- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 8, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger will return to work Thursday after taking a month of unpaid leave to seek treatment for alcohol addiction.

“I’m feeling well, and I’ll be in bright and early tomorrow morning,” Rauschenberger told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “I’m glad I did what I did and got help.”

Rauschenberger, a 31-year-old Republican, said he underwent in-patient treatment at a facility in Minnesota and plans on continuing out-patient treatment in Bismarck.

Rauschenberger revealed his alcohol addiction last month to a conservative blogger and in a statement.

Fargo attorney Jason Astrup, the 35-year-old Democrat running against Rauschenberger for tax commissioner in November, said Wednesday that it’s tough to debate issues when his opponent took a month off from the job - and the campaign trail - to seek treatment.

Astrup said the only place Rauschenberger has been visible as a candidate is in television campaign advertising that touts his qualifications for the job, which involves managing billions of dollars in tax revenue for the state annually.

“I’d love to debate him,” Astrup said. “But it’s frustrating. It’s hard to have a debate with someone who’s in rehab.”

Astrup has raised about $40,000 in campaign contributions, or less than half of his opponent, documents show.

Rauschenberger said he’s “absolutely up for a debate” sometime soon.

“My focus has been on treatment,” Rauschenberger said. “The campaign, the job and treatment - there just hasn’t been enough time in the day.”

Rauschenberger, a certified public accountant who’s single and has no children, is the son of Ron Rauschenberger, Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s chief of staff.

Dalrymple appointed Rauschenberger to the post in November to serve the remainder of the term held by Cory Fong, who quit the post to join Odney Advertising. The Bismarck-based company also is Rauschenberger’s campaign consultant.

North Dakota’s tax commissioner is paid more than $105,000 annually. The agency that collects an assortment of state taxes has 134 employees and a two-year budget of $57 million.

State Republican Party chairman Robert Harms has said that millions of Americans have successfully managed alcohol addiction and that Republicans expect Rauschenberger to do the same and serve as a role model.

Astrup said he hopes Rauschenberger gets well but questioned his opponent’s leadership in “one of the most important agencies in the state.”

“Do voters really trust him to do the job?” he said.

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