GOP not speculating on what happens if Rauschenberger withdraws

BISMARCK -- State Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger has said he's confident he'll back on the campaign trail in "just a few weeks." But should he not return to the race after his leave of absence for alcohol treatment, his name will still appe...

BISMARCK - State Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger has said he’s confident he’ll back on the campaign trail in “just a few weeks.” But should he not return to the race after his leave of absence for alcohol treatment, his name will still appear on the Nov. 4 statewide ballot.
Republican leadership isn’t speculating on what will happen if Rauschenberger withdraws from the race or decides he doesn’t want the job if elected over Democrat Jason Astrup, a Fargo attorney.
“The important thing is he’s getting the treatment that he needs,” North Dakota GOP Executive Director Jason Flohrs said Friday.
“We have every confidence that he is going to be able to return to the job, return to the campaign trail and do that job,” he added. “I’m not going to speculate as to anything past that.”
Rauschenberger has not returned messages left on his cell phone since Wednesday.
Under state law, the deadline for a candidate to withdraw their name from the ballot was 4 p.m. Tuesday, Secretary of State Al Jaeger said.
“And so after that, we cannot take a name off, even if somebody died,” he said, adding, “It doesn’t make any difference what he might decide to do … the name will stay on the ballot.”
Rauschenberger, 31, released a statement Thursday saying he was taking a temporary unpaid leave of absence to seek additional professional help, after acknowledging a day earlier that he had been receiving in-patient and out-patient treatment.
That revelation came on the heels of news that he had lent his 2007 Chevy Tahoe to an alleged drunken driver who rolled the vehicle Tuesday afternoon in Mandan. Rauschenberger came under additional scrutiny Thursday when a police report revealed that he had rear-ended a vehicle Tuesday morning in north Bismarck, about 6½ hours before the rollover crash.
Democrats are calling for answers to what happened in the hours between the two accidents and why Rauschenberger had been hanging out on a workday at the home of the driver who rolled his Tahoe, 22-year-old Jesse Larson of Mandan. Rauschenberger has said he met Larson in treatment. Larson hung up on a reporter who reached him by phone Friday morning.
Rauschenberger was cited for care required in the rear-end crash. Bismarck Police Sgt. Mark Buschena said Friday that the responding officer didn’t test Rauschenberger for alcohol or drugs at the scene but indicated on the accident report that neither appeared to be a factor in the crash. The officer has discretion over whether to administer a test, he said.
As an agency head, Rauschenberger is authorized to approve a leave of absence without pay, including for himself, state human resources officer Lynn Hart said.
Substance abuse services are a covered expense under the health insurance plan for state employees, said Kathy Allen, benefit programs manager for the North Dakota Public Employees Retirement System.
Rauschenberger had served as deputy tax commissioner since 2009 before being appointed by Gov. Jack Dalrymple in November to finish the term of former Commissioner Cory Fong, who left for a job with Odney, the Bismarck-based advertising, marketing and public relations firm consulting Rauschenberger’s campaign.
Odney President Pat Finken confirmed Friday that Rauschenberger “is in treatment and being evaluated.” He said no decision had been made yet about whether to suspend the campaign, adding, “We should know more next week.”
North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party chairman Bob Valeu said voters need Rauschenberger himself to answer unresolved questions now, noting that absentee voting begins in about three weeks, or 40 days before the election.
If Ryan Rauschenberger were to win the Nov. 4 election but decide not the take the job, Dalrymple could appoint a tax commissioner to keep the office in Republican hands until the next general election in November 2016.
“That really becomes a question of whether or not there was some cover-up here,” Valeu said. “That’s why (Rauschenberger) needs to come forward.”

Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at .


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