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Heitkamp, Cramer spar on issues in first debate after Democratic incumbent apologizes for newspaper ad

Zaleski: Big screw up by ND GOP; 'old school'

How was it that the North Dakota Republican Party did not ask a candidate for secretary of state the essential question? "Is there anything, in your history that could embarrass the party and scuttle your candidacy?" How could it be that savvy political operatives did not have the perspicacity to probe Will Gardner's personal and professional life before he made his pitch to the endorsing convention? Why did an honest(?), go-to-Mass family man leave off his resume a crime that was sure to be exposed?

For observers who said the party should stick with outstanding public servant, incumbent Secretary of State Alvin Jaeger, it's I-told-you-so time. So, to rub it in a little: I told you so.

GOP delegates bought the myth that youthful Gardner was just what the party needed. He was a star. This articulate, camera-friendly guy would be secretary of state for a term or two, and then be the perfect candidate for higher office. The stepping-stone strategy. Turned out it was stumbling-stone strategy.

Let's be clear. Gardner's behavior was no fraternity prank. Facts in the 2006 police report are disturbing in and of themselves: more so because Gardner was a 29-year-old father and an employee of North Dakota State University where the crime occurred. He lied to officers who caught him window shopping at a girls' residence hall.

The onus for the peep creep is on Gardner. The incident was a disqualifier. Hiding it was a lie of omission. Still, blame rests with party leaders who did not vet the candidate. The party's negligence compounded Gardner's lie. Or was it the arrogance of political power?

A word about John Lohman, The Forum's retired associate editor who died May 21 at age 82:

John was old school. An engineer by education and a newspaperman by choice, he loved the craft of journalism. His experience informed his "institutional memory," and all of us benefited from it. By the time I came to The Forum in 1987, John had been in the newsroom for some 30 years. He'd cut his reporting teeth in the aftermath of the 1957 Fargo tornado. He was last surviving member of the team that won the Pulitzer Prize for storm coverage.

John was tough. His criticism could be harsh. His purpose was pure: Publish the best possible newspaper every day. Reporters who did not measure up could find themselves in John's doghouse. Some of them belonged there. In his last years in the newsroom, his value was underscored as he kept the operation humming when an editor died or was fired. He knew budgets. He was an advocate for newsroom resources.

In addition to the Pulitzer, John was honored for outdoor writing. His weekly page featured traditional hunting and fishing. He was credible because he was an avid angler and hunter.

After he retired, I'd see John and wife Dorothy in church. Before his Alzheimer's disease advanced, we'd talk and he'd criticize his old newspaper—how standards had gone to hell. I disagreed, but not always. Change is hard, I'd say. Not all change is good, he'd say.

Now that I'm retired, I sense wisdom in John's old school notions.

Zaleski retired in 2017 after nearly 30 years as The Forum’s editorial page editor. He continues to write a Sunday column. Contact him at or (701) 566-3576