Two comments on the state of politics today:
- John Hoeven lied.
- Start practicing now, so you are ready, in 2017, to say “Governor Stenehjem” and “President Clinton.”
First John Hoeven. I am glad that it took me a few days to get around to writing this, because last week I was walking through a dusty parking lot in the Bad Lands and the Senator, who I actually like a lot, came barreling up to me in a black pickup, and then stopped, with his window down, and asked “Did you think I was going to run you down?” We laughed and visited for a minute. Given another opportunity, after he reads this . . .
What he lied about was, upon learning that Jack Dalrymple is not going to run for Governor again, he said that Dalrymple “has earned the appreciation and respect of all North Dakotans.”
That’s a bunch of B.S. Not mine. I neither respect nor appreciate Jack Dalrymple and what he has done. Neither do thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of others who have struggled with the dramatic effects of the oil boom that could have been avoided if we had had a Governor who really cared about the state and its people, and not just about the almighty dollar.
Jack Dalrymple sold out our state to the oil industry, and polluted the State Capitol with regulators who were told to clear a path for the wholesale destruction of western North Dakota. And he got the job done.
Environmentally, Jack Dalrymple will go down in history as the worst North Dakota Governor ever. Despite an industry slowdown in the face of low oil prices, the State Health Department reports there were almost 1,500 spills of oil and saltwater in western North Dakota since September 1 of 2014. About four, somewhere in the oil patch, every day, some big, some small, but all requiring that gooey oil or poisonous brine or both have to be cleaned up from North Dakota’s earth and water. Wetlands, home to fish and birds and four-footed critters, have been polluted, fish are dying, poison and raw sewage from the city of Williston are going into the reaches of the Missouri River.
Sociologically, the damage is worse. Lack of teachers and day care workers, because they cannot afford the rent on $2,500 a month apartments. Spouse abuse and child abuse reports in the paper every day. Rapes, robberies, murders and traffic fatalities in numbers we’ve never seen before. If Donald Trump wants to build a wall to keep out rapists, he should build it around North Dakota. Cities and counties can’t build jails fast enough to keep up with the incoming traffic from the courtrooms. And they’re building them at local taxpayers’ expense, taxpayers who had no say in how an industry full of bad guys was going to take over their communities and endanger their lives.
Highways and other infrastructure are so stressed that the Legislature had to literally throw a billion dollars into the air over western North Dakota for cities, counties and the state DOT to scramble for, to try to fix things to accommodate as many as a hundred thousand new people in just a few short years’ time.
If I had to pick just one word to define Jack Dalrymple’s time as Governor, it would be chaos. Unregulated and unrestricted chaos.
And much of it could have been avoided if Dalrymple had said, like Art Link did before him, “We welcome this new industry to our state, and we’re going to let grow at a pace we can deal with.”
Instead, oil industry contributions now approaching a million dollars into Dalrymple’s campaign coffers bought all the permits necessary to create the most chaotic scene our state has ever faced. He was still raising money from the industry in 2014, two years after his last election and two years before his next, and I’m betting when he files a campaign disclosure report next January we’ll see that those checks kept coming in right through this year.
No, sir, Senator Hoeven, count me among those who have no respect and no appreciation for this Governor.
Well, enough of that. Jack’s not running. Who is? My friend Jeff and I were out in the boat the other day when Jack’s announcement came, so we started talking about it. What we decided was, it would be easier to compile a list of people who SHOULD NOT run for Governor. We both shouted “Dwight Kiefert” at the same time. Remember him, the Republican legislator from Valley City who refused to let a Muslim lead a prayer in the North Dakota House of Representatives, and then, when the Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage is the law of the land, wrote on his Facebook page “Yea, gay marriage is legal in all 50 states. Great victory for the METALLY (sic) ILL!!!!!” Okay, so he’s out. Who else?
Well, probably Margaret Sitte and Betty Grande, two former Legislators who could only find one issue—abortion—to deal with in their last terms in the Legislature two years ago. They won’t be back anywhere, anytime soon. If the party is looking for someone to create a daily flashpoint, they’d choose House Majority Leader Al Carlson, but I don‘t think they want that, so Al probably shouldn’t run. Is Leon Mallberg dead? If not, he probably shouldn’t run.
Ryan Rauschenberger and Kirsten Baesler have been to one too many parties, and they’re going to have to fight to just retain the jobs they have now, so count them out.
Then there’s the strange case of Drew Wrigley, the Lieutenant Governor and, many thought, heir apparent to the office. Wrigley has gotten himself tangled up in a messy personal situation that probably precludes his nomination by a party looking always for candidates with high moral standards. The story of Wrigley’s indiscretions has spread across the state like wildfire in the days since Dalrymple’s announcement, and it’s being spread by people with titles in the party’s hierarchy, so it seems to have legs. It will be interesting to see how it plays out in the days and weeks to come, but it has to come as a big disappointment to Dalrymple and many party leaders.
It was Dalrymple who plucked Wrigley from his job as a lawyer for Blue Cross Blue Shield, following a stint as the state’s U.S. Attorney, and seemingly anointed him as the future of the party. He’s young (50), handsome, articulate and well-met, and would seemingly have a bright future with Dalrymple’s departure. But rumors and whisper campaigns can take a toll among convention delegates, especially if they are true, and it appears that prospective delegates will have to settle for a proven winner of a bit older rank, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, whose age has the first number 6.
But Stenehjem, who seemingly would have a lock on the nomination if he wants it, may not be the favorite of the conservative wing of the party, or of the oil industry, both of which wield strong influence in North Dakota’s Republican Party. Stenehjem angered the oil boys with his “Extraordinary Places” proposal last year, an attempt to set aside some areas of the state as oil well-free zones. It was just that—an attempt—and it has failed miserably, from what I can see. Still, it may have been viewed by the industry as a sign Stenehjem has a bit of a green streak, and they don’t want any of that in the man who hires regulators and issues permits.
Conservatives could be looking for an alternative to Stenehjem, confident in the fact that even if they bypass a proven vote-getter, the Democratic-NPL Party is in such a shambles that they could win the office even without their best vote-getter on the ticket. Senators David Hogue and Oley Larson from Minot and Representatives Jim Kasper from Fargo and Mike Nathe of Bismarck come to mind.
And the wild card is Fargo’s Doug Burgum, who sold his software company to Microsoft for many millions and has been doing good works with his family foundation and real estate company. He’s already a member of the Roughrider Hall of Fame, the state’s highest honor, and is a favorite of both parties. But he’s no conservative, and has never really been interested in elective office. Indeed he told me one time, years ago, he keeps his hair a bit on the long side to keep the Republicans from his door. But times change, he’s a restless soul, and he’s hinted he might be interested.
A race between he and Stenehjem would be fun to watch, but Stenehjem is no sure bet to make the race either, from what I can tell, although he’s probably more likely with Wrigley out of the way. He’s got the best job in the state for a lawyer. He makes more money than the Governor, so he’d have to take a pay cut. And being Governor is a lot more work than being Attorney General. AG’s usually get to go home at night. Not always so with so Governors.
His friends tell me that his wife Beth is probably not keen on being in the spotlight as First Lady, but her involvement in a number of charitable causes could benefit from the bully pulpit of being First Lady.
Still, the smart money at this point would be Governor Stenehjem.
I’ll talk about the Democrats one of these days. At this point, I’ll just stick with former Senator Hillary Clinton as our next president. I learned long ago never to bet against a Clinton. She’s getting her own personal damaging issues out of the way early—Benghazi and e-mail servers will be distant memories a year from now—and she’ll choose a vice president candidate to shore up any shortcomings in her ability to govern. And the Republicans will have self-destructed by mid-March, is my guess, so her victory will be easier than we expect right now.
So start practicing: President Clinton. Governor Stenehjem. President Clinton. Governor Stenehjem. Say them over and over. Get used to them.
FOOTNOTE: One of my friends said the other day, when Dalrymple announced his decision, “Good, maybe we’ll get a Governor whose name we can spell.” Sorry. It’s Stenehjem. Practice spelling that for a while.