By her own admission, Kirsten Baesler exhibited extremely poor judgement when she recently got behind the wheel after drinking what proved to be too much alcohol.
North Dakota’s superintendent of public instruction was stopped by a state trooper on Interstate 94 near the last exit in Bismarck before the freeway crosses the Missouri River in Mandan, where she lives.
Baesler refused to submit to a chemical sobriety test and was arrested on Feb. 26 for drunken driving and her refusal to take the test.
It didn’t take long for critics to call for Baesler’s resignation. They were quick to make the case that, as an elected public official, Baesler should be held to a higher standard. It was particularly damaging, her critics said, because of Baesler’s responsibilities as the state’s top education official.
Let’s remember that voters entrusted Baesler with a second term in 2016, when she received an overwhelming vote of confidence by 75 percent of the electorate.
Nobody can say that Baesler hasn’t performed at a high level in overseeing K-12 education in the state. Baesler has been an energetic, effective and enthusiastic champion of education.
She’s advanced a slate of educational policy initiatives and improvements, including her work on Choice Ready, a program to ensure that North Dakota students graduate with the knowledge, skills and disposition to take on any career path, whether going on to higher education, the workforce or the military.
Baesler has apologized for her “extremely poor decision” to drive after drinking. She understands the need to set an example for the students she serves. She promises to work hard to make amends.
“This incident was certainly one of my worst moments, and I’m so sorry,” she said in a statement. “I am asking for forgiveness, and the grace needed to get back up and take on my life with dedication and joy.”
Baesler will not contest the charges against her and is entering treatment for her alcohol abuse problem.
It’s easy to condemn people, especially those in the spotlight, for their failings. But we must not forget that addiction is a disease — one that is made much more difficult to confront because of the stigma society still places on addiction and other behavioral illnesses.
“I ask that you please don’t allow this mistake of mine to undo all the good work we have begun and all we can accomplish together,” Baesler pleaded in her statement. We are all prone to mistakes and lapses in judgment. None of us is perfect. We all have done things that don't make us proud and that we don't want to define us.
Given her accomplishments, her contriteness and forthrightness, Baesler has earned our understanding and forgiveness.