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McFeely: Cramer calls window-peeping Gardner 'a very good man'

Columnist Mike McFeely

The undying love the religious right wing of the North Dakota Republican Party is showing for Will Gardner is getting kind of weird.

Last week, a conservative Fargo radio show host implied the college girls Gardner window-peeped were asking for it by leaving their curtains agape.

This week, for reasons known only to him, a U.S. Senate candidate waded into the controversy by saying, among other odd things, that Gardner is "a very good man."

As the father of a teen-aged daughter, I would not define an adult male looking into the windows of college girls with his pants unzipped (do the prudish Republicans grasp what that fact would seem to suggest Gardner was doing?) as "a very good man." I would define him as a creep. A pervert. A depraved loser, maybe. But "a very good man?" No.

But that's what Rep. Kevin Cramer, the GOP choice to try to unseat Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, said in a Grand Forks radio interview this week. When the conservative host asked what advice Cramer would have given Gardner, the veteran politician launched into platitudes about the disgraced former Secretary of State candidate and suggested that if Gardner had just let the window-peeping furor die down, everything would have been fine.

"I'm not so sure Will wouldn't still have won the Republican endorsement had he revealed this much, much earlier and explained it to people," Cramer said. "I don't think he would've had much of an issue."

Apparently there's room even for Peeping Toms under the GOP's big tent. The Republicans always have branded themselves the party of moral purity and family values. Maybe there's an opportunity here for a new slogan: "Send your daughters off to college and we'll keep an eye on them for you!"

To recap quickly: The Forum reported recently Gardner was cited for looking into at least six windows of the freshman female dorm at North Dakota State University on a January night in 2006, while he was employed by the school. Three campus officers observed him. His activities strongly suggested the window-peeping did not come by happenstance or that he was lured by a seductress to peer at her. Gardner left his van in a nearby parking lot, left his belt and wallet on the front seat and crouched along the side of the dorm until he came to rooms with lights on. He looked into those windows "with his face right up to the glass," according to the police report.

At one point, according to the police, Gardner got spooked and hustled back to the van, where he pretended to tie his shoe for a few moments before returning to look into windows.

Gardner was 29 years old, married and had two children at the time. This wasn't a drunk college kid pulling a prank. This wasn't a guy who made a whoopsies. This was an adult with a plan.

For Cramer and his like-minded Christian brethren, it's all about redemption. They are willing to overlook Gardner's repugnant behavior, which they believe to be a one-time mistake committed by an immature young man, because Gardner later found God.

There seems to be no recognition from Cramer that committing a sex crime that was later pleaded down to disorderly conduct would be a disqualifier from holding public office. There seems to be no recognition of the victims. There seems to be no recognition that Gardner's crime was immoral and debased.

"Sure the Democrats would make an issue of it, as they should because that's what the opposition is supposed to do," Cramer said. "But I don't think it would've been a compelling case."

You could almost hear Cramer shrug his shoulders. No big deal that Gardner was eyeballing somebody's daughter with "the intent to arouse, appeal to, or gratify the defendant's lust, passions or sexual desires." That's the definition of surreptitious intrusion, the crime with which Gardner was originally charged.

The radio host wondered aloud if Gardner could've survived had he just "sat tight" and "let water go under the bridge" for a week after The Forum printed its story. Cramer didn't disagree, saying "a little time is always valuable when you are faced with something like this." He then criticized the state Republican Party for moving so quickly to push Gardner aside.

The host asked whether there's a chance Gardner still had a future in politics.

"I absolutely think there is. I think maybe that was part of his calculation in how he handled it," Cramer said. "Again, I do think North Dakotans, like other Americans, like a redemption story. Will is that. He is, by all measure, by anybody who knows him and knows him well, including his wife, a very good man."

Somebody should track down the college girls who were living on the ground floor in the freshman dorm in January 2006, and through all the years Gardner worked at NDSU, and ask them what they think. There's a chance the words "very good man" wouldn't be used.

Mike McFeely
Mike McFeely is a WDAY (970 AM) radio host and a columnist for The Forum. You can respond to Mike's columns by listening to AM-970 from 8:30-11 a.m. weekdays.
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