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Governor accepts resignation of N.D. commerce commissioner after 'unacceptable' email

Governor accepts resignation of N.D. commerce commissioner after 'unacceptable' email

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Gov. Doug Burgum has accepted the resignation of North Dakota Commerce Commissioner Jay Schuler in the wake of an "unacceptable" email and attachment apparently referencing Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s U.S. Supreme Court confirmation process.

“Jay has apologized for sending to Commerce Department staff an email this morning that was unacceptable in official communications with team members,” Burgum said in a statement Monday afternoon. 

The Tribune obtained Schuler's email and attachment in open records requests. In the 262-word message, Schuler references Kavanaugh — whose confirmation has grown chaotic amid sexual assault allegations — and "some interesting points for one to reflect on."

His email read, in part:

“In my personal life, when in the 7th grade at St. Mary’s grade school in Minnesota, I did some not so nice things. Teacher, Sister Maria would have taken me to the wood shed if she had known. Things I would punish my children for if they did what I did. Today these actions are something I regret.  In my late teen years there was also some situations that I would just as soon forget. Do these breakdowns in judgement define me as a person. I hope not. It was something I learned from.

“The point is, a number of us do stupid things. Look at St. Peter, he denied knowing Jesus 3 times. The number of people that live a perfect life like Jesus are rare. The majority of us strive to be good human beings and help our fellow man. Unfortunately a lot of us go sideways once in a while.”

The attachment to Schuler's email referenced traits of "A Perfect Man," such as "makes his own bed," "cleans his room," "works sincerely" and "does not touch alcohol." 

"Where do you find such Perfect Men?" Schuler's attachment said. "Answer: Jail," followed by a laughter emoji. 

The Tribune also requested and received an apology email Schuler sent department-wide about four hours after his initial message. It read: 

"All," Schuler wrote. "It was bad judgement for me to send out an email with my personal experiences and insinuated opinions to our Commerce team. Didn’t mean to offend or create a difficult situation for anyone. Please accept my apology."

State Department of Commerce spokesman Jesse Bradley said Schuler also met with staff at 4 p.m. Monday "to apologize again and thanked all of them."

In his statement, Burgum thanked Schuler for "the positive work he has done on behalf of commerce," including hires and work with entrepreneurs and intellectual property.

"The Commerce Department will continue to work to improve the quality of life and economic success for North Dakota citizens,” the governor said.

In a statement from the governor's office, Schuler said the email was "an error in judgment." 

"I did not mean to offend or create a difficult situation for anyone and I’ve expressed my sincere apologies to the team,” he said. “We have outstanding team members in commerce who come to work every day with the intent of making the state better for North Dakota citizens, and I appreciate their hard work and commitment.”

On Monday afternoon, the governor appointed Deputy Commissioner Shawn Kessel as Schuler's interim successor until the position is permanently filled. Kessel had been Schuler's deputy since June.

Kessel told the Tribune that Schuler sent the email to all internal members of state Department of Commerce staff. As of May, there were 47 full-time staff members.

Bradley said Schuler had nothing to add beyond the governor's statement from Monday afternoon. Governor’s spokesman Mike Nowatzki said he had nothing to add to the statement.

Burgum appointed Schuler in January 2017, noting his background as an entrepreneur and co-founder of GIANT Sunflower Seeds. 

Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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