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GOP: Armstrong 'open and honest' about 2001 drunken driving case

N.D. state Senator Kelly Armstrong, the Republican candidate running for Rep. Kevin Cramer's vacated seat in Congress, has a DUI from 2001 on his driving record. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS -- Both U.S. House candidates in North Dakota have one or more citations on their driving record, the most serious of which appears to be Republican Kelly Armstrong’s 2001 DUI conviction in Virginia.

The North Dakota state senator from Dickinson was cited in January 2001 in Virginia for driving under the influence, according to a background check. He pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge in March 2001 in Williamsburg/James City County (Va.) General District Court.

In a statement, Armstrong acknowledged the DUI, saying he has worked with lawmakers, law enforcement officials “to strengthen DUI penalties in our state.”

“It was a mistake and a very humbling experience for me, but I have been open about it and have shared my story in personal, professional, and political settings on many occasions,” he said. “And as criminal justice reform has advanced in North Dakota, I have used both my personal and professional experiences to help write sound, smart, policy.”

Armstrong also pleaded guilty to a June citation for use of a wireless communication device while driving, which carries a fine of $100. He was cited twice last year for speeding in North Dakota -- an August citation in Billings County for $31 and a September ticket in McLean County for $20.

The Dickinson attorney announced his campaign in February to replace U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, a Republican who is running for Senate against Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. Armstrong will face the state Democratic Party’s choice, Grand Forks attorney Mac Schneider. Schneider, whose full name is McLain Joseph Schneider, had two traffic violations in 2016 in North Dakota -- a $50 speeding ticket in Traill County and one in Burleigh County for improperly parking a vehicle on State Capitol grounds. A background check turned up no other criminal or traffic offenses.

Schneider said he was mistakenly given the parking ticket. The citation was resolved and dismissed.

He said he took responsibility for the speeding ticket. Schneider declined to comment on Armstrong’s citations.

“I’m just going to keep focusing in on the kitchen-table issues that I think are important to North Dakotans,” he said.

The North Dakota Republican Party, which endorsed Armstrong in April, knew about the DUI, according to a statement issued by party Communications Director Jake Wilkins.

"Kelly has always been open and honest about being cited for a DUI while he was in college,” Wilkins said. “During his time in the state Senate, Kelly has publicly shared his story with both legislators and law enforcement. Since then, Kelly has been a leader in both the legal community and in the state Legislature on strengthening our DUI laws.”

The citations

Forum News Service was unable to immediately verify the details of the DUI through the District Court in Virginia, which said it retains records for only 10 years before the records are destroyed. However, a civil case filed by Armstrong against the North Dakota Department of Transportation refers to the criminal charge. In July 2001, Armstrong tried to prevent his license from being suspended because of the conviction, according to court documents.

The appeal came after a July 2, 2001, hearing, in which an official recommended Armstrong’s driving privileges not be suspended, according to court documents filed by Armstrong. Less than 10 days later, the DOT decided to suspend his license for 91 days.

Armstrong argued in court filings the DOT incorrectly interpreted state law that a DUI conviction with a blood alcohol content percentage of 0.09 allows the North Dakota agency to suspend a driving license.

He later withdrew his appeal, and the civil case was dismissed in late August 2001.

Amstrong isn’t the only federal or state candidate on the 2018 general election ballot to have an alcohol-related arrest. North Dakota Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger, a Republican who is running for re-election, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor DUI in late October after being arrested in Mandan. Democratic Secretary of State candidate Josh Boschee pleaded guilty to two separate misdemeanor reckless driving charges -- one in 2006 and another in 2010 -- that involved chemical dependency evaluations.

Forum News Service was unable to see the complaint for Boschee’s 2006 charge by press time, but the 2010 complaint initially was charged as a DUI.

That charge was later amended to one count of reckless driving.

Democratic Party spokesman Alex Rich said the party will not comment on the incident.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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