Rauschenberger says he used ‘poor judgment’ in lending SUV to alleged drunken driver who crashed it
BISMARCK — State Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger, whose SUV was crashed by an alleged drunken driver Tuesday in Mandan, said he showed “poor judgment” by lending his vehicle to the man he met while in treatment for alcohol problems.
In an emailed statement released Wednesday through Bismarck-based advertising firm Odney, which is helping him with his election campaign, Rauschenberger said he recognized earlier this year that he was having problems with alcohol and sought professional help at Heartview, a chemical dependency treatment center in Bismarck. He said he’s been receiving in- and out-patient treatment.
“Yesterday, I had a relapse during which I showed poor judgment and lent my vehicle to an individual whom I met in treatment,” he said. “He was later involved in a serious accident in Mandan. While I was not present or involved in the accident, I am grateful that no one was injured in the crash.”
Mandan police Sgt. Jay Gruebele said the rollover crash was reported at 2:50 p.m. Tuesday in the 2100 block of Memorial Highway between Mandan and Bismarck.
Jesse Knudsen Larson, 22, of Mandan, was driving alone in Rauschenberger’s 2007 Chevy Tahoe, Gruebele said.
Larson was taken by ambulance to a local hospital, where he was treated and released. He was cited for reckless driving and driving under the influence, Gruebele said. The SUV sustained heavy front-end damage, he said.
Rauschenberger said that while he has taken time out of the office for treatment, “I have made every effort to ensure I fulfill the duties of my office and that the tax department continues to do exceptional work.”
“I am currently working with my counselors to get back on track,” he said. “I am firmly committed to doing everything necessary to deal effectively with this disease and I believe my prognosis is good. I will continue to serve the people of North Dakota to the best of my abilities and will run a vigorous campaign for election this fall.”
Jeff Zent, a spokesman for Gov. Jack Dalrymple, said the governor was aware that Rauschenberger had sought treatment for an alcohol problem.
“(Dalrymple) had been told that the tax commissioner has successfully completed a treatment program, and he’s been back to work,” Zent said.
Dalrymple appointed Rauschenberger as tax commissioner in November to complete the term of former commissioner Cory Fong, who left the post Dec. 31 for a job in the private sector. Rauschenberger had served as deputy tax commissioner since June 2009.
Asked if Dalrymple still had confidence in Rauschenberger’s ability to do the job, Zent said, “The governor is going to be speaking with him as soon as he can. He wants to visit with him and ask him about his health and his responsibilities.”
Rauschenberger, a Republican, is running for a four-term term in November against Democrat Jason Astrup, a Fargo attorney.
Before Rauschenberger released his statement, Astrup said he was reserving judgment until he heard all of the facts about what happened.
“We’ve all been touched by somebody in life that’s struggled with addiction,” he said. “The main thing is to go out and get treatment. Prayers go out to him and his family.”
North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party Executive Director Chad Oban echoed those sentiments and said that while the incident was “really unfortunate,” he was thankful no one was seriously hurt.
As for how it might affect the tax commissioner’s race, “The reality is, this isn’t about politics right now. I think Ryan needs to make some decisions on how he’s going to handle this,” Oban said.
“I would agree with Ryan that there was some poor judgment that was used yesterday,” he said.
North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Robert Harms said in an emailed statement, “Our hearts and prayers go out to Ryan as he seeks professional help for this disease.
“We have always believed that Ryan is a very capable and talented individual. Nothing that has happened has changed that opinion,” he said.
Zent noted that the governor doesn’t have the power to remove Rauschenberger from office.
Under North Dakota law, the governor and other state officeholders may be impeached by the House of Representatives for habitual drunkenness, crimes, corrupt conduct, malfeasance or misdemeanor in office. The impeachment trial takes place in the Senate, and a conviction must be approved by a two-thirds majority.
Rauschenberger’s father, Ron Rauschenberger, is Dalrymple’s chief of staff.
North Dakota’s tax commissioner is paid an annual salary of $108,202.
Nowatzki is a reporter for Forum News Service. Contact him at 701-255-5607 or by email at email@example.com.