JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Here I Come To Save The Day

President Donald Trump’s propensity to just make stuff up and spit it out to the media, or via Twitter, is contagious. I’m afraid Al Jaeger has caught the bug. C’mon, Al, you’re better than this. Dang.


At the State Republican Convention a month or so ago, convention delegates, disregarding Secretary of State Al Jaeger’s 25 years of loyal service to the Republican Party, kicked him in the nuts and threw him out the convention door, instead giving the party’s endorsement to a girls bicycle seat sniffer named Will Gardner.

To be fair, Al didn’t do his homework. That happens when you sit in a cluttered office in the state Capitol building for 25 years and take your position for granted. If he had done his homework, he’d have learned that his convention opponent had skeletons that would prevent him from being a candidate and would have gotten that word out before the convention. IT’S CALLED OPPOSITION RESEARCH, AL.

I know for sure that the Democratic-NPL candidate Josh Boschee knew about it as soon as the GOP convention was over, but he didn’t leak it — he wanted it to come out in the weeks before the November election, not in May. But he didn’t have control over that. The timing is such that it is more likely a revengeful Jaeger supporter tipped off the Forum reporter who first reported on this.

So about 45 seconds after Gardner posted on his Facebook page that he was pulling out, Al was back in, with this statement:

“I made a decision a year ago, to accomplish some of the things I want to accomplish here, one more term would be great.”

Well, what things would that be, Al? You’ve had 25 years. Your list must be pretty short by now. Maybe you should have talked about those things with the news media before the convention and with the delegates at the convention. Maybe that would have gotten you the nomination.

Or maybe, like Trump does, you just made that up as a reason for getting back in the race. It’s just so easy to make things up and spew them out these days. Trump has written the primer. But I just don’t understand why you would abandon any sense of self-esteem and stoop to running as an independent after a pretty well-credentialed 25-year career. Are you really addicted to that office that badly, Al?

In his mind, I guess, Al has taken on the role of Mighty Mouse — “Here I come to save the daaaay!” I can just see the back-slapping fiesta every time Al walks into a district fundraiser this year. “Hey, Al, thanks for getting in the race. I really thought you should have taken on that little twerp in the primary, but this will work out fine. I was with you all the way. Can’t figure out what the people at that convention were thinking.”

It was a secret ballot at the convention, which Jaeger lost in a landslide, but two who won’t be able to say that are Republican State Reps. Janne Myrdal and Dan Ruby, who gave endorsing speeches for Gardner. I wonder if Gardner has apologized to them yet.

There’s another interesting screwup that could have changed the complexion of this whole race — a screwup by both the Republican Party and Al Jaeger. The voting for secretary of state, which Gardner won, took place Saturday night, April 7. Jaeger could have decided to run in the primary against Gardner. But the filing deadline for candidates was the following Monday, leaving less than 48 hours for a candidate to gather the necessary 300 signatures to get on the ballot. That’s the danger of running your state convention right up to the filing deadline.

Still, Al could’ve done it. If he had raised any money and hired some staff to get him through the convention, they could’ve printed up petitions overnight and gathered the necessary signatures the next day at the convention and at hotels around Grand Forks. But Al made a bad decision, in haste, to not run against Gardner in the primary. A race he surely would have won.

If he had filed petitions Monday, it wouldn’t have mattered what bicycle seats Gardner was sniffing, Al would have won the primary coming in a couple of weeks now and been the Republican-endorsed candidate for secretary of state. Instead, now we have the unseemly situation of the incumbent officeholder having to run with a phony “independent” label.

Nor is Al’s record in office all that great. He’s been criticized roundly by the business community for how slow he’s been at developing technology to get business registrations done. That likely played a role at the convention. And he’s managed to screw up some election stuff as well.

I watch elections more closely than I do business registrations, and I first wrote about him on my old blog back in 2010: “Secretary of State Al Jaeger made the biggest screwup I’ve ever seen a North Dakota elected official make: He left a candidate’s name off the ballot.” The headline on that blog post read “Should Al Jaeger Go to the Pokey?”

What happened was he lost the filing paperwork of a Libertarian candidate for the Public Service Commission, claimed the candidate had never sent it in, left the candidate’s name off the primary ballot, then found the paperwork later, after the filing deadline, and then, after the primary, with Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s blessing, went ahead and put the candidate’s name on the November ballot anyway, rewriting state law without the benefit of the Legislature. That’s power. He lost, of course. There was a series of blog posts about this, which you can read, if you like history and have nothing better to do:

Should Al Jaeger Go To The Pokey?

Nah, Let’s Just Throw Him Out Of Office

A Modest Proposal

Al is also known around the Capitol as one of the most boring men ever to hold office, one to be avoided if you ever see him coming your way. A number of Republican Legislators like to tell this story:

A Legislator’s worst nightmare during the session is to be walking down the Great Hall and you look up and see Al Jaeger coming toward you. You quickly pretend you’ve forgotten something back at your desk and spin around, and there’s Kelly Schmidt coming from the other direction. You’re screwed.

Boring or not, he’s generally harmless and probably hasn’t set foot on a college campus in 40 years, so there’s no coed scandals in his past. But now there’s this:

The man who has served as one of North Dakota’s top three or four state elected officials for 25 years has to print some petitions and go stand on a street corner and ask a thousand people — that’s right, it takes a thousand signatures to get on the general election ballot — to sign a petition just to get his name on a ballot and try to stay in office.

I can’t find anything in the law that that says if he has to get those signatures himself, or if he can pay someone to do it for him. But I’d be pretty cautious about trusting someone else to get people to sign a petition to get on a ballot. There have been plenty of signature scandals in North Dakota on Al’s watch, and his staff has been pretty good at sniffing out irregularities. It wouldn’t look good if the state’s top election officer got caught up in one of those himself.

So if you see a crotchety, bald-headed old man with a bushy white mustache standing on a street corner with a clipboard, peddling a petition, that will be Al Jaeger, writing an ignominious chapter in our state’s political history. Dang. You’re better than this, Al.

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