Will Gardner wins endorsement over incumbent Al Jaeger

GRAND FORKS-Mandan businessman Will Gardner has been endorsed as the North Dakota Republican Party's candidate for secretary of state, a seat held by one of the longest-serving state officials in North Dakota history.Gardner claimed 679 votes ove...
Will Gardner, with his wife, Laura, accepts the party's endorsement for Secretary of State at Saturday's convention at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS-Mandan businessman Will Gardner has been endorsed as the North Dakota Republican Party's candidate for secretary of state, a seat held by one of the longest-serving state officials in North Dakota history.

Gardner claimed 679 votes over incumbent Al Jaeger's 438 Saturday night, April 7, at the Republican State Convention in Grand Forks. Jaeger, who was first elected to the office in 1992, said he is "weighing his options" in deciding if he'll run in the June primary election.

The vote was supposed to happen Sunday but was moved up to Saturday night, with GOP leaders citing a winter storm that threatened to drop 3 to 6 inches of snow across North Dakota. The storm has the potential to make travel difficult, and GOP leaders feared fewer delegates would show up Sunday for the contested race.

Both candidates gave passionate speeches that pitted Gardner's "21st century" platform against what Jaeger supporters called a proven record.

Gardner questioned the state's election technology and laws that say voters can vote without an ID-a federal judge ruled in 2016 a voter can sign an affidavit. He said Jaeger was not tech-savvy, adding the Secretary of State's website is outdated. Gardner also noted Jaeger didn't have a campaign website.

"The secretary of state has a voice, and in my travels around the districts, I found we need a voice in the Secretary of State's Office that makes it very clear to everyone in the state that we cannot have elections without integrity and without voter ID," Gardner said.

Jaeger stood behind his experience, stating moves have been made to update election technology and the Secretary of State's website. He said his office has been thorough in checking the more than 16,000 ballots cast in the 2016 election using affidavits.

A federal judge struck down the affidavit rule Tuesday.

Jaeger was quick to admit technology is not his strong point, but he told delegates he surrounds himself with staff who can get the job done and best serve North Dakota.

"Yes, I don't have a campaign website," Jaeger said. "I'm not a techie. I don't have to be a techie. There is a lot more to this office."

Jaeger had candidate petitions at his booth. He must file a petition to run by 4 p.m. Monday.

The winner of the primary election will face Democratic candidate Joshua Boschee, a state legislator from Fargo, in November's general election.

'I can help others'

North Dakota Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger, who grabbed the GOP nod to run for re-election, touted his experience in the state Tax Commissioner's Office. He was appointed in 2013 and won his first election to the seat in 2014.

Rauschenberger was open about his struggle with alcoholism, saying it's better to talk about it instead of sweeping it under the rug. Rauschenberger has been in alcohol addiction recovery since 2014.

"It's something that I feel is very good for me to be open about, but also good for others," he told Forum News Service in an interview. "I can help others too. ... I know people have reached out to me and have said, 'Your openness has really helped me get in to get some help.'"

He will face Kylie Oversen, the North Dakota Democratic Party chair and Grand Forks attorney.

Stenehjem endorsed

The GOP also endorsed Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem in his bid for re-election. The longest-serving attorney general in North Dakota has held his office since 2001.

He will be challenged by David Thompson, a Grand Forks trial attorney who was endorsed last month by the state Democratic Party.

Stenehjem touted his involvement in prosecuting human traffickers and online predators.

"You'd better be wary on the internet, because you don't know who you are talking to," he said, speaking to potential predators. "It may just be a cop."

Stenehjem won the GOP endorsement for governor in 2016 but lost in the primary election to Gov. Doug Burgum by 20 percent.

Public Service Commissioner Brian Kroshus also was unopposed in seeking the GOP endorsement for his office. Appointed to the position last year, Kroshus will run for a two-year term against Democratic candidate Casey Buchmann of Washburn, N.D.

The GOP is scheduled to endorse Public Service Commissioner Randy Christmann and Ag Commissioner Doug Goehring Sunday for re-election. If endorsed, Christmann and Goehring would face Democrats Jean Brandt from Kramer, N.D., and Sen. Jim Dotzenrod of Wyndmere, N.D., respectively.