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Tax commissioner should consider stepping down

Every American knows someone with an alcohol problem. And every North Dakotan deeply sympathizes with Ryan Rauschenberger and hopes for a good outcome from the treatment he’s entered into.

But that being sincerely said, the fact that Rauschenberger is tax commissioner means there’s also a question of what’s best for the state. And given the fact of Rauschenberger’s addiction, the fact that he has been in treatment before, the circumstances of his recent relapse and the sense that recovery, for a while, is likely to be a full-time job, Rauschenberger should give serious thought to resigning — for both his own health and the good of the state.

Appointed by Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Rauschenberger took office in January to fill out the previous tax commissioner’s term. He’s friendly and professional and by all accounts did a great job in his earlier post as deputy tax commissioner.

“In general, Ryan is doing extremely well and contributing significantly to the department,” then-Tax Commissioner Cory Fong wrote in a 2012 evaluation.

But Rauschenberger has wrestled with alcohol addiction and went through treatment earlier this year. Now, he’s back in treatment after an alcohol-related episode on Tuesday, in which Rauschenberger lent his car to a man he’d met in treatment — and who then crashed the car while being, police say, under the influence.

As mentioned, Americans are no strangers to alcohol addiction — and in one key sense, that’s extremely good news. The disease has lost much of its stigma in recent decades, so much so that the country twice elected as president George W. Bush, despite the serious problems with alcohol Bush had had as a young man.

Rauschenberger is a young man himself. And if he emerges from treatment sober, then he still could go a very long way, as Bush’s example shows.

But the question is whether Rauschenberger should stay on as tax commissioner today, which also would mean continuing to run for election in November.

And the past week’s events make us suspect the answer is no.

First up are the lingering questions about those events. Bob Valeu, chairman of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party, stated them plain:

“Why was Rauschenberger not at work on Tuesday afternoon and was instead at a stranger’s home when his vehicle was involved in a rollover in Mandan?” Valeu asked in a press release.

“What happened between Rauschenberger’s first traffic accident at 8:21 a.m. on Tuesday and the second traffic accident at 2:50 p.m. later that same day?

“How much time from work has Rauschenberger missed? What impact has his addiction had on his official responsibilities?

“Why are statements coming from Odney Advertising and not from the Tax Department? To what extent is Odney overseeing political damage control?”

Those are just a few of Valeu’s good questions. And if Rauschenberger sincerely wants to regain voters’ (and our) trust, he should answer them fair and square.

In addition, though, it’s concerning that Rauschenberger relapsed after his treatment earlier this year. Might not that be related to the pressures of his work and his campaign?

And if so, then might not Rauschenberger want to step down, not only to avoid those stresses but also to devote himself wholeheartedly to recovery?

There’s an election looming, but politics shouldn’t enter into this. Rauschenberger’s battling a disease while running a department and holding a powerful state post. The department needs a full-time executive; the state needs a commissioner who’s in full command of his faculties. And Rauschenberger likely needs to focus on the one thing that’ll secure his bright future: Getting well.

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