“If there’s anything you ever did in your life you don’t want to see on the front page of the paper . . .”

From time to time over the years I’ve received phone calls from aspiring politicians seeking advice on whether or not to run for some public office. Generally, it’s something like “Hey, Jim, I’m thinking about running for dogcatcher. I’m wondering what you think about that. You got any advice for me?”

My first response is always the same. “Well, that’s great. It sounds exciting. Now then, if there’s anything you’ve ever done in your life you don’t want to read about on the front page of the paper, then think about that seriously, because it’s going to be there.”

I remember some years back a call from my young friend Wade Williams (well, he wasn’t so young by then, but he was one of the youngest people ever elected to the North Dakota Legislature, at age 21, when I helped him with his campaign for the North Dakota House of Representatives in 1982) who said “Foogle (that was his name for me, like bugle, but pronounced like booger), I’m thinking about running for the North Dakota Public Service Commission. What do you think?”

I can tell this story now because Wade died young, like everything else he did—getting married at age 18, running for the Legislature at 21, getting elected county commissioner at 31, dying at 54 after a lingering illness—and he’d get a kick out of being back in the story one more time.

I remember the conversation as if was yesterday—I was standing in front of my dining room window looking out on my back yard on a rainy Saturday morning.

“Well, Wade,” I said, “I’ll tell you what I tell everyone who calls. If there’s anything you’ve ever done in your life you don’t want to read about on the front page of the paper, then think about that seriously, because it’s going to be there.”

Wade shot back a reply: “LIKE WHAT?”

As in “What have you heard?” Aha. The voice of a guilty man.

“I don’t have any idea,” I said, chuckling to myself over his quick response, “but if you run, you aren’t going to have any secrets anymore, because everything’s going to come out. So if there’s something in your past that’s going to embarrass you . . .”

“I got a DUI a couple years ago.”

Wade had led a bit of a rough and tumble life after leaving the Legislature, so that didn’t surprise me, and I told him he was just going to have to live with it, and decide if it was going to hurt his chances of winning.

In the end, he decided not to make the race, but to stick with the gas station business he had bought a few years earlier.

I’m thinking about that as I read the stories about the young fellow from over in Mandan named Will Gardner, who is the endorsed Republican candidate for North Dakota Secretary of State, but now, after a couple of newspaper stories, says he isn’t.

Turns out Will Gardner, the endorsed Republican candidate for North Dakota Secretary of State, was convicted of being a Peeping Tom. He was caught window peeping at a women’s dorm at North Dakota State University. And the arresting officer said his pants were unzipped and his shirt pulled out. Hmmm.

The first newspaper story said “Gardner pleaded guilty . . . to disorderly conduct. The reason given by prosecutors was he ‘had peeped in numerous female dorm rooms.’ Gardner was initially charged with surreptitious intrusion, listed as a sexual offense in state codes, but reached a deal with prosecutors for a lesser charge.”

Surreptitious Intrusion is Section 12.1-20-12.2 of the North Dakota Century Code, a long, fairly colorful section:

Surreptitious intrusion.

An individual, with the intent to arouse, appeal to, or gratify that individual’s lust, passions, or sexual desires, is guilty of a class A misdemeanor if that individual does any of the following:

a. With intent to intrude upon or interfere with the privacy of another, enters upon another’s property and surreptitiously gazes, stares, or peeps into a house or place of dwelling of another.

b. With intent to intrude upon or interfere with the privacy of another, enters upon another’s property and surreptitiously installs or uses any device for observing, photographing, recording, amplifying, or broadcasting sounds or events from a house or place of dwelling of another.

c. With intent to intrude upon or interfere with the privacy of the occupant, surreptitiously gazes, stares, or peeps into a tanning booth, a sleeping room in a hotel, or other place where a reasonable individual would have an expectation of privacy and has exposed or is likely to expose that individual’s intimate parts or has removed the clothing covering the immediate area of the intimate parts.

There’s more, but that’s enough.

The plea to disorderly conduct doesn’t change what he did—he went peeping in women’s dorm rooms—and he was not some young college student on a Friday night drunk. He was a 29-year-old university employee, married with two kids, and he subsequently resigned from his NDSU job.

So the North Dakota Republican Party endorsed a Peeping Tom for statewide office. And now he says he is withdrawing, leaving his party without a candidate. Yikes!

Dictionary.com defines Peeping Tom as, “a person who obtains sexual gratification by observing others surreptitiously, especially a man who looks through windows at night.”

The origin of the phrase Peeping Tom goes back to Lady Godiva’s famous ride, of course. And it’s all about politics. The Lady took a naked ride through the streets of Coventry to protest high taxes, and she was promised that no one would look. But Tom the Tailor looked, and was struck blind.

Peeping Tom

When Godiva paraded, all bare,

The townsfolk agreed not to stare.

But the temptation was steep

And young Tom took a peep

But swore he just looked at her hair. (author unknown)

Well, I don’t think Will Gardner’s gone blind. Yet. But Will, what were you thinking? Do you think WE’RE blind? Did you think no one would find out you’re a Peeping Tom, because you just pleaded to disorderly conduct? Sorry Will, but somebody remembered. And tipped off a reporter.

Might’ve been old Al Jaeger, the current Secretary of State, the guy you beat at the Republican convention, who’s going to lose his job in January. Revenge is sweet.

Could’ve been a friend of Josh Boschee, the guy you were running against—past tense—although I’m pretty sure Josh himself would never stoop that low.

Or, could’ve been the NDSU security guard who busted you and is pissed at you, because his job is to protect those young women in NDSU dorms, and you got off on a lesser charge. And then you flaunted it by running for statewide office.

Or could’ve just been anyone with a good memory who never expected to see you on a statewide ballot, and is thinking “WTF?”

Will, you should’ve called some old guy in your party, and asked for advice. Because you might have heard “If there’s anything you ever did in your life you don’t want to see on the front page of the paper . . .”

Footnote: The filing deadline for the Republican Party to file a new candidate for the June Primary is April 9, long past. Without a candidate certified by the June Primary, there can be no candidate for that party on the General Election Ballot in November. As far as I can tell, they could run someone as an Independent candidate (Hmmm, what’s Drew Wrigley doing these days?), but not on the Republican ticket. Unless there is some provision for filling a vacancy I don’t know about. Ironically, the man who will have to sort this all out is Al Jaeger. Stay tuned. THAT ought to be interesting.

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