The Republican-endorsed candidate for North Dakota secretary of state is out of the race just two days after The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead reported on his 2006 window-peeping incident on the North Dakota State University campus.
Will Gardner made the announcement Sunday afternoon in a post to his campaign Facebook page.
“In light of recent events, I have decided to withdraw from the election of Secretary of State. This is the best decision for my family and me,” he wrote in the post.
No further information was provided by the Mandan businessman who defeated longtime Republican incumbent Al Jaeger at the North Dakota Republican Party convention in April, securing the party endorsement. Gardner didn’t respond to a Sunday voicemail from a reporter.
Jaeger, who has been in the office since Jan. 1, 1993, said he didn’t want to comment on the situation until he looked into it more on Monday, May 21.
“I’d like to commend Will Gardner on this decision and doing what is best for his family,” he said. “We’ll be working with the attorney general and my (secretary of state’s office) election division on Monday to find out what the options are going forward in light of his withdrawal.”
The Forum reported Friday, May 18, that Gardner pleaded guilty in February 2006 to disorderly conduct, a charge that stemmed from a Jan. 13, 2006, incident in which an NDSU security guard said they saw him look through windows at women in a freshman dormitory.
According to court documents, officers said Gardner’s pants were unzipped and his shirt front was pulled out, though he told a reporter that his pants weren’t unzipped. He also said he had watched only one woman undress, through court documents suggested officers witnessed him moving to multiple windows to look into occupied rooms.
The incident prompted an original charge of surreptitious intrusion, but Gardner was instead charged with and pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct the next month. He said Friday that “I messed up” and said it was a mistake when he was “young and immature.”
At the time, Gardner was a 29-year-old NDSU employee who was married with two kids.
Gardner’s decision calls into question how Republicans will move forward in the secretary of state race against Democratic-NPL endorsed candidate Josh Boschee, a state legislator from Fargo.
Boschee pleaded guilty to reckless driving in 2006 and 2010 and was ordered to get a chemical dependency evaluation both times. Boschee also pleaded guilty in 2011 to drinking in public.
After Gardner beat Jaeger during the spring Republican convention, Jaeger said he would abide by the decision of delegates and wouldn’t run for re-election.
As of last week, Gardner was slated to appear on the June 12 primary ballot as the endorsed Republican candidate in a largely technical process – as the only GOP candidate on the ballot, he was all but assured a June victory, which would secure him a spot on the November general ballot as the party’s nominated candidate.
But it was unclear Sunday what might happen now.
The North Dakota secretary of state’s election calendar says the deadline for write-in candidates for congressional, statewide or judicial races to get on the June 12 ballot is 4 p.m. Tuesday, May 22.
Independent candidates need to circulate and file petitions by 4 p.m. Sept. 4 to get on the Nov. 6 general election ballot, according to the election calendar. Write-in candidates for congressional, statewide or judicial races have to file by 4 p.m. Oct. 16 to get on the November ballot.