- Associated Press - Thursday, February 27, 2020

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota’s chief education officer apologized Thursday following her arrest on suspicion of drunken driving, saying she made a “serious mistake.”

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler was pulled over about 10 p.m. Wednesday on Memorial Highway in Mandan, the state Highway Patrol said. The patrol has not said what led to the arrest.

“I made a serious mistake last night, “Baesler said in a statement. “I let down my team at the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction. I let my family down. I let myself down. I am deeply sorry for my actions. I am going to learn from this, seek help, and focus on my well-being and health.”

Baesler, 50, was first elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2016. She announced earlier this month she plans to seek another term.

Baesler returned to work Thursday and attended a meeting of the state Board of University and School Lands, which manages state-owned land and minerals for the benefit of public education. Gov. Doug Burgum is chairman of the board that also includes Baesler, the state treasurer, attorney general and secretary of state.



Baesler told The Associated Press she had no comment beyond her statement.

It’s not Baesler’s first brush with law enforcement while in public office. She was arrested in 2015 on suspicion of assaulting her then-fiance, but a Bismarck city prosecutor dismissed the assault charge for lack of evidence about six weeks later.

Baesler pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft in 1997 in Mandan municipal court. She received a deferred imposition of sentence and was ordered to pay $100. Her spokesman has said she was grocery shopping at the time with her three young children and placed a bag of macadamia nuts in her purse and forgot to pay for them.

Baesler, who grew up in Flasher, also has served as president of Mandan’s school board, ab assistant principal in Bismarck, and member of the North Dakota School Boards Association board.

The superintendent’s job is officially nonpartisan. Candidates run in the same ballot column and are not identified by party. However, Republican and Democratic state convention delegates offer letters of support to favored candidates.

Party support doesn’t guarantee superintendent candidates a spot on the June ballot. They still must obtain at least 300 petition signatures.

North Dakota Democrats will meet March 19-22 in Minot for their state convention, where they will endorse congressional and statewide candidates. North Dakota Republicans are holding their state convention March 27-28 in Bismarck.

Charles Tuttle also is seeking the GOP’s endorsement for superintendent. Tuttle was an unsuccessful independent candidate for North Dakota’s lone U.S. House seat in 2018.

“I’m not going to play on this because alcoholism is a sickness,” Tuttle said of Baesler’s arrest. “I want to beat her on the issues.”

North Dakota Democrats have no announced candidates at present for state superintendent.

Party spokesman Alex Rohr said Baesler’s arrest was concerning.

“We expect our public officials to hold themselves to a higher standard,” Rohr said.

North Dakota United President Nick Archuleta, whose union represents 11,500 public employees and educators, said he did not know if the group would endorse Baesler for another term, as it has in the past.

“We will certainly have a discussion about it,” Archuleta said of Baesler’s arrest. “We are deeply concerned by it.”

Baesler sought and received the Republican Party’s support in 2016 when she was elected with about 75% of the general election vote.

State GOP chairman Rick Berg did not immediately return telephone calls on Thursday seeking comment.

The superintendent of public instruction oversees the state’s public school system, the North Dakota State Library, the School for the Blind and the School for the Deaf. The agency has a two-year budget of more than $2.5 million. The annual salary for the superintendent is $122,810.

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