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Our view: Gardner right to drop out of ND race

Will Gardner, with his wife, Laura, accepts the GOP's endorsement for Secretary of State last month in the Alerus Center. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service

Herald editorial board

Will Gardner made a bad decision 12 years ago. Sunday, he made a good one.

Gardner, the Republican Party's endorsed candidate for North Dakota secretary of state, chose to withdraw from the race after the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead reported he was involved in a window-peeping incident in 2006.

The story broke Friday. Sunday, Gardner withdrew via his campaign's Facebook page.

"In light of recent events, I have decided to withdraw from the election of secretary of state," he wrote. "This is the best decision for my family and me."

Later, his wife, Laura, posted that the world "is a harsh place to be. You don't dare mess up."

Unfortunately, she's right. The scrutiny that public figures today must endure is sometimes vicious and often unfair. Yet for Gardner — who regularly attends church and has worked through this event — it still was the best decision to leave the race. Leaders must be able to defend their past and this was an embarrassing offense that cannot be overlooked.

The Forum reported Friday that Gardner pleaded guilty in 2006 to disorderly conduct, stemming from an incident in which a North Dakota State University security guard said he saw Gardner look through windows of a women's dormitory.

Gardner wasn't a student at the time. And whereas many would argue that it shouldn't matter if he was, we know college students occasionally make poor decisions. When Gardner peered through that window, he was a married 29-year-old NDSU employee — hardly a foolish undergraduate.

Also, Gardner said he only watched one woman undress after noticing her in the window, but court documents suggest there were others. Court paperwork also suggests his pants were unzipped, although Gardner told the Forum that may not have been the case.

Is Gardner unique? Not really. The other major-party candidate for secretary of state, Democrat Joshua Boschee, has pleaded guilty to offenses in his past, too, including reckless driving in 2006 and 2010 and drinking in public in 2011.

The difference? As far as we know, Boschee doesn't work for the Highway Patrol. Yet when Gardner was charged with window-peeping, he worked for NDSU. The point is that there is a certain standard of protocol upon which all employees should be judged, and Gardner's role at the time as an NDSU employee adds to the impropriety of the crime. Gardner's crime seems sordid, whereas Boschee's crimes do not.

Also, the inconsistencies between his explanation and the police report create uncertainty and, probably, unease in the Republican Party.

Finally, he should have disclosed this issue before the GOP Convention, where he won the endorsement over longtime incumbent Al Jaeger. Had Republicans known, it might have resulted in a different outcome at the convention.

Gardner doesn't deserve a lifetime of scorn and shame. He should be forgiven. But this wasn't going to go away as the election season heats up.

It was good for Gardner to drop out now to allow Republicans a chance to possibly salvage the race.