The public deserves better vetting of candidates

On my radio show Monday, as I discussed Republican Will Gardner’s departure from the Secretary of State race, I tried to remember the last time a Democrat had won an election for an executive branch office North Dakota.

I couldn’t do it.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp was the last Democrat to win a statewide election for federal office, having earned her first term back in 2012. Former Congressman Earl Pomeroy won re-election to the U.S. House in 2008.

But state office? I had to turn to the internet, and learned that it was Roger Johnson, who won an election for Agriculture Commissioner in 2006.

Let that sink in for a moment. North Dakota’s Democrats haven’t won a state executive branch office since the George W. Bush administration.

What’s more, since the office was created at statehood in 1889, North Dakota has had just one Democrat as Secretary of State. Jim Kusler served one term from 1989 to 1992.

Our liberal friends, behind a public facade of seriousness over Gardner’s fall, are no doubt giddy at the opportunity which lays before them.

Not only is Gardner out of the race after a 2006 disorderly conduct conviction for some extremely creepy behavior on the North Dakota State University campus, but at this point it seems incumbent Secretary of State Al Jaeger is the best Republicans can do for a savior.

Jaeger still commands an enormous amount of respect in the state. He’s been winning statewide elections since 1992, and enjoys the name recognition which goes along with it. But he’s going to have to run as an independent on the general election ballot because Republicans can’t replace Gardner in the June primary (NDGOP chairman Rick Berg says he expects Gardner will decline the nomination after the June vote and thus keep his name off the general election ballot).

He’s also going to have to campaign after having lost his own party’s endorsement.

Boschee has already been saying it’s time for a fresh face in the Secretary of State’s office. Isn’t that argument bolstered when NDGOP convention delegates felt the same way?

Which brings me to my point. Republicans are in a bad spot, and Democrats have a big advantage, not because of the relative merits of the candidates but because of scandal.

It shouldn’t be this way.

We are best served when competent and engaged candidates have fulsome debate about policy and governing philosophy. We are not well served when one candidate wins because the other candidate turned out to be an embarrassment.

I asked Berg on my radio show about whether he feels the NDGOP should start doing basic background checks on their potential candidates. He said it’s “something as a state party we’ll look into” but added “it’s important we have a very open process.”

I get the point, but perhaps we don’t need a process so open a creep can slink in to the detriment of our choices at the ballot box.

If NDGOP delegates had known about Gardner’s conviction before their convention, we wouldn’t be in this situation.

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a ND political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.

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