Three years ago Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger was involved in incidents that resulted in his admission that he had an alcohol problem and he sought treatment. At the time he said the pressures of work and an election campaign had become too much to handle and he turned to drinking.
Rauschenberger went on to easily win another term in office in November 2014. Now, a little over a year from another election, Rauschenberger is back in the news for the wrong reasons. He announced last week that he’ll plead guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol. He was arrested in Mandan last month by a Highway Patrol officer. His blood alcohol content was .206 percent, more than twice the legal limit, according to information provided by Rauschenberger.
Rauschenberger, 34, will appear in court on Tuesday.
For a first offense, state law mandates a minimum $500 fine and an "addiction evaluation by an appropriate licensed addiction treatment program." His BAC level would make it an aggravated offense, which carries a minimum $750 fine and at least two days' imprisonment.
He admits he made two bad decisions; one was to drink and the other was to drive. He says he’ll return to treatment and get a new counselor. In 2014 he took a leave of absence, but he says he won’t miss any work this time. He says he’s focused on recovery.
Most North Dakotans are aware of the problems posed by alcohol. The state ranks high in binge drinking and other areas related to alcohol abuse. Gov. Doug Burgum and his wife have made alcohol and drug issues one of the centerpieces of his administration. It isn’t easy to overcome a drinking problem and it can be difficult to admit to having one.
So we shouldn’t be too eager to abandon Rauschenberger. However, since he’s an elected official he has a responsibility to take care of himself and to be transparent with the public about his treatment and progress.
The Tribune Editorial Board believes what we said in a 2014 editorial about Rauschenberger remains valid. Part of the editorial stated:
"North Dakotans should not accept a 'politics as usual' mentality, the type prevalent in other states. Our principles and values — those that favorably define our state — can't be sacrificed. Elected officials and political parties should be held to the highest possible standards without exception. Ultimately, they work for and need to answer to those funding their paychecks.
"Transparency and full accountability are what we, as taxpayers, are entitled to for any public figure. The extent of Rauschenberger's affliction and how it influenced his behavior and judgment during his time in office will likely remain unknown. Still, he needs to be willing to provide answers in the days ahead. It's a reasonable expectation."
First lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum recently had the courage to speak at Recovery Reinvented, a daylong program that looked at addiction and recovery. She discussed her experiences from 15 years in recovery from drinking.
Rauschenberger isn’t at that point yet, but we hope he reaches it soon. Along with his treatment he must decide in the next few months whether he wants to commit to the challenges of a re-election race. If he does, he’ll have the opportunity to convince the voters he deserves another term. He needs to ask himself if he can handle the rigors of the race and the office. He owes it to voters to be honest with himself and the public. There’s no shame in putting himself first and not running for office.
But first he must renew his journey toward recovery. He serves as a reminder, as does the Burgums’ focus on drug and alcohol abuse, of the terrible consequences of addiction.