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Jim Fuglie

Jim Fuglie is a native of Hettinger, ND, a U.S. Navy veteran (1968-1972) and majored in communications at Dickinson State College (now Dickinson State University) in Dickinson, ND. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and editor, as a speechwriter and communications director for North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Myron Just and as Executive Director of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party. He worked at the Herald from late 1975 to early 1976. In 1985, Jim was appointed North Dakota Tourism Director by Governor George Sinner and served in that post until 1992. He later worked as Development Director for the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation and as public relations director for Kranzler Kingsley Communications in Bismarck. He retired in 2009, and he and his wife Lillian, the retired Director of Library Services at Dickinson State University, now live in Bismarck and spend much of their time exploring the back roads and trails of the North Dakota Bad Lands.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — A Full Moon? Easter? April Fool’s Day? Well, Kind Of

Did you see that big old moon setting in the southwest this morning? Me, too. And then I thought, this is really cool, a full moon, Easter and April Fool’s Day, all at once.

Except that’s not possible. It’s not possible to have a full moon Easter Sunday. Because the rule is, Easter is celebrated the first Sunday AFTER the first full moon after the Spring Equinox.

So, the moon pulled an April Fool’s joke on us this morning. It only looked full. The full moon occurred at exactly 7:36 a.m. Saturday (I don’t know if that’s Central Daylight Time, or Greenwich Mean Time — the internet didn’t specify, but it definitely was Saturday), so today is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox, which was March 20 this year — but don’t get me started about how the Spring Equinox is determined — that’s a subject for another day.

So, the moon was actually 98.6 per cent full this morning, according to the internet, a waning gibbous moon. Of note, it also happened to be a blue moon, the second full moon in the month of March.

I actually wrote a whole blog about this moon and Easter phenomenon a couple of years ago, You can read it here.

Oh, by the way, Lent is over. My sister-in-law, Sarah, can turn on her TV again this morning. And my other sister-in-law, Beckie, can have a glass of wine for breakfast. And I can eat my Peeps.

Happpy Easter, Everyone!

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Another Set Of Eyes On Our Wild Bad Lands

North Dakota has more than a million acres of public land, most of it in western North Dakota, our Little Missouri National Grasslands, managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

Most of it is grazing land, although it’s grazed by more than cattle and sheep. Pretty much every creature that lives in North Dakota has a presence there. For some — mule deer, sharp-tailed grouse, sage grouse, prairie dogs, coyotes, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope and countless species of birds, including our state bird, the Western Meadowlark — it is critical habitat. Studies done by state and federal agencies and numerous wildlife organizations confirm that most of those species are stressed. Some are in danger.

As recently as 40 years ago, more than half of those million acres were wild lands, roadless, designated as “suitable for wilderness.” Countless species thrived there, and the human presence was infrequent and temporary, limited to those of us who wanted some form of wilderness recreation — hunting, birding, hiking, camping, canoeing, photography, or just sitting in the shade of a cottonwood tree watching fluffy white clouds float through a crystalline blue sky. And the ranchers and their cows, of course.

Then came oil. In two booms, the Billings Anticline boom of the 1970s, fueled by the creation of OPEC, and the Bakken Boom of the 21st century, a product of horizontal drilling and fracking. And there went our wilderness.

Eager to pour oil royalty dollars into the federal treasury, the government opened the grasslands to oil development, and today we have just 40,000 acres out of that million — about 4 per cent — available as “suitable for wilderness.” I’ve bemoaned these facts and numbers endlessly on this blog, and I won’t apologize because it is important to remember and realize what we have done — to the land and to the critters who live there — or used to.

So imagine my joy to hear that a new organization was making its way into North Dakota, an organization made up of people who really CARE about those public lands, and are doing things to preserve and protect them.

An e-mail from a friend in early January told me there was going to be an informational gathering — attractively called a “Pint Night,” and I know what pints are all about — in a downtown meeting room, sponsored by a group called Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. The group, my friend said, was interested in public lands in the western part of the United States and access to that land for hunting and fishing, as well as other outdoor activities.

“Oh, Damn!” I thought. Access. A bunch of crazy four-wheelers trying to find new ways to get their noisy machines into our roadless areas. I Googled them. Much to my surprise, it turns out just the opposite — the group wants to protect public lands and maintain habitat for the birds and animals who live there.

Keeping wild places like this wild is the goal of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. (Photo by Bill Kingsbury)
Keeping wild places like this wild is the goal of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. (Photo by Bill Kingsbury)

The “access” issue they’re talking about is dealing with the purchase of large tracts of private lands, blocking gateways into these public areas — a more and more common practice across America’s West these days. Well, I thought, hooray for them. At the appointed hour on the appointed night, I drove to downtown Bismarck to learn more about these people.

As I walked through the door and looked around the room, I got the feeling that about half of all the testosterone in North Dakota was gathered in one place. Perhaps 50 or 60 young men — big, strong, young men, most between the ages of 25 and 40, I’d guess, not the paunchy aging baby boomers we’re used to seeing at wildlife club meetings and DU banquets — had gathered to learn about these Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

The uniform of the evening was plaid flannel shirts, jeans and well-worn boots, and most were wearing baseball caps (with the brims pointed forward), with a smattering of battered cowboy hats. And there were a few women, also dressed like they were ready to venture outdoors, with their husbands or boyfriends, or on their own.

The men and women were leaning casually against the walls of the room, almost all holding a bottle of beer, and a few sat at scattered tables, listening to a fellow,  dressed like they were, talking about organizing to influence public officials.

BHA’s trademark is these “Pint Nights,” a familiar scene in the 34 states and two Canadian provinces that already have their own chapters of the organization (including South Dakota), dedicated to the protection of public lands and waters and providing responsible access to those lands and waters for Americans who want to enjoy our country’s great outdoor resources.

I’ve been a member of a lot of conservation, sporting and outdoors organizations (and now a member of this one), but this was the first I had heard of BHA. Founded in 2004 by small group of Montanans who saw a lot of problems with the management of our nation’s wild places and public lands, they came up with an idea for addressing the problems. They set out to create a grass-roots organization focused not on protecting one specific species, river or hunting area but on ecosystem-wide conservation across the continent. They wanted to create a voice for the silent wilderness. A wilderness they enjoyed as hunters and anglers.

Today they have grown an organization approaching 20,000 members. BHA President and CEO Land Tawney (yes, that’s his real name), who was the one speaking that January night in Bismarck, and at subsequent gatherings in Fargo and Minot, to help launch a North Dakota BHA chapter, told me later that North Dakota’s been on his radar for a while, and now volunteers have stepped forward to help get it going.

South Dakota’s chapter was formed in 2017, rallying around the issue of stopping the transfer of Black Hills National Forest land to the state for creation of a park in Spearfish Canyon. So far, they’ve succeeded, but the issue is long from resolved. One of the chapter’s founders, Jessie Kurtenbach of Deadwood, S.D., said the group will continue to work to protect Spearfish Canyon and is also deeply involved in the South Dakota meandered lakes law controversy, as well as working to protect all of South Dakota’s 2.6 million acres of public land.

In North Dakota, two volunteer co-chairs, Russ Senske of Bismarck and Adam Leitschuh of Minot, have started organizing a chapter whose initial mission, Senske says, is to promote responsible use of North Dakota’s Little Missouri National Grasslands. The key word there is “responsible.”

Tawney and the North Dakota men, Senske and Leitschuh, are concerned about our federal roadless areas, and stress their importance to men and women who enjoy the outdoors.

“Theodore Roosevelt came here to find solace as a young man, and this is where he developed his conservation ethic,” Tawney told me. “He preserved a lot of wild lands. We’re not making wild lands any more. We need to protect what we have.”

Tawney, a native Montanan and wildlife biologist with a B.S. degree from the University of Montana (and, he says, a Ph.D. in Post Hole Digging while fencing in the family quarter horses and mules), is a veteran of the conservation battles, spending time with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the National Wildlife Federation before coming to  BHA in 2013.

Both he and Senske stressed that stopping the illegal use of off-highway vehicles in the National Grasslands is a priority. Senske, a Wisconsin native and restoration ecologist by training who works as an environmental scientist for the North Dakota Department of Transportation, said increased signage in the grasslands is a high priority, with an eye to protecting sensitive wildlife habitat. Wetland wildlife habitat and enhancement of the PLOTS program will also be high on the priority list in North Dakota.

Additionally, at the federal level, Tawney says BHA maintains a presence in Washington, D.C. to keep an eye on outdoors issues, like monitoring attacks on the Clean Water Act and preserving and enhancing the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a key funding source for outdoor recreation and habitat improvement in both Dakotas.

All the organization’s leaders stressed the importance of keeping young people involved in issues concerning outdoor recreation. “We do reach out to a new generation of sportsmen and women, using a lot of social media,” Tawney said. “I think young people today like the fact we call it like we see it — we stand up for the resource.”

Senske said the North Dakota group will be submitting a formal letter of intent to form a BHA chapter here in April, and they hope to have an active chapter here soon after that.

Anyone looking for more information, or who wants to become a member (dues are just $25 per year and that include a subscription to a slick quarterly magazine), can look at the organization’s website, backcountryhunters.org (just click to go there). North Dakotans who want to talk to someone about being part of the new chapter can send an e-mail to backcountryhuntersnd@outlook.com.

The organization is a welcome addition to both the Dakotas. Our public lands need all the friends they can get. As Tawney says, they’re not making wild land any more.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Remembering Two Great Men

Friday I attended the funeral for one of the greatest men I have ever known — George Sinner, governor of the state of North Dakota from 1985 to 1993. I worked for him those years and came to know him and love him, much like a son might love his father. He was just 20 years older than me, so not really a father figure, but it was the timing of when I came to know him that drew me to him.

Just days before he was to become the Democratic-NPL Party’s nominee for governor in the 1984 election, my own father died — March 16, 1984. I was the executive director of the Democratic-NPL Party that year, so our paths crossed regularly, often daily, and when Sinner won, he offered me a job, and I took it.

After Gov. Sinner’s funeral and a thoughtfully provided tuna salad sandwich (not unexpected, of course — most of his family and more than half the mourners were Catholic) at the post-funeral reception, Lillian and I climbed into the back seat of the Buick owned by our friends Jeff and Linda.

And with Jeff driving, heading west on Interstate 94, I laid back in my seat, closed my eyes and thought of THE greatest man I ever knew, on the 34th anniversary of his death. I remembered the details — and that’s something because Lillian will tell you I don’t remember many details anymore — of a trip we took to Fargo together many years ago, in 1966, I think.

As Jeff’s car cruised noiselessly down I-94, I remembered how different that 1966 trip was, in a 1959 Pontiac station wagon on a road that was only partly complete, and we kept shifting from two lanes to four and back, dodging trucks laying cement for the new Interstate highway, bumping our way along at about 55, some 20 mph slower than what Jeff drove Friday.

I smiled as I thought about him, as I do every March 16, and how it still seems unfathomable that he’s been gone that long and what a good man and a good friend he was. Much like George Sinner, to whom we said good-bye March 16, 2018. And now, I’ll have two great men think about on that day, every year.

Four years ago I wrote a piece about my dad on the 30th anniversary of his death. I think I’ll just republish it here because I know my brothers and sisters will like it, and maybe a few of you will as well. And because it makes me feel good to read it too. Here’s the piece I published on March 16, 2014, under the headline “The Greatest Man I Ever Knew.”

The United States entered World War II shortly after the bombing at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Just a few months later, in the spring of 1942, at the close of the Devils Lake Junior College school year, a handful of young North Dakotans, the nucleus of the school’s hockey team,  finished their two-year stint at the college, joined the U.S. Navy and headed off to fight the war.

Newspaper clipping from the summer of 1944, shortly before Carlyle was killed. Note the paper referred to Oliver as “Whitey.”
Newspaper clipping from the summer of 1944, shortly before Carlyle was killed. Note the paper referred to Oliver as “Whitey.”

All but one of them — Carlyle James Fuglie, my namesake and my father’s brother, who was killed when a kamikaze pilot struck the deck of his ship — survived the war.

Gathering back in Devils Lake at the end of 1945, at the conclusion of the war, they discussed among themselves what to do with their lives. The one thing they were sure of is that they wanted to spend those lives in North Dakota. One of them mentioned that North Dakota had a shortage of eye doctors — optometrists. Small towns, and even medium sized ones like Dickinson, Valley City and Jamestown, were clamoring for the services of optometrists. So, with their GI Bill of Rights paperwork in hand, they set out for Chicago, where they all enrolled at Northern Illinois College of Optometry.

In Chicago, they shared rooms and apartments, found part-time jobs, rode the el or the bus to and from school and once a year or so rode a real train back to North Dakota to see their families and girlfriends. A few married, to high school sweethearts or girls they had met when they returned home from the war. They all eventually married North Dakota girls.

By now, these young men were approaching their late 20s, time to start a family. Working wives supplemented the income from the GI bill and part-time jobs. By the spring of 1950, they arrived back in North Dakota, diplomas in hand, all wearing the title Doctor of Optometry. And they set about deciding where they were going to live and practice their new profession.

One of them was my dad, by then Dr. O.J. Fuglie. His parents, Ole and Sadie Fuglie, had named him Oliver Joseph, a name he never used once he left home. His mother called him Ollie until the day she died, but she was the only one.

Born with a shock of very blonde — almost white — hair, he earned the nickname “Whitey” as a young boy, and it stuck with him his entire life. I never heard my mother call him anything else. A faded newspaper clipping from the 1930s, describing an act of heroism he performed as a teen-ager, rescuing a young boy from drowning and using his Boy Scout training to perform artificial respiration, saving the boy’s life, called him Whitey Fuglie.

Whitey Fuglie arrived back in North Dakota in the spring of 1950 with a wife and two young children. My sister was an infant and I was 2½ old. He and his Navy/college buddies, all still very close, had been in touch with the North Dakota Optometric Association. They knew which towns in North Dakota were seeking optometrists. They set out exploring, separately now, to see where they might set up a practice.

Whitey borrowed his brother-in-law’s car — he didn’t own one of his own — and he and my mom drove to three towns: Grafton, Ellendale and Hettinger, leaving the grandmas in charge of the kids for a few days.

In Hettinger, they were greeted by the president of the Chamber of Commerce, a local carpenter named Floyd Peterson. He showed them around town, pointing out that half of Main Street was now paved and the other half would be before another winter arrived. And once that was done, they would be starting on the rest of the streets in town.

Hettinger was bustling in the postwar economy, farming was good, jobs were available, houses were being built. Hettinger had a population of about 1,700, but there were another 400 or 500 farm families within a 30 miles radius or so, who did their business in Hettinger.

Hettinger had two doctors and two dentists, but no optometrist, and the town was about to begin building what would become Hettinger Community Memorial Hospital, actually paid for, built and owned by the community. That appealed to my mother, who had finished nurse’s training at Mercy Hospital School of Nursing in Devils Lake before she married my dad in 1946.

Hettinger was a thriving town, a tourist town in the summer because of its location on U.S. Highway 12, the most popular route from Minneapolis to Seattle before the construction of the Interstate Highway system. It had seven gas stations, five of them right on the highway within about four blocks of each other, and two drugstores that sold postcards with scenes of the town printed on them. There were three restaurants, two hotels, five car dealerships, two women’s clothing stores, a men’s store, a shoe store, three hardware stores, a dry cleaners, a two-lane bowling alley, a movie theater and four grocery stores. It also had a nine-hole, sand green golf course and a lake on the south edge of town, backed up behind a dam built on Flat Creek by the railroad 40 years earlier to provide water for the steam engines. The lake had panfish in it. My dad was both a golfer and a fisherman, so the town had some appeal. But most importantly, Hettinger sat in prime pheasant country, and my dad was a hunter. A pheasant hunter.

Hettinger had a newspaper, and the publisher had prospered a bit and owned a building on Main Street where his newspaper was located on the ground floor, and there were a couple of offices upstairs. One of the offices was home to a dentist. The other was vacant in that fall of 1950.

“Dr. Fuglie,” said D.J. Shults, the newspaper publisher, “you can use that office, and don’t worry about paying me now — you can pay me when you get going.” Well, that was one problem solved, if Dr. Fuglie was to choose Hettinger. The second problem was, where to live.

“We can help with that, too,” said Chamber President Peterson. “Ed Arnold, who has the Oldsmobile dealership, has an apartment in his basement that no one is living in right now. Let’s go see him.” Second problem solved.

“What kind of car are you driving?” Ed asked young Dr. Fuglie as they were standing outside the house, just a block from Arnold’s Garage, where he sold his Oldsmobiles. Dr. Fuglie explained that he had just gotten out of college and didn’t own a car yet. “Well, we can fix that,” Ed said. “When you get here, you can just use one of mine until you get on your feet.”

An office. An apartment. A car. Just about enough to close the deal. Hettinger desperately wanted an optometrist. An optometrist was just one more family in town, but it would save people a trip to Bowman, N.D., or Lemmon, S.D., when they had vision problems. And an optometrist was one more reason for farmers to come to town, and when they came, they would shop. They’d buy groceries, clothes, hardware, and, yes, Oldsmobiles. This, in 1950, was how economic development was done.

I never learned what the folks in Grafton and Ellendale offered. I can only guess it was something similar. But I know what they did not offer: Pheasants. It was pheasants that closed the deal. Everything else being equal, pheasant hunting won.

Young Dr. Fuglie borrowed $10,000 from a relative to set up his optometric practice, loaded what few possessions he and his wife had into his brother-in-law’s pickup truck, moved to Hettinger, hauled his equipment up the steps to his new office above D.J. Shults’ newspaper shop and planted his wife and two children and a bit of furniture in Ed Arnold’s basement. I remember a picture of him standing beside that new borrowed Oldsmobile, grinning ear to ear. He could afford to buy it six months later.

My dad kept this eye chart hanging on a wall in his examination room with a coat over it. When one of his male patients came in (not the Baptists) he’d uncover it and ask them to read it, as a joke. I still have it hanging in my house.
My dad kept this eye chart hanging on a wall in his examination room with a coat over it. When one of his male patients came in (not the Baptists) he’d uncover it and ask them to read it, as a joke. I still have it hanging in my house.

His business card read “Dr. O.J. Fuglie, Optometrist.” Under his name, he had the printer run his little advertising pitch through the press twice, the second time offsetting it just a tiny bit so the letters appeared fuzzy. It read: “If this appears blurred and hard to read, hurry in and have your eyes examined.”  Then, under that, in clear type, it said “We get more darned patients this way.”

His new Hettinger friends, or course, wanted to know what O.J. stood for. He said to forget it, just call me Whitey. Later, he became better known as “Doc.” Never O.J. or Ollie or Oliver. Just Doc or Whitey.

The result of all that, of course, is that I got to grow up in southwest North Dakota, where there were pheasants aplenty. I grew up golfing, hunting and fishing and still do.

Each fall, some of Dad’s high school/junior college/U.S. Navy/optometry school buddies, having become successful practicing optometrists scattered around the state, showed up to hunt pheasants with their buddy, Whitey, who had landed in the best place of all. They maintained their friendships all their lives. Eventually, they brought their sons with them, and I had hunting partners of my own age.

Like my dad, who died 30 years ago today, I’m pretty sure they are all gone now. But they all lived good lives and raised good families, in places they chose to live, thanks to that day in 1945 when they sat down and decided to become optometrists. As professionals, they became community leaders.

My dad repaid the kindness of the town a hundredfold. He was commander of the American Legion Post, first president of the brand-new Eagles Lodge in Hettinger, Chamber of Commerce president, a scoutmaster for more than 20 years (he was awarded the Silver Beaver, Scouting’s highest award, late in his life for a lifetime devoted to Boy Scouts), president of the Park Board, a volunteer fireman — I can’t tell you how many suits he ruined, dashing from his office to the fire hall without changing — those were the days I’m sure my mom called him something other than Whitey), and a town constable (there were several volunteer constables to help the police chief when he needed it — I remember the night my dad had to help arrest a friend and deer hunting buddy of his who, in a fit of rage, had shot his wife when he caught her cheating on him, and it was my dad’s presence that allowed the arrest to take place peaceably).

During his tenure on the Park Board, he oversaw the draining and dredging of Mirror Lake and restocking it with fish. He helped design and build the new golf course. He was president of the Rod and Gun Club, the local sportsman’s organization. He was blessed with type O blood, and thus was a universal donor, and was awakened many nights to come to the hospital to give blood to an accident victim or a surgery patient who needed blood, earning a “gallon donor” badge many times over.

Whitey Fuglie was a remarkable man. I will never forget the horror of that morning, March 16, 1984, when my sister called to say he had died in his sleep at just 62 yeas old. And I will never forget the stoicism of my mother, who outlived him by 25 years. Phyllis Fuglie was an independent woman, a registered nurse who worked all her life while raising seven children (well, she had a lot of help raising them from her amazing husband) and who carried on after being widowed at 59, ever grateful to that husband who had led her to southwest North Dakota.

He’s been gone 30 years today, and I still think of him often. I talked of him with Jeff this week when we were ice fishing, remembering how much I hated freezing out there on those lakes when I was a kid because my dad would never leave until the sun went down — he loved winter sunsets (and also that last bite of the day at twilight, I later realized when I came to actually like ice fishing myself). But I can’t forget to this day how he would stand there and look across the frozen tundra as the sun dipped below the hills and say “Isn’t that beautiful, Jim?” and I would say “Brrrrr. Let’s go home, Dad.”

I could tell Doc Fuglie stories ‘til the cows come home. Maybe someday I will. Today, I’m just going to drink a can or two of Old Milwaukee, his favorite beer, and remember the greatest man I ever knew.

Footnote: One Doc Fuglie story.

I came home from my own stint in the Navy in the spring of 1972 to discover that my dad had already signed me up for membership in the American Legion. I was visiting my folks in Hettinger, not long after I arrived back here, and Dad said there was a Legion meeting that night and I should come and meet the fellow Legionnaires. I said sure.

The meeting was at the Legion Club, which had two rooms — a large meeting room and a bar room. As the meeting was winding down, that year’s commander introduced me as Johnson Melary Post 115’s newest member and asked if I wanted to say a few words. I said sure.

This was the spring of 1972. George McGovern was running for president of the United States. He had just issued a call for amnesty for draft dodgers who had gone to Canada to avoid the draft. I rose to my feet and launched into a little speech about why we should bring them back and offer amnesty. Future doctors and lawyers and optometrists and maybe even a future president of the United States. Bring them back and make them productive members of our society. I was pretty passionate. I had just done four years in the Navy, including two tours of Vietnam, and thought I had a platform on which to stand to justify my position. I was wrong.

About two minutes in, I began to hear noises. First feet stamping, then some quiet boos, then louder, then “Sit down and shut up.” Chagrined, I stopped, politely thanked them for their time and walked out of the meeting room, into the barroom, sat down at the end of the bar and ordered a beer.

Shortly, the meeting ended and Legionnaires, men of my father’s generation, men I had known all my life, my father’s friends, began trickling out of the meeting room into the bar. Every one of them walked by me silently to the other end of the bar and began drinking and visiting. Except my dad.

He stopped where I was and sat down beside me. We were the only two at that end of the bar, a good gap separating us from the rest of the crowd. He ordered a beer. Then he turned to me, put his arm around my shoulders and said, “Well, son, that was a pretty dumb thing to do.” I said I realized that, and apologized.

“Don’t apologize,” my father, a lifelong Democrat (yes, that’s where I got it), said. “You’re right. You just picked the wrong audience.”

We finished our beers, alone, just the two of us, and went home.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — The Race For An Open Seat In Congress

North Dakota’s Democrats will hold their state convention in Grand Forks later this week, and the highlight, if there’s to be one, will be choosing a candidate to run for North Dakota’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. So I’ve been thinking a bit about politics and conventions, especially past ones, similar to what we might see this week.

I’m remembering the 1992 North Dakota Democratic-NPL State Convention, which was held at the Bismarck Civic Center. I was helping out with one of the campaigns, so I was at the Civic Center the day before the convention started when word spread like wildfire across the convention floor: Sen. Kent Conrad announced he was not seeking re-election to a second term.

Kent had been elected to the Senate six years earlier in a stunning upset over Mark Andrews. During that campaign, he pledged that he would not stand for re-election if the federal budget deficit had not fallen substantially by the end of his term (a promise that made a lot of us cringe). By 1992, it became obvious that this would not be the case, and although polls showed that the electorate would have welcomed his reneging on that pledge, Conrad considered his promise binding, and said he would not run for re-election.

Kent’s announcement set in motion a chain of events I want to talk about today. But first, let’s go back a little further.

In 1980, Republicans creamed the Democrats. It was the year of the Reagan landslide, and North Dakota was not unlike most states around the country that generally tilt a little Republican. Republicans made big gains in state capitols and legislative chambers. That reduced the ranks of Democrats in both the North Dakota House and Senate — Republicans led 73-27 in the House and 40-10 in the Senate. But there were a couple of surprise winners in the House races — Democrats Earl Pomeroy of Valley City and Bill Heigaard of Langdon.

By the end of the 1983 legislative session (during which I worked for the Democratic-NPL House and Senate caucuses), Minority Leader Dick Backes told me “You watch that Heigaard and Pomeroy — they’re going to be stars.” Backes was right.

In the 1982 election, Heigaard moved over to the Senate, where he eventually became Senate majority leader for four sessions and got his party’s nomination for governor in 1992, only to lose in the primary to Nick Spaeth.

Pomeroy was re-elected in 1982, but in 1984, he ran successfully for North Dakota insurance commissioner, and he was re-elected in 1988.

Which brings us back to 1992. Earlier that year, Pomeroy announced that he was not going to seek re-election. He and his wife were going to join the Peace Corps. They’d be leaving North Dakota at the end of his term, in January 1993. His brother, Glenn, had announced he would seek the job and was about to be endorsed at the state convention.

When the news of Kent’s decision hit the convention floor we all said, “Well, then Byron has to run for the Senate.” Yep.

Byron Dorgan, Kent’s protégé, had been in the U.S. House of Representatives since his election in 1980. He had declined to challenge Andrews in 1986, so Kent ran and was elected. So on that April 1992 morning, Byron wasted no time announcing he would seek Kent’s seat. That left an open seat for the state’s lone congressman’s job.

All eyes turned to Fargo’s John Schneider. Schneider was the Democrats’ floor leader in the North Dakota House of Representatives, widely recognized for his speaking and leadership skills, and was the next star of the Democratic-NPL Party. Earl Pomeroy had announced he was quitting politics, and Heigaard was running for governor, so Schneider was the obvious choice to fill Dorgan’s shoes. He quickly let it be known he was interested in the party’s endorsement for Congress.

But the tug of a U.S. Congress seat was too powerful for Pomeroy to resist. After a long conversation with his wife, Laurie, he sought out Schneider and the two of them talked. And talked. And talked. And then John Schneider blinked. It was an incredibly magnanimous gesture. John likely conceded (not many are privy to those conversations) that Earl, having already won two statewide elections, was probably more electable. John stepped aside.

Earl was elected by a wide margin, and remained in Congress for 18 years, until his defeat by Rick Berg in 2010. John Schneider’s prize was the job of U.S. Attorney for North Dakota in the Clinton years. Sadly, he died young, of a brain tumor in 2001.

All of which brings us to 2018, and the point of all this history I’ve been boring you with. Once again there is an open seat in Congress up for grabs this fall, with Congressman Kevin Cramer’s decision to take on Heidi Heitkamp for a Senate seat.

Late last summer, a young fellow from Fargo named Ben Hanson decided to run for North Dakota’s lone seat in Congress. He’s done an admirable job of raising funds and meeting people, and until last week was the likely nominee of the Democratic-NPL Party. No more. Former State Senator Mac Schneider’s entry into the race last week makes it a likely tossup for the nomination at next week’s state convention. A third candidate, state Sen. John Grabinger, is a nonstarter with those two in the race.

Now, there will be a good number of people, but probably not a majority, at the State Democratic-NPL convention this week, who remember the 1992 convention and John Schneider’s concession to Earl Pomeroy. With those folks, there’ll likely be some sympathy for his nephew, Mac.

And the Schneider family has a long reach. Besides his Uncle John’s prominence, his mother, Mary, is a state representative from Fargo. His dad, Mark, is a former state Democratic-NPL Party chairman. His other uncle, Steve, worked for Pomeroy in the Capitol when Earl was insurance commissioner, and he and his wife, Donna, are longtime party activists. His aunt, Lois, John’s widow, was a longtime employee in Sen. Kent Conrad’s office. Her son, Jasper, Mac’s cousin, is a former state legislator, once a candidate for state tax commissioner, and an Obama administration appointee as North Dakota’s Rural Development director. And Mac’s sister, Libby, last I heard, was managing Heidi Heitkamp’s Senate campaign — unless Heidi turns her loose to run her brother’s campaign if he’s nominated. There won’t be many Democrats at this week’s convention who don’t like the Schneider family and don’t know at least a couple of them.

Mac’s entry into the race at such a late stage, a little more than a week before the party’s nominating convention, is a bit puzzling. Ben Hanson is a solid candidate who’s done everything right so far. He’s built a strong campaign organization, raised a bunch of money — more than $100,000, I think, including, I’d guess (I haven’t seen Ben’s FEC report), a contribution from Mac Schneider, who has said consistently he would not run for anything this year — and has traveled the state tirelessly, all things a Democrat must do in North Dakota to have a chance.

Ben’s talked to pretty much every delegate to next week’s convention and has told me he had pretty much universal support going into the convention. Of course, that was before Schneider and Grabinger got in the race. The test for Hanson now is to hold onto a majority of those delegates in a contested race. Knowing how hard he has campaigned to date, I suspect he’s still on the phone shoring up his support.

So can Schneider’s late entry into the race make any sense? Who, or what, caused him to change his mind? We may find out the answer next week, if Earl Pomeroy gives Mac’s nominating speech. That would make some sense. Earl doesn’t owe the Schneider family anything, but he’s a gracious man, and this would be a good way to thank John Schneider’s widow, Lois, and his brothers (and law partners), Mark and Steve, and the kids and nephews, all of whose lives would have been considerably different back in the 1990s, and beyond, without John’s magnanimity at that 1992 state convention.

In any case, both Hanson and Schneider are good ballot names, and the two who bear them are good candidates. For either, though, it’s a tough race, because they have a near-fatal flaw — they’re Democrats in North Dakota.

And Kelly Armstrong, their likely opponent unless something really weird happens at the subsequent Republican state convention, comes from one of the richest families in western North Dakota. Armstrong’s father, Mike, is an uber-successful oilman, and I’m guessing he’s got at least one more zero in his net worth than the also-rich banker from Grafton, N.D., Tom Campbell, who’ll be duking it out with Armstrong at their convention.

So, attention: Ben Hanson and Mac Schneider: Good luck if you get the nomination. This is going to be an expensive campaign. I’d say you’re going to have to raise a million dollars, at minimum, between now and Election Day, to have a chance because Kelly Armstrong is going to have at least that much, maybe more.  Your campaign starts Sunday. There are 233 days between then and Election Day. That means you have to raise at least $4,000 a day, every day, to compete. Starting Sunday. If you don’t raise any money Sunday, you have to raise $8,000 on Monday. And if you don’t raise $8,000 on Monday … well, you get the drift. So don’t let those folks down who voted for you at the convention. Get busy.

The only real thing operating in Hanson and Schneider’s favor is that it’s an open seat, with no incumbent, and that makes it a bit of a wild card in a year when Democrats nationwide are expected to do well in November. Open seats offer at least a chance to anyone running.

History lesson: Open congressional seats

A note about open congressional seats: They don’t happen very often. Here’s a brief history of North Dakota’s congressional representation in what we call North Dakota’s modern political era, since 1960.

North Dakota had two seats in Congress until 1972. We elected two people to Congress at large. In 1960, the two seats were held by Quentin Burdick, a Democrat, and Don Short, a Republican. But our U.S. Senator, William Langer, had died in office and a special election was held in June of that year to replace him. Burdick won, and resigned his seat in the House. Hjalmer Nygaard, a Republican, was elected to replace him in the general election that November.

But before the 1962 election came along, Congress changed things and divided the state into two congressional districts, East and West. In 1962, Short and Nygard were re-elected, Short from the West and Nygaard from the East.

Then Nygaard died in office, and Mark Andrews was elected to replace him from the East. And in 1964, Short was defeated by Democrat Rolland Redlin. Redlin served one term and was defeated by Tom Kleppe in 1966. Kleppe was re-elected in 1968 and then was appointed to serve as Richard Nixon’s Secretary of Interior and did not seek re-election in 1970, the year Art Link won the seat (an open seat) by beating Robert McCarney.

But by the time the1972 election came around,, everything changed. In the congressional reapportionment year of 1971, North Dakota lost one of its two congressional seats, which would have meant that incumbents Link and Andrews would have had to compete in 1972 for the same seat. Link decided instead to run for governor, and won.

So Andrews, having first been elected to Congress in 1962, held the office until 1980, when he moved over to the Senate, and Dorgan was elected to the open seat. Dorgan held it until 1992, when he ran for Senate, and Pomeroy won the open seat. Pomeroy held it until 2010, when he was defeated by Berg, but Berg abandoned it in 2012 to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Dorgan’s retirement. And Cramer was elected to fill the open seat.

So you can see that seats in Congress from North Dakota don’t come open very often. Our congressmen tend to stay in office until they die or are defeated. Since 1970, almost 50 years now, only in 1980, 1992, and 2012 have there been races for an open seat in Congress. Until this year, when Cramer decided to abandon his seat in Congress to run against Heidi Heitkamp for Senate, creating an open seat in Congress.

And that’s why we have so many candidates running for Congress this year.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Memories Of A Great Governor

Calm was the day in late July

And bright was the sun across the sky

But inside his chest the calm had broken

Governor Sinner had started croakin’.

I laughed the first time I read that, and I’m still laughing every time I think about it. It’s a poem written by a sixth-grader from Turtle Lake, N.D., about Gov. George Sinner’s heart attack in 1991.

It’s a hard day not to be sad, but I’ve been having happy thoughts all day about “The Sinner Years.” There were so many good times over the decade — 1982 through 1992 — that I was lucky enough to be around George Sinner. So today, I want to share some happy stories, and I hope you too will think of happy days around one of North Dakota’s great leaders. He started croakin’ on that July day back in 1991, but it took him a long time to get the job done. Here’s a few of my memories.

Hunting with the Governor

Bud Sinner was not an accomplished hunter — it’s just something Red River Valley farmers didn’t do a lot — but after he moved to Bismarck, he loved getting out in the field.

Ah, we were young.
Ah, we were young.

So whenever I had an outdoors writer or outdoors television show personality in the state to do a hunting story, I’d call and ask him if he’d like to go hunting with us. He almost always said yes. Not only did he enjoy it, but he saw the promotional value in it for the state. And, of course, the writers and TV producers loved being able to do a story about going hunting with a governor.

One day, I had a big-time writer named Thayne Smith in the state, and Wayne Tanous, a friend of mine and lobbyist for Montana Dakota Utilitues, had arranged for us to go hunt at a ranch east of Flasher. The governor came along. Going down state Highway 6 south of Mandan, I was riding shotgun in Wayne’s car and the governor and Thayne were visiting in the back seat. The governor had his big old 10-gauge single-barrel shotgun with him (I swear that old monster was 6 feet long and weighed 15 pounds) and I heard him bragging to Thayne, “I really like shooting this old gun. It shoots straight. I was out with two of my boys a few days ago, and we got our limit. I got five of them and the boys got one between them.”

My heart sank into my boots. The pheasant limit was two then, but “party hunting” was not allowed (although most everybody did it), and the governor of North Dakota had just admitted he shot 2½ times his limit to a writer who was doing a story for Outdoor Life or Field and Stream or some big magazine like that.

Well, when we got to the Meyer ranch near Flasher, I took Thayne aside and said that the governor doesn’t really hunt all that much, and I hoped there wouldn’t be anything about “how good that old 10-gauge worked” in his story. Thayne just smiled and gave me a wink and said, “Nah, we all do it.” Whew.

On another trip down in the same country, I took another big-time writer, Tom Huggler, to Vern Fredrick’s place and the governor came along. There was a little snow on the ground, and the governor didn’t own any hunting boots, so he came in street shoes with four-buckle overshoes on. We were walking along Louse Creek when a pheasant got up and the governor shot it. It landed across the creek, which was pretty narrow at that point, and he walked up to the creek bank, set his gun down, backed up a couple steps, and took a mighty leap to get across the creek. He didn’t make it, and landed in ankle-deep water, just deep enough to get a little water inside his overshoes.

He was game, though. I handed him his gun and he picked up the bird and hunted that side of the creek until we got to a crossing. And hunted a while longer with wet feet. When the story appeared in a magazine, it said, tactfully, “the governor cleared 2 feet of a 3-foot creek.”

Another time we were hunting the same ranch with Tony Dean, who was doing one his outdoors television shows. Our host, Vern Fredrick, was taking us from one end of the ranch to the other. Tony and the governor were riding in the back of Vern’s beat-up old pickup and the cameraman and I were following behind. As we were driving along slowly on a bumpy two-track trail, a pheasant got up beside the pickup. The governor raised up his old 10-gauge and, as we watched in horror, shot at it from the back of the moving pickup. By some miracle, he hit it and it dropped into the field.

He screamed at Vern, “Stop, I got it!” Tony leaned out around to the cab of the pickup and said, “Don’t stop, Vern. It was a hen.” Vern kept going. Tony never mentioned on his show that our governor broke two laws that day — shooting from a vehicle and shooting a hen.

The day we lost the governor

Back in the 1970s and ’80s, North Dakota was part of a five-state tourism consortium with South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska, called the Old West Trail Foundation. Governors were pretty interested in the tourism industry in those days, and from time to time, we’d have a “Tourism Summit,” and the five governors would attend. They were usually held at some nice destination resort, and it was a chance for the five of them to get together and visit and relax.

One year we were in the Black Hills, and in the afternoon, we had some kind of event up at Mount Rushmore. Gov. Sinner’s driver that trip was Bob Jansen, his press secretary. There must have been some kind of big dignitary there because South Dakota Gov. George Mickelson, a good friend of Sinner’s although they wore different political stripes, made a dramatic arrival with someone important, in front of the four faces, in an Army helicopter.

When the ceremony was over, we all headed back to Rapid City, S.D., to our headquarters hotel, the historic Alex Johnson. Shortly after I got to my room, Bob Jansen called me and said he couldn’t find the governor, and asked if he had ridden back from Mount Rushmore with me. I said no, I thought he was riding with you.

Oh, shit, we both thought, we left the Ggovernor up at Mount Rushmore. But we didn’t panic. Not right away. Bob said he would go look around the hotel and I said I would make some calls, and if we couldn’t find him, we’d notify the Highway Patrol. I called the front desk, told them who I was and asked if they would put me through to Gov. Mickelson’s room. They did, and Gov. Mickelson answered the phone. I told him who I was, and said we had misplaced our governor, and asked if he had seen Gov. Sinner.

“Oh, yeah, he hopped on the chopper with me, and we’re just sitting here having a martini,” Mickelson replied. I thanked him and ran out of the room for the elevator to find Bob and tell him where the governor was. Later, at the banquet, Gov. Sinner apologized to both of us for not telling us he was going back on the helicopter. And told us we should probably keep a better eye on him.

 

Political friends

In the early spring of 1984, four giant Democrats — Bud Sinner, Art Link, Buckshot Hoffner and Walt Hjelle — were running for the Democratic-NPL endorsement for governor. They were criss-crossing the state, appearing at each of the district conventions seeking delegate support.

Fairly early in the process, they were all in Bismarck for a district convention, and the five of us were gathered just outside the door after they were done speaking — I was executive director of the Democratic-NPL Party at the time. Link was being driven around in a big van by Bob Valeu, but the other three were driving themselves. They were all headed for another convention, in Beulah, I think, and then coming back to Bismarck for the night. Sinner said something like, “Guys, it’s nuts for us to take four cars up there and back. Why don’t you all just ride with me?”

So they all jumped into Sinner’s big blue Ford station wagon and hit the road. That story got out, and the legend spread across the country that in North Dakota, there were four candidates for governor and they were all traveling around the state together campaigning. I don’t know how many more times they did that, but it was a great story at the time. Of course, they were all great friends — they had served together in the Legislature (all but Link were actually in the Legislature at the time), and had all been involved in party politics for many years — so they didn’t find anything unusual about it. But it made for a great story.

A $40,000 newspaper

Sinner won the nomination at the convention, of course, on the third ballot, and set about campaigning against Gov. Allen Olson. Late in the campaign, polls showed a very close race, and we were trying to figure out what we could do to tip the balance in our favor. We thought a tabloid newspaper inserted in every weekly and daily paper in the state would make a difference. The only problem was, that was going to be expensive.

Now, Gov. Sinner wrote about this in his memoir, “Turning Points,” but his recollection of it is different than mine. So I’m just going to tell my version.

What I remember is, George Gaukler, the state Democratic-NPL chairman, and I met with him over coffee and proposed the newspaper idea. He said the campaign was out of money. George asked if he could dig in his pocket. How much would it cost? About $40,000. Uffda. There was a long, agonizing pause. He rubbed his forehead. He rubbed his chin. He shuddered a little. Finally, he said “OK, but you guys have to tell Janie.”

We agreed. We produced an eight-page tabloid over at John Maher’s newspaper shop over the weekend, had it printed, and Jim Sinner and some of his friends loaded it up and drove it to every weekly and daily newspaper office in the state. Bud said later if there was a secret weapon in the campaign, that was it. We all agreed later it was the best $40,000 investment Bud Sinner ever made. And I think we raised the money after the campaign to pay him back.

A Gary Hart problem

As a result of attending National Governor’s Association meetings in the 1980s, Gov. Sinner had gotten to know a little-known governor, Bill Clinton, from Arkansas. And he liked him. So in the spring of 1990, when Clinton was exploring a presidential run, Sinner invited him to speak at our state Democratic-NPL Convention.

Before the speech, Sinner invited some of us into a private room to meet Gov. Clinton. It was just 15 or 20 minutes, but we all got a chance to visit a bit, and then we went out and listened to the speech.

And afterward, Gov. Sinner and I crossed paths somewhere at the convention, and he asked “What did you think of Gov. Clinton?” I replied that I liked him, a lot. “Yeah, I do, too,” the governor said, “but I’m afraid he has a little bit of a Gary Hart problem.” Well, turns out he made Gary Hart look like a Boy Scout. But he was a darn good president.

Bad bull jokes

Gov. Sinner loved to tell jokes, but he wasn’t very good at telling them, and he had a hard time remembering them, so he just told the same ones over and over. He was not a man given to foul language, or to dirty jokes, but he felt his “bull jokes” were pretty risqué, and I guess they were, to him. I’ll try to write them like he told them. God knows I heard them enough times to get them verbatim. (His family and everyone who ever worked for him is groaning now. You’re excused.)

“A fellow over in Minnesota had a prize bull, one of the best in the country, so one Sunday afternoon Janie and I loaded the kids in the station wagon and went to see his bull. (Sinner operated a cattle feedlot, so he now something about bulls.) We pulled into the yard. It was a hot summer day and there was no air conditioning in cars in those days, so there were kids hanging out every window. The fellow came out to meet us, and I said we were there to take a look his famous bull. He looked over at my car and asked, ‘Are all those kids yours?’ I replied that they were. He said, ‘You wait here. I’m going to bring that bull out here and have him take a look at you.’

“A neighbor had a pretty good bull, and I was visiting with him one day and asked what the secret to that bull was. He reached in his pocket and took out a big black pill, and he said, “I give him one of these every day.’ I asked him what was in it. ‘I don’t know,’ he said, ‘but they taste a lot like licorice.’”

“I heard a story about this guy who had taken his wife out for a drive one day and was visiting a neighbor who had a really good bull. So they went to take a look. The neighbor bragged, while they were looking, that the bull was so good that sometimes they bred him 10 times a day. The wife poked her husband with an elbow and said, ‘Did you hear that? Ten times a day!’ The husband turned to the bull’s owner and asked, ‘Same cow?’”

History story — two governors

The last story I want to tell is about the week North Dakota had two governors. I don’t really have to tell it in full because I did that a few years ago, and the story is still on my bog, and I’ll just provide a link to it here.

But to summarize: Bud Sinner was elected in November 1984, to take office in January 1985. Traditionally, governors here take office the day the Legislature convenes, which is the first Tuesday after Jan. 3. But legally, we learned in 1985, the governor can take office on the first day of January. Because, bucking tradition, George Sinner took office on Jan. 1 that year. He did so because outgoing Gov. Allen Olson had not filled two vacancies on the North Dakota Supreme Court, and Sinner’s advisers convinced him that those were two pretty valuable appointments. So Sinner took the oath of office on New Year’s Day, ensconced himself in the governor’s residence (You might recall that Gov. Olson had not lived there, so his kids could stay in the same school they were in before he was elected), and Olson held forth in the Capitol building, until the state’s Supreme Court ruled a day or two later that Sinner was entitled to the office.

The great mystery in all that is why Gov. Olson did not make the two appointments. The chance to appoint even one Supreme Court justice does not come along very often, much less two at once. Olson had ample time to make two appointments, but never got it done, and Sinner appointed two who Olson would not have chosen. It’s a mystery. Maybe one day Gov. Olson will tell us. Meanwhile, it’s a good story and you can go to this old blog post to read it if you want to.

And that’s the end of my reminiscing today. But I won’t stop thinking about my friend Gov. Sinner. I’ll see a bunch of you at the funeral in Fargo. Meanwhile, I hope you’ve enjoyed these stories. I hope I got them right. I tried to tell them as I remembered them, but, as a caveat, I’Il quote my friend Mike Jacobs, who no doubt will write about Gov. Sinner in his regular Tuesday column in the Grand Forks Herald next week: “Never let history get in the way of a good story.”

“Only those are fit to live who do not fear to die; and none are fit to die who have shrunk from the joy of life and the duty of life. Both life and death are parts of the same Great Adventure.” — Theodore Roosevelt

Requiescant in pace — George Albert Sinner 1928-2018.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Seems To Be A Lot Of POS’s Around These Days

North Dakota’s district political conventions are about over, and state conventions are coming up, so I thought I might write a few political columns for the next few weeks.

I’ve been hanging out around politics for a few years, and still have a pretty good memory (something my wife would dispute), and I still know a lot of the players on North Dakota’s political scene, so I’m not afraid to do a little speculating and fun-poking.

In just a few days, political parties need to file endorsed candidates for the Legislature with the secretary of state. I live in Bismarck’s District 35. My state senator, Erin Oban, is the only Democrat in the Legislature from Bismarck. But she’s a good one, and Republicans have been having a hard time finding someone to run against her.

Gary Emineth.
Gary Emineth.

Recently, we learned that a fellow named Gary Emineth might be her opponent. You might remember Gary. He’s the guy who called President Obama a POS on his Facebook page, something that CNN picked up on. CNN reported that POS stands for Piece Of Shit. Gary replied that in his world (he’s a businessman) POS means “Point Of Sale,” but that didn’t matter because he really meant to say President Obama was a POTUS (President Of The United States), but he typed it wrong. Uh huh.

Gary’s kind of a political hanger-on who once ran for the Legislature and lost, back in 1984, and served as chairman of the North Dakota Republican Party a few years ago. He’s a nice fellow, but he’s getting a little long in the tooth, and he figured if he’s ever going to have a real political career, it better start this year.

Last summer, our current çongressman, Kevin Cramer, told Gary he was not going to run for the U.S. Senate against Heidi Heitkamp. Gary mulled that over for six months or so. By early this year, it appeared that the only semicredible candidate the Republicans could get to run against Heidi was this banker from Grafton, Tom Campbell, and he just didn’t seem to be the one who could knock off Heidi.

So late in January of this year, Gary made a decision. He’s been in the news quite a lot since then.

And just by chance, this week I came across a series of memos that I am pretty sure I was not supposed to see (no, neither Wikileaks, nor the Clinton campaign,  nor the Russians are involved — at least I don’t think so), but they are interesting, so I will share them with you.

DATE:                       January 31, 2018

FROM:                     Gary Emineth

TO:                           North Dakota Republican Party

SUBJECT:                 My candidacy

Fellow Republicans: I would like members of our party to know that I will be seeking our party’s endorsement for the United States Senate to run against that POS Tom Campbell at our state convention, and if I win there, to run against that POS Heidi Heitkamp in November. I feel I’d be one of the best candidates. I hope I can have your support

* * *

DATE:                      February 18, 2018

FROM:                    Gary Emineth

TO:                          North Dakota Republican Party

SUBJECT:                My candidacy

Fellow Republicans: I dropped out of the race for the U.S. Senate when that POS Kevin Cramer decided to run against Heidi, even though he told me he was not going to do that. I thought strongly about running for Kevin’s seat, and was just about to announce my candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives, when that POS Tom Campbell decided he was going to run for that, and then that POS Kelly Armstrong, the oil guy from Dickinson, also got in, so I am not going to do that. Thanks for thinking about me. If I ever decide to run for something, I hope I can have your support.

* * *

DATE:                       March 6, 2018

FROM:                     Gary Emineth

TO:                          North Dakota Republican Party

SUBJECT:                My candidacy

Fellow Republicans: I have decided I want to run for the State Senate from my home district, District 35, here in Bismarck. I wasn’t going to do this, but I learned recently that if I don’t do it, that POS Margaret Sitte is likely to run, and we sure don’t want that to happen. But we need a candidate to run against that POS Erin Oban. So I hope I can have your support.

* * *

DATE:                      MARCH 7, 2018

FROM:                    North Dakota Republican Party

TO:                         Gary Emineth

SUBJECT:                Your candidacy

Dear Gary: At this time we are prepared to offer our support for you the position of Assistant Sergeant at Arms in the North Dakota House of Representatives in the 2019 Legislative Session. We don’t yet know who the Chief Sergeant at Arms will be, but we’ll find some POS to take that job and then we’ll recommend you to work for him and be in charge of emptying those POS Legislators’ wastebaskets. It doesn’t pay very much but you get to hang out with a lot of your POS political friends. Please let us know if there is anything else we can do for you.

* * *

Stay tuned. I’ll keep you posted on Gary’s political career.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — I Wish For A Friend

The mailman brought me a small package this week, book-sized, postmarked and with a return address from the town in which I grew up, Hettinger, N.D.

Well, it was obviously a book, and I love it when people send me books, so I opened it immediately. It was indeed a book, a very special book, with a letter tucked neatly into its pages, which said:

“I don’t know if you remember me, but I was in high school the same time you were. … We moved back to Hettinger about three years ago and have been getting the Bismarck Tribune. A few weeks ago, I read the article about the Red Oak Tree in your yard. … I had just finished the children’s book “The Wishing Tree” for my grandchildren. It’s about a red oak tree. I’m sending it to you because I thought you might like it for your grandchildren, and maybe your tree is a wishing tree, too.”

Isn’t that wonderful, and just truly amazing?

Her name in high school was Valerie Lindquist, and I think she was a year ahead of me in school. Her brother, Ron, and I used to play sandlot baseball. He was a year younger than me, I think. We all moved away from Hettinger after high school, and our paths have not crossed since, more than 50 years.

The book is titled “wishtree,” one word, small letters and written by the noted children’s author Katherine Applegate, who’s had a number of children’s books on the New York Times best-seller list. This is a good one. And it’s beautifully illustrated by children’s book illustrator Charles Santoso. You’ll like the art, too.

It’s a delightful story about Red, the talking Red Oak tree. Actually, it’s a story BY Red, the talking Red Oak tree, a story of Red’s history, told by Red himself, a wise 200-year-old resident tree in a small town somewhere in America.

But Red is not just a tree, he tells us. He’s a home, a community. At any given time, his branches, leaves, roots and hollows are home to all manner of wild critters, all friends — crows, salt-and-pepper chickadees, raccoons, foxes, opossums, mice, skunks, porcupines, woodpeckers …

The book tells the story of Red’s newest friend, a little girl named Samar, whose Muslim family has moved into the neighborhood, and is shunned by the other residents.

Late at night, Samar would come to visit Red, to snuggle up against his sturdy roots, and soon all the residents of Red’s leaves, branches, hollows, and roots came to know her as a friend.

Let Red describe her for you:

Samar has the look of someone who has seen too much. Someone who wants the world to quiet itself.

She moved with her parents into one of the houses I shade, a tiny blue house with a sagging porch and a tidy garden. She is perhaps ten years old or so, with wary eyes and a shy smile.

Samar’s New Friends.
Samar’s New Friends.

Samar would venture out in her pajamas and robe and sit beneath me on an old blanket, spattered with moonlight. Her silence was so complete, her gentleness so apparent, that the residents would crawl from their nests of thistledown and dandelion fluff to join her. They seemed to accept her as one of their own.  

If this were a fairy tale, I would tell you there was something magical about Samar. That she cast a spell on the animals, perhaps. Animals don’t just leave their nests and burrows willingly. They are afraid of people, with good reason.

But this isn’t a fairy tale, and there was no spell.

And then we learn that Red is a Wishtree.

Wishtrees have a long and honorable history, going back centuries. There are many in Ireland, where they are usually hawthorns or the occasional ash tree. But you can find wishtrees all over the world.

For the most part, people are kind when they visit me. They seem to understand that a tight knot might keep me from growing the way I need to grow. They are gentle with my new leaves, careful with my exposed roots.

After people write their hope on a rag or piece of paper, they tie it onto one of my branches. Usually they whisper the wish aloud.

It’s traditional to wish on the first of May, but people stop by throughout the year.

My, oh my, the things I have heard:

I wish for a flying skateboard.

I wish for a world without war.

I wish for a week without clouds.

I wish for the world’s biggest candy bar

I wish for an A on my geography test.

I wish Ms. Gentonini weren’t so grumpy in the morning.

I wish my gerbil could talk.

I wish my dad could get better.                             

I wish I weren’t hungry sometimes.

I wish I weren’t so lonely.

I wish I knew what to wish for.

So many wishes. Grand and goofy, selfish and sweet.

It’s an honor, all the hopes bestowed upon my tired old limbs.

Although by the end of May Day, I look like someone dumped a huge basket of trash on top of me.

And then Red tells us the story of Samar.

One night, not long ago, Samar came out to visit. It was two in the morning. Late, even for her.

She had been crying. Her cheeks were damp. She leaned against me, and her tears were like hot rain.

In her hand was a small piece of cloth. Pink, with little dots. Something was written on it.

A wish. The first wish I’d seen in months.

I wasn’t surprised she knew about the wishtree tradition. I’m kind of a local celebrity.

Samar reached up, gently pulled down my lowest branch, and tied the fabric in a loose knot.

“I wish,” she whispered, “for a friend.”

I’m not going to tell you the rest of the story, other than it is timely. I want you to read it yourself. And then read it to your children and grandchildren.

It’s a magical story, and it was the magic of my having grown up in a small North Dakota town, where these kind of things happen, that brought me this story, from an old acquaintance who read a story about our big, state champion Red Oak tree, and thought I would like this book.

Well, she was right. I wish that she will come and visit us, and our tree, on May Day, or any other day. I want to get reacquainted with this thoughtful person who was kind enough to send this book.

And as for our North Dakota State Champion Red Oak tree, well, I suppose it needs a name, and I suppose Red is as good as any. Actually, the book’s Red tells us that all Red Oak trees are named Red. So that’s it, I guess. If you don’t know about our tree, you can read about it here.

If I thought it was a Wishing Tree, I, too, would probably wish for a new friend. Actually, that wish has already been granted. Thank you, Valerie Lindquist Braun.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Colonel Jocelyne And Colonel Monique

Forty-three North Dakotans have been honored with the rank of colonel in the North Dakota Theodore Roosevelt Rough Riders since North Dakota began giving its highest award to its highest achievers in 1961. It’s time to make it 45.

The award was created by former Gov. William L. Guy as part of North Dakota’s commemoration of the Dakota Territory Centennial, to recognize current or former North Dakotans “who have been influenced by our state in achieving national recognition in  their fields of endeavor, thereby reflecting credit and honor on North Dakota and its citizens.”

Its first recipient was Lawrence Welk, famous for bringing his music and his North Dakota German-Russian accent into the national spotlight. It was presented by Gov. Guy just eight months into his first term as governor, in August of 1961, followed closely by Broadway actress Dorothy Stickney just three months later.

Its ranks include 10 people who have excelled in the arts, a few journalists, a couple of high-ranking military officers and educators, nine business leaders and just four athletes. There are 33 male colonels and just 10 females.

Gov. Doug Burgum can change a few of those numbers — and make history — by appointing twin sisters Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando to the North Dakota Rough Riders Hall of Fame.

As athletes, they would join Roger Maris, Cliff “Fido” Purpur, Casper Oimoen and Phil Jackson — pretty heady company. You know about the achievements of Maris and Jackson. The Lamoureux sisters have something in common with the other two. Purpur was the first North Dakotan to play in the National Hockey League and later was the hockey coach at the University of North Dakota, where the sisters played hockey in college. Oimoen was a ski jumper who competed in the 1932 and 1936 Winter Olympics. He did not win a medal.

Only one North Dakotan other than the Lamoureux sisters has won a Winter Olympics medal : Ken Purpur, younger brother of Fido, was a member of the 1956 men’s team that took silver. Three others have won medals at the Summer Olympics: track stars John Bennet and Cliff Cushman and boxer Virgil Hill. All won silver. Oh, two more won silvers in the Winter Olympics in 2010 — a pair of sisters named Lamoureux, neither of whom had a hyphenated last name at that time.

But until last month, no North Dakotan playing for a U.S. team had brought home a gold medal from the Olympics. I’m qualifying that statement with the words “U.S. team” because in 1928, a woman named Ethel Catherwood, who was actually born in the small town of Hannah, N.D., along the Canadian border, but raised in Saskatchewan, won the gold in the high jump at the Summer Olympics competing for Team Canada. So she doesn’t count.

Olympic gold medalists. Two of them. The first ever for North Dakota. And they didn’t just win them for themselves — they won them for their country. In a very big way. Monique tied the score with Team Canada near the end of regulation play to send the gold-medal game into overtime, and Jocelyne scored the winning goal in the subsequent shootout. If any pair of North Dakotans has ever “reflected credit and honor” on their home state, it is these two.

Burgum’s been in office nearly 15 months and hasn’t yet nominated anyone to the Rough Riders Hall of Fame. Now he can make history by inducting two people at once.

Guy, who created the Hall of Fame, made 11 appointments, the most of any governor. Art Link made eight, Allen Olson just three, George Sinner four, Ed Schafer six, John Hoeven event and Jack Dalrymple six. Interestingly, Burgum himself is a member, appointed by Hoeven in 2009 for his business achievements.

In fact, of the all the appointees (13) since Hoeven took office in 2001, seven have come from the business world and only two of the 13 were women — Sister Thomas Welder, president of the University of Mary, and author Louise Erdrich. Old white men were the colonels of choice of Hoeven and Dalrymple, although Hoeven did appoint the first Native American, Medal of Honor winner Woodrow Wilson Keeble. You can look at the whole list and read their biographies here.

But those are not the reasons to give the honor of colonel in the North Dakota Theodore Roosevelt Rough Riders Hall of Fame to the Lamoureux sisters. They have earned this honor in a way no other recipient of the award has earned it.

Their former UND coach said, “Those kids worked so hard for so many years to be prepared for that moment. They put in predawn workouts. They sprinted around the Cushman Field track when nobody was around. They found ice time at Ralph Engelstad Arena to hone their skills.”

And another UND coach said, “Those two deserve it more than anybody else. They’ve worked longer and harder than anyone. They’ve dedicated their lives to winning a gold medal.”

No other North Dakotan has won more than one medal at any Olympics. The Lamoureux sisters now have a gold hanging beside their silver. I hope Gov. Burgum will honor them. Right now.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Whither The Measure 6 Coalition?

Word comes this week that the organizing committee for a group of North Dakotans who want to raise North Dakota’s Oil Extraction Tax back to the level it was at before the Legislature cut it in 2015 has decided to postpone its initiated measure campaign. Postpone but not abandon. A wise choice, I’d say.

Although the group already has its petition language approved by the Secretary of State, signature-gathering time is short, and the task becomes even more difficult without the institutional support of organizations that were instrumental in the initial passage of the tax in 1980.

To review: We have an Oil Extraction Tax because of an initiated measure passed by the people of the state by a wide margin nearly 40 years ago. It came during our state’s first short-lived oil boom and was set at 6.5 percent of the price of a barrel of oil, which was added to an existing Oil Production Tax of 5 percent, giving us a total tax on oil of 11.5 percent. One of the highest, if not THE highest in the country.

The measure passed at a time when oil was gushing from the ground in western North Dakota and red ink was gushing from state coffers and agricultural balance sheets after the devastating hard times in agriculture in the 1970s.

The 11.5 percent tax stuck in the craw of the oil industry and Republican politicians for more than 30 years, although Republicans, who generally have governed the state since 1993, enjoyed the fruits of the income from the tax and the budgets it balanced for them.

But finally, in 2015, at the peak of the last oil boom when the state was flush with cash from the oil tax and a humming economy, Republicans mustered the courage to tackle the citizen-initiated tax and cut it from 6.5 percent to 5 percent. It was a devastating miscalculation. Within weeks of the governor signing the bill, oil prices began a death spiral, dropping from more than $60 per barrel to less than $30 (I don’t think there was any relationship between our tax cut and the price of oil, but still … ), and state budgets began bleeding red ink again.

It’s taken until now, more than two years later, for the price of oil to reach above $60 again. That combination of low oil prices and a lower oil tax means legislators have been forced to cut budgets, including some popular programs most North Dakotans like, such as property tax subsidies.

So sponsors of the current proposed initiated measure figured the time was right to go back to the people and ask them to raise the tax back to 6.5 percent. And they’re probably right. But there’s a difference between now and 1980. It’s the players.

Among political observers my age, we speak with reverence and awe of the “Measure 6 Coalition” — and those who organized it. It was probably the most powerful political coalition ever put together in North Dakota. It was the group that passed Measure 6, which created the 6.5 percent Oil Extraction Tax.

It was four organizations, led by four extraordinary men:

  • The North Dakota Farmers Union and its president, Stanley Moore.
  • The North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives and its executive director, Chub Ulmer.
  • The North Dakota Education Association and its executive director, Adrian Dunn.
  • The North Dakota AFL-CIO and its president, Jim Gerl.

Those four organizations probably represented a third of North Dakota’s population. And their members were activists, willing to rally behind their leaders because of the enormous respect for those four men, longtime leaders, giants of their era. I knew each of them personally and treasured any time they would share with me, sitting at their feet, as I was just entering the world of liberal political activism.

The four were brought together by then-Tax Commissioner Byron Dorgan and two of his chief lieutenants, Kent Conrad and Jim Lange. Dorgan, who had led the successful fight in the 1970s for implementation of a severance tax on coal, was the face of the movement. Conrad was the strategist. Lange was the number cruncher who figured out how and where to get the votes to pass it.

Those were halcyon days for populist activism in North Dakota, but they were nearing their end. 1980 was the year of the Reagan landslide. It was a wave election for Republicans, nationwide and in North Dakota. Republicans won every statewide election here but two in 1980, including the governor’s race, which saw the defeat of incumbent Gov. Art Link by Attorney General Allen Olson.

The only two Democrats to survive that election were the two men who went out on the stump and tirelessly, relentlessly, advocated for the passage of Measure 6, the Oil Extraction Tax: Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad. Dorgan was leaving his post to run for the U.S. Congress, a seat vacated by Mark Andrews, who was running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Milton Young. Conrad was running for tax commissioner, to replace Dorgan in that office. Both won by wide margins.

The two were the only Democratic-NPL candidates to campaign on a tax increase in a year when the country was headed inevitably to the right behind Reagan —  the rest of the Democratic-NPL ticket shied away. But Dorgan and Conrad had set the stage earlier, with their successful coal tax effort in the mid-1970s. Dorgan had even held a series of debates around the state with then-Republican House Majority Leader Earl Strinden, the two arguing both sides of a coal severance tax. It was classic North Dakota politics, the kind we don’t see any more. And Conrad was Dorgan’s chief strategist, behind the scenes then.

The pair, Dorgan and Concrad, were classic populists, leading the charge first against Big Coal and then Big Oil — and the people embraced them.

But in the end, it was Gerl, Ulmer, Moore and Dunn, the four coalition leaders, and their members, who swept the new oil tax into state law. And that’s what’s missing today. Those organizations, and their leaders.

To be fair, I can’t say whether the four leaders of those organizations today have the leadership capabilities to undertake such an effort, but what is obvious from the words of today’s organizing committee for the new initiated measure, is they are not yet all on board. Nor is there a Byron Dorgan or a Kent Conrad at the ready to lead them.

In the words of the organizing committee’s leaders, which I received in an e-mail today, “What we lack is endorsement from groups and organizations and their communication channels and infrastructure, all of which we need to get our message out to voters.”

Well. That could not be more clear. So they’ve made a timely, wise decision.

The strategy shifts now to the introduction of a measure in the 2019 Legislature to raise the Oil Extraction Tax back to 6.5 percent — an effort not likely to succeed, given the makeup of the Legislature. That’s what the Measure 6 Coalition understood back in 1980, and why they went directly to the people. Still, a concerted effort in the Legislature could attract a lot of attention and set the stage for an initiated measure in 2020.

But the Measure 6 Coalition does not exist today. A new coalition, with new leaders, must be assembled. Of the four leaders from 1980, only Jim Gerl is still alive. I think he’s approaching 80 and spends much time in Florida. But maybe we could get him back here to consult a bit.

I hope that the organizing committee for this effort can succeed in putting a new-old coalition back together. For in that effort lies success.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Donald Trump, Harold Hamm And Kevin Cramer

Most of my Democratic friends have a hard time understanding why I like Kevin Cramer. I think it’s because they’ve never been a part of a brotherhood. Let me explain.

I’m was thinking about this Wednesday because of Gary Emineth’s announcement Tuesday that Kevin Cramer would run for the U.S. Senate against Heidi Heitkamp. Thanks for that, Gary. I’m sure Kevin is grateful as well. Saved him a whole bunch of time and trouble putting together an announcement statement and lining up a place for a press conference and notifying the media and all the rigamarole that goes with announcing a campaign.

A couple of my Republican friends told me they are disappointed in the way things turned out. I think they wanted Emineth to run and Kevin to stay in the House. Well, me too. More about that in a minute.

I’ll give you a couple of names of people who are not disappointed.

Hey, Kevin …

Donald Trump and Harold Hamm. The two of them were the most instrumental in getting Kevin to change his mind, after he announced he would seek re-election to the House and not make the race for the Senate. Both put some persuasive pressure on Kevin to run against Heidi, but I’m told it was Hamm who closed the deal, after Trump had called Kevin and been turned down.

Harold Hamm, the deal closer.

I don’t know what Hamm promised, but it must have been significant, because Kevin was pretty sure, to the point of a public announcement, he would seek re-election to what most people consider a safe seat, and now he’s giving up a lot of security on a big gamble.

Well, of course, as of today this is all speculation, because there’s no formal announcement yet from Kevin, and likely no one except Harold and Kevin know what the deal was.

Kevin Cramer — an unlikely senator.
Kevin Cramer — an unlikely senator.

I’m disappointed because I’ve considered Kevin a friend for many years, and I don’t like it when my friends lose elections, no matter what party they belong to. And he’s pretty likely going to lose against Heidi. Which is OK, I guess. Even good, in fact, because Heidi’s been my friend longer than Kevin, and we all know the importance of seniority in politics.

I’ve known Heidi since her 1984 campaign for North Dakota State auditor. Anybody else remember that? I got to know Kevin in 1992, when he was chairman and executive director of the North Dakota Republican Party. He was a good one, unlike most of those party hacks who preceded him. But I need to back up a minute.

I had the job of executive director of the other party, the Democratic-NPL Party, in 1984, the year Bud Sinner got elected governor. I’m not boasting when I say I played a pretty significant role in his election.

After the election, as his transition team began filling available jobs in the Capitol, I got a call from Joe Lamb, who was chairing the transition team, asking me if I wanted a job in government. I said I was pretty happy with what I was doing, but if it meant a pay raise, I’d consider it.

I considered it, but I stayed on in my job with the Democratic-NPL Party until summer, meanwhile looking around at what might be the best job in state government that I dared ask for. I found one. I called Chuck Fleming, who had been Sinner’s campaign manager and then became his chief of staff in the governor’s office, and said a really cool job would be the manager of Lake Metigoshe State Park. I loved parks, and I loved camping, and I loved the Turtle Mountains, and I told Chuck that if I could manage a whole state political party, surely I could manage one square mile in the Turtle Mountains. Chuck said he would see what he could do.

A few days later he called me back and said, “Sorry, but you have to be QUALIFIED to get that job.” Turns out it is a civil service position that falls under the state’s personnel system, not subject to patronage. Dang.

But Chuck had another idea. He said I might make a pretty good State Tourism director, and that job might come available. Well, I didn’t know much about tourism, but I knew enough about marketing, which was what the job was all about, and apparently you didn’t have to be QUALIFIED to take THAT job, so I took it.

I wasn’t prepared for the phone call the next day from a reporter from The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead asking me what my qualifications were to be Tourism director. I stammered out something like “Well, I know the state pretty well, and I’ve camped in every state park in North Dakota …”

The answer looked pretty lame in the paper the next day, but somehow I got by that and had a fun seven  years in the Tourism Office.

Fast-forward to November 1992. I resigned from the Tourism Office that fall, and Ed Schafer got elected governor. Not long after the election, I ran into Kevin Cramer at lunch time at the Peacock Alley in downtown Bismarck, and I congratulated him on a great campaign and on getting Ed, who I liked immensely (and who I had voted for), elected governor.

And I said that now precedent had been set — Sinner got elected on my watch, and I became Tourism director — so now it was his turn. And I said, it is the best job in state government (way better than being a state park manager).

Well, it took Kevin a few months to warm to the idea, but eventually he did it, and held that post a few years, joining the Brotherhood of North Dakota Tourism directors. I was only the fourth person to hold that job in the state’s history, and Kevin became the sixth. Ed kept Tracy Potter, who was Deputy Tourism director when I was there, in the job on an interim basis, until Kevin was ready to leave his post with the party and go to work in government, so Tracy was fifth.

The rest is history. Kevin did a fine job, got promoted to Economic Development director, ran for Congress a couple of times and lost (if you went through his bank statements from his 1996 and 1998 campaigns, you’d find a couple of checks from me in there — sorry, Earl), and he finally did get elected to Congress a dozen or so years later.

He should stay there. He can continue to make as many BAD votes there as he wants to without really doing any harm. Although young Ben Hanson, the Democrat running for that job, would give him a pretty good run for his money. It’s going to be a darn good year for Democrats, and Ben’s a darn good candidate, and you never know …

What I do know is that Ben is the third person, behind Trump and Hamm, who’s really happy to see Kevin make the jump, if that is what happens this week. His job as a candidate just got a whole lot easier, no matter who the Republicans run for that seat.

Questions remain.

  • What of Tom Campbell, the only other serious Republican in the Senate race? He’s rich and could primary Cramer, just like Cramer primaried Brian Kalk six years ago. If not, Campbell could run for the House.
  • But who else might want that House seat? Maybe someone who had it once before, like Rick Berg? That could make for an interesting state convention, and/or primary.
  • And what of Gary Emineth? Well, he’s embarrassed the party by calling the president of the United States (not the current one, but if the shoe fits …) a Piece Of Shit in a Facebook post and might be tempted, but he’s unlikely to get a party endorsement any more. That’s why he pulled out of the Senate race and made Kevin’s announcement for him.

Could I make a prediction? Well, partly. Anticipating this possibility, young Ben Hanson got out there really early and pretty much has a lock on the Democratic-NPL slot. Smart kid. But an open seat for Congress could draw a flood of Republicans to the race. I wouldn’t be surprised to see as many as half a dozen.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves in this Senate race. Let’s wait for Kevin to come home and talk to us.

To paraphrase Priscilla Alden, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, Kevin?”