JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — The Halcyon Days Are Gone

In the halcyon days of the 1970s in North Dakota, when the state was a quieter, kinder, friendlier, more thoughtful place, the Legislature passed a bill, and the governor signed it, designating the Little Missouri River as our state’s only official State Scenic River and creating a commission to look out for it.

The Little Missouri Scenic River Commission did its job through the administrations of four governors who cared about the Bad Lands and its river — Art Link, Allen Olson, George Sinner and Ed Schafer — two Democrats and two Republicans. It met regularly, rerouted proposed pipelines to protect trees, kept gravel miners, oil drillers, seismologists and road builders out of the river valley, made sure oil wells and tank batteries were above the bluff line well away from the river and even passed rules regulating barbed-wire fences across the river.

Then came the administrations of John “Good-Paying Jobs Uber Alles” Hoeven and Jack Dalrymple, and the commission faded into obscurity. It ceased to meet, and its rules ceased to be enforced, and soon the industrialization of the Little Missouri State Scenic River Valley began.

Oil wells started showing up on the riverbank, just yards from the river. The state engineer began issuing industrial water permits to take water from the river for fracking, in direct violation of the law (600 of them at last count). The roar of diesel trucks and jake brakes, and the steady thump, thump of one lung pumpjacks, echoed throughout the valley.

With the election of Doug Burgum, who was an easterner, but owned a Bad Lands ranch, there was some hope that the state’s only Scenic River might once again get some special attention at the highest levels of government. Didn’t happen. Oh, Burgum reformulated the commission, but then he asked it, as its first official act, to ratify a policy making it legal, for the first time in more than 40 years, to use Little Missouri State Scenic River water for industrial purposes — read: fracking. They did that this week.

The commission is an interesting mix of folks. By law, it is composed of six Bad Lands ranchers, one from each of the six Bad Lands counties, and three bureaucrats — the state engineer, the state health officer and the state parks director. For the first 25 years of its existence, it carried out its mission, with reasonable ranchers who really cared about the river valley, and dedicated state employees from the State Parks and Health Departments and state engineer’s office, teaming up to fulfill its mission, as outlined in Chapter 61-29 of the North Dakota Century Code: “to maintain the scenic, historic, and recreational qualities of the Little Missouri River and its tributary streams.”

The law also says the commission “shall also have the power and duties of promulgating management policies to coordinate all activities within the confines of the Little Missouri River when such action is deemed necessary.”

One of the things they did with that authority, to help “maintain the recreation quality” of the river, was to adopt a fencing policy, which said that fences across the river “must have a gated opening of at least 8 feet.” They adopted that policy at a meeting in April 1995.

Now, I’ve been canoeing the Little Missouri for more than 40 years, and for the first 35 years, I rarely encountered a fence across the river. Once or twice in all those years. But a few years ago, Lillian and I canoed from the Logging Camp Ranch, south of Medora, into Medora, a trip we’ve done probably half a dozen times. And in that 40 or so river miles, we encountered eight fences across the river, none of which had gates. We were forced to get out and portage around every one of them. On about fence No. 6, I angrily vowed to bring a wire cutter with me the next time I canoed that stretch of the river. I cooled down after a couple of beers in Medora, and instead just decided to never canoe that stretch of the river again. And I haven’t. Which is too bad, since it is the stretch that goes around Bullion Butte, one of the nicest places on the entire river. Entire planet, for that matter.

Later, I asked a rancher down in that country why there were so many fences all of a sudden. He said, “Jim, neighbors don’t get along like they used to.”

Well, he’s right, of course. In the halcyon days, cattle along that stretch ran free and were rounded up and sorted in the spring for branding. Now, fences keep everyone’s herds separate.

I’m writing all this on the heels of this week’s Scenic River Commission meeting in Dickinson, at which the commission was asked to weigh in on three issues.

The first was Burgum’s policy of allowing for industrial use of water from the river for fracking. The policy was adopted by the State Water Commission, which Burgum chairs, about a year ago, but the Scenic River Commission mulled it over for a while before finally giving it the okay this week.

So instead of looking out for the river, maintaining its “scenic, historic and recreational qualities,” the first official action of the newly formed commission was to give its blessing to the industrialization of the Little Missouri State Scenic River. There are already approved industrial water permits at 10 ranches on the river right now. Who knows how many there will be in a year, or five years.

The second was a request for support for the new bridge across the Little Missouri River north of Medora. The group discussed it for more than an hour before commission member Gene Allen from Beach made a motion to support the “no-build” alternative laid out in the Environmental Impact Statement, which would have put the commission on record as opposing the new bridge. That brought Billings County Commission chairman Jim Arthaud roaring from the audience to the front of the room, where he took over the meeting and said in no uncertain terms that Billings County needed and deserved the bridge.

Well, after more discussion, the motion failed on a 5-3 vote, with only Allen, Slope County rancher John Hanson and Parks Director Melissa Baker voting in favor of it.  Then there was silence while commission chairman Joe Schettler, Dunn County’s representative on the commission waited for a motion to support the bridge. No motion was forthcoming. So, after a long pause, Schettler recessed the meeting for a bathroom break. So the commission took no position on the bridge.

The third was a discussion of the illegal bridge already built over the river in Dunn County by Wylie Bice, which I wrote about the other day. After some discussion, the group decided that since the bridge is already there, not much can be done about it. So they gave it tacit approval.

But the discussion turned to the idea that it was actually the Corps of Engineers fault the bridge was there because they signed off on the bridge but hadn’t checked with the Bureau of Land Management, on whose land the bridge is located, to see if it was OK with them. So the group passed a motion to send a letter to the Corps asking them to please share information on things like this.

I found it a bit ironic that a bunch of conservative ranchers were urging the government agencies to share personal information with each other. Guess it depends on the situation.

So now, the commission moves on to other things — what other things I am not sure. It’s an interesting group. The county representatives are appointed by the county commissioners. They must be ranchers who live on the river, except for the Golden Valley County representative (lawyer Gene Allen from Beach). (Golden Valley is one of the Bad Lands counties even though the river doesn’t flow through it.)

A couple of them take their responsibility to protect the river seriously. More of them are there to protect their county’s economic interests by not letting environmental protection get in the way of the industry that fuels their county’s economy — oil. The chairman himself has an industrial water permit and sells water from the river to the frackers. To be fair, he hasn’t been voting on these things, saying he will only vote to break a tie.

State Parks director Melissa Baker is there to protect the river. State Engineer Garland Erbele is there to do what engineers do — build things. He’s no friend of the river. The Health Department is represented by Dave Glatt, head of the state’s Department of Environmental Quality. He’s a lackey for the energy industry, Burgum’s worst appointment to date, who can’t be trusted to stick up for the river. He voted FOR the industrial water permit policy and AGAINST the motion to oppose the new bridge in Billings County, even though it has the potential to be the worst environmental problem ever to face the river if the oil trucks start crossing through the valley by the hundreds, or thousands, as the county has predicted. I told him after Monday’s meeting that, as the state’s top environmental officer, he ought to be ashamed of himself.

So what we’ve got, I was moaning to a friend of mine who knows these issues, is what we asked for: an active Little Missouri Scenic River Commission. I guess we have to be more careful about what we ask for. It’s just a rubber stamp for the energy industry, I complained to my friend. And that is bad because their approval of things like industrial water permits and bridges (and who knows what else in the future) gives those who would abuse the Little Missouri State Scenic River the credibility of having been approved and endorsed by an official state government commission.

A couple of years ago I began writing about the need to reactivate the commission. I really, really wanted to bring it back and put it to work protecting the river from industrial development. I remember those halcyon days when the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission members really, really cared about the river. And I really, really long for those days again, I told my friend.

“Jim,” he said, “things are different now. You need to lower your expectations.”

I guess.

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 — 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 — Charlie Creek To Belfield — A History Lesson

The last major threat to the visual integrity of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, at least that I can recall — though there have been many skirmishes with the oil industry — was in 1989, when the Western Area Power Administration came really close to putting a huge transmission line along the east boundary of the South Unit of the Park.

I’m reminded of that in the context of the Meridian Energy Group’s horrible idea to put their proposed Davis Oil Refinery in about the same place, along the east edge of the park.

In the 1960s, WAPA, one of four federal power marketing administrations that serves our part of the United States, determined there was going to be a need for more electricity in part of its region in the future, and Basin Electric, headquartered in Bismarck, had surplus power to sell. All that was needed was a way for Basin to get its power into the WAPA system.

They determined that the best way was to build a transmission line — one with those big metal towers — from Basin’s Charlie Creek substation in McKenzie County, near the junction of state Highway 200 and U.S. Highway 85, to tie into an east-west WAPA power line near Belfield, N.D., about 40 miles south. WAPA commenced a federal Environmental Impact Statement process to find the best location for the line and its towers (unlike Meridian, which refuses to even submit to a state site review process) in 1969, and issued a draft EIS.

Some 20 years later, when demand reached the point that WAPA decided it needed the extra power, it commenced a review process with a public comment period and public hearings on the project. The review process focused on two identified corridors for the power line: a western line, called W1-1, which was four miles shorter and a million dollars cheaper than one farther east, called E-4-1R. WAPA recommended using the shortest, cheapest route, W-1-1.

Unfortunately, that route ran beside the eastern boundary of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and would have been visible from most high places in the park. The eastern route ran alongside Highway 85, five miles or so east of the park, and out of sight from the park.

So in the spring of 1988, WAPA published a notice of its intent to build the line next to the park and opened a public comment period. Tracy Potter and I were running the State Tourism Office at the time, and if WAPA could have picked any two people on the planet it did not want in THAT office at THAT time, it would have been the two of us. Our boss, Gov. George Sinner, turned us loose to organize against building the line next to the park.

In advance of the public hearings, which were to be held in Belfield and Grassy Butte, N.D., on July 26-27, 1988, we got on the phone and began rounding up supporters to send letters to WAPA, asking it to move the line east, to the highway, out of sight of the park. We did a pretty good job.

U.S. Sen. Quentin Burdick wrote:

“In recent days, I have received a number of letters from concerned citizens who believe that the route recommended for the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) will have long term negative effects on the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. As well, the North Dakota Tourism Office and the State Highway Department have also expressed opposition to the recommended route.

“It seems clear from the concerns raised by the opponents that WAPA should reconsider the options and seek a more acceptable routing for the line. Granted, the additional $1 million in construction costs must be an item of consideration. However, when viewed in the context, it seems the additional $1 million is not too large a price to pay to protect such a national treasure as Theodore Roosevelt Park.”

How about that! Why don’t we have U. S. senators like that anymore?

And Congressman Byron Dorgan wrote:

“The visual impact (on Theodore Roosevelt National Park) is unacceptable. I hope you will hear the concerns of myself and of many others who are committed to protecting the natural, scenic beauty of the Badlands.”

I know that our newest senator at the time, Kent Conrad, weighed in on this as well, but I can’t find his letter.

Even our boss, Gov. Sinner, and his lieutenant governor, Lloyd Omdahl, sent a jointly signed letter (although I think Tracy probably wrote it for them):

“North Dakotans have jealously guarded the Badlands scenic areas from avoidable intrusions. Consequently the Park today still provides awesome views of natural beauty unmarred by artificial structures. Whether or not future generations will be able to share this beauty will be determined by this generation and the decisions it makes about development in the area. We must proceed cautiously in the consideration of proposals to change the landscape.”

Other letters came from concerned citizens, and the usual suspects — the National Parks Conservation Association, the Sierra Club, the Theodore Roosevelt Nature and History Association and others, many of whom are now involved, 30 years later, in the current fight to move the Davis refinery away from the park.

Tracy led the testimony at the public hearing in Belfield, followed by TRNP’s Chief Ranger Bob Powell, Gary Redmann from the State Highway Department representing then-Commissioner Walt Hjelle, Wally Owen from Medora, who ran the horse concession in the park, and finally, batting cleanup, Medora Mayor and President of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation Rod Tjaden, who I think was also state chairman of the Greater North Dakota Association, the state’s chamber of commerce, at the time. (Humorous aside: Tjaden, not known for hanging out with the environmental crowd, sent me a note a few months later that said “Dammit, Fuglie, I’m getting mail from the Sierra Club, and it’s YOUR FAULT!”)

After the public hearings, WAPA went into hibernation for about six months, and in early 1989 released its final EIS, with its final recommendation on a route for their transmission line, which concluded with this statement:

“Through public comment, it was determined that visibility of the line from residences, local urban areas and TRNP was of significant importance. In particular, a large number of comments expressed concern for the visibility of the proposed line from TRNP. It was determined that the agency-preferred route would be changed from W1-1, as specified in the DEIS, to E4-1R (the environmentally preferred route).”

A loud cheer could be heard throughout western North Dakota. The system worked. The park was protected.

Well, that’s our history lesson for today. Sadly, history doesn’t often repeat itself. A month or so ago, I sent letters to our current governor, Doug Burgum, and to our congressional delegation, asking them to meet with the Meridian people and ask them to move the proposed refinery away from the park. I got a couple of responses.

This in an e-mail from Jodee Hanson in the governor/s office:

“The Governor respects the public comment period, which is still ongoing, and is staying apprised of the Department of Health’s permitting process being conducted within the boundaries of the law.”

To which I responded:

“Thanks for the note Jodee. Relay to everyone there that the ‘boundaries of the law’ are the minimum standard for action by public officials. There is much more that can, and should, be done. Like a one-on-one between Burgum and Prentice, heart to heart, CEO to CEO. I am inspired by Julie Fedorchak and Connie Triplett seeking a PSC review. The governor could make that happen by putting the hammer down on Prentice: “Y’know, Bill, we’re in this together for the long haul. We’re going to be looking at each other and talking to each other for a long time. Let’s be responsible and see what a PSC site review tells us.”

I also got an e-mail from a staffer for Congressman Kevn Cramer:

“Congressman Cramer has been in contact with both the N.D. Department of Health and EPA ensuring the project meets human health and environmental requirements.”

To which I responded:

“Relay to everyone there that meeting the “human health and environmental requirements” is not enough in this case. There is much more that can, and should, be done. As a former State Tourism director, Kevin understands the impact on our National Park. I’d suggest a one-on-one between the congressman and Meridian CEO Bill Prentice, heart to heart. I am inspired by Julie Fedorchak and Connie Triplett seeking a PSC review. The Congressman could help make that happen by meeting with Prentice:”

I’ve not heard anything from our two senators. I’m going to send them, along with Cramer and Burgum, a copy of this blog post to remind them of what can be done if everyone pulls their own weight.

Maybe. Just maybe …

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Infusion Of Common Sense Would Raise GOP’s Chances This Year

It’s time for the GOP, both nationally and in North Dakota, to invest in some funding and common sense so that they can get their elevator out of the basement in a 10-story building.

Der Fuhrer Trump once again showed his detachment from common sense when he released the names and photos of his nine financial advisers. All of them are white men, including three named Steve. No minority inclusion. No females. Wow, isn’t that the way to open the party to everyone! Isn’t that the way to infuse confidence in both women and minorities that they count!

At this point, I can’t figure out who’s dumber — the people who nominated Trump; the people who voted for Trump; or, last but not least, the people who advise him.

If you saw the movie “RoboCop,” you’ll recall his (or its) deep, authoritative voice. Now, listen to Donny Trump’s endorsement of Paul Ryan, John McCain and Kelly Ayotte. If you didn’t see that news story, you must find it on Facebook or the national news. Doesn’t he remind you of that RoboCop?

You can tell when Trump is speaking off the cuff because of all the stupid things he says and then has to walk back. But for these unwilling recommendations, he looked straight into the camera and read his “endorsements” — if you can call them that —  like a cadaver wired with sound. The words coming out of his mouth did not match the look on his face. You could see he was choking on the script, which for once he actually stuck to.

The problem with this candidate is that having nominated him, the GOP has demonstrated it thinks the electorate is dumber than a box of rocks. How could the GOP have thought that, in just a few weeks, it could potty train a man who has used people like toilet paper his entire life?

Wow, his daughters say he’s wonderful to work with. What work? His sons call him a great man who even taught them the value of hard work (and how to kill big game animals).

This man says he wants to make America great and put our people back to work — while he has his shirts made in one country, his ties made in another country and his hats in a third country. God only knows who makes his underwear.

Without the mental filtering of a 3-year0-old, he volunteered that he gave the people in those countries an income that they wouldn’t have at all without him. Translation: Cheap overseas labor overseas “trumps” the decent wages he’d have to pay in this country. For Trump, that is good economics. For our country, it stinks.

When the top men and women in our national security agencies announce that Hillary Clinton is qualified to be commander in chief, but Donald Trump is not, the American public should pay close attention.

Yet the media continue to play up the same old propaganda about Bad Hillary — stories that have no real facts. Accusations do not count. The professionals who have worked with her, from both Republican and Democratic administrations, commend her for her work ethic, honesty and ability to get the job done — the job, that is, of protecting America, not the United States of Trump.

I sincerely have looked for a positive thing to say about Trump. Quite honestly, he fails at every level.

He still insults Sen. McCain for being captured as a prisoner of war. He still says our military is in shambles. And don’t forget, he insisted he saw a planeload of money being unloaded in Iran — until he didn’t see it. He still demeans women. I could go on and on. The bottom line is the man is incapable of admitting he said or did something wrong.

Remember his admiration for Saddam Hussein and his worship of Russia’s Putin?

Trump’s ego is so large, and his ability to think outside of his comfort zone so small, that he doesn’t realize what our foreign relations experts are saying.

It has been reported that Putin is playing Trump like a fiddle. He knows from his own KGB training that if you say nice things about the Donald, he will respond in kind. Same with NATO; Trump wants to make a deal to honor our commitments. The man doesn’t know that when you have a commitment, you honor it … and it’s not just another “deal.”

 * * *

Believe it or not, some claim that North Dakota has a Republican, Democratic and two other parties. Don’t tell that to Al Carlson and Jack Dalrymple. They know there’s only one.

A special session is called, but the Democrats aren’t allowed in the planning room. The majority presents the plan as it’s written and vote, of course, bypassing the Dem minority altogether. Not only were the Democrats and their own proposals ignored, but the Trump-supporting clones followed the big man’s lead and cut funding to those who can afford it the least.

Bill Guy, George Sinner and Art Link were governors of, by and for the people. You can bet your stock in the air in my backyard that in their day, a lot more thought would have been given to the budget, before and after that special session.

A 10-year-old could have sat down and ordered that across-the-board cut in every department. On the other hand, a thinking person — one who might not be independently wealthy — just might say, “I want all departments to show where cuts can be made.” Certain departments would not be available for cuts and would, in fact, scream for essential increases.

Health care, in particular, took a slamming in the budget passed by the special session. The withholding of promised and essential funds for Robinson Recovery in Fargo is absolutely unconscionable.

Our single-voice Legislature bragged about its wise investments all the while it spent faster than the income it relied upon. When the jig was up, instead of addressing the issues, it actually slammed the Democrats for showboating.

It appears the North Dakota GOP’s elevator not only doesn’t go up to the top; it needs some work right where it is, stuck in the basement. In no sense am I trying to be humorous here. What recently happened in Bismarck does not pass the smell test.

* * *

Speaking of smell: A certain columnist and blogger for The Forum apparently is obsessed with Joel Heitkamp of KFGO Radio and his sister, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. Joel has the No. 1 talk show in the state. Heidi is North Dakota’s only thinking senator. When the two combine their talents on Joel’s morning his talk show, it is the best in information and in entertainment.

I very much like and supPORT both of them. I hope that writer can manage to do a balancing act and see if he can’t just find something nice to say about each of them.

No matter how you cut it, she is our senator, and he is No. 1.

That’s a fact, not a paid commercial. I wish it was. I could use the income. Amen.