland Riemers is running as a Libertarian.
Boschee said his campaign wouldn’t change with Jaeger’s re-entrance into the race, but he said “even his own party has decided that he wasn’t the right person for that job.”
Gardner declined to comment when reached by phone Monday. In a news release Sunday night, his campaign said he wouldn’t grant media interviews and instead deferred to the state Republican Party.
“In light of recent events, I have decided to end my campaign and withdraw from the election for North Dakota Secretary of State,” Gardner said in a statement Sunday. “This decision is in the best interest of my family and me.”
Meanwhile, two Republican state lawmakers who supported Gardner’s run said they weren’t aware of the 2006 incident. Rep. Dan Ruby of Minot and Sen. Janne Myrdal of Edinburg gave speeches at the state GOP convention backing Gardner’s endorsement.
Myrdal wished Gardner and his family “the very best” and said Republicans need to find a candidate who can win the race.
“Nobody knew about this in the party or certainly none of us at the convention, to my knowledge,” she said.
While Ruby said he supports Gardner’s decision if it was intended to spare his family from embarrassment, he said the case could have been made that he’s a “different person” and would be qualified for the job.
“I know a lot of people think that it was something that was never going to go away during the campaign,” Ruby said. “He owned up to his mistake. He settled it legally, he settled it with his wife. He demonstrated for the last 12 years that’s not who he is.”