I’d like to begin this week by saying, “That darn Heidi Heitkamp.”
I’m referring, of course, to last week’s column in The Forum in which Mike McFeely ever-so-gently, in his curmudgeonly way, suggested that fellow columnist Rob Port might try writing about someone other than Heidi Heitkamp.
Like maybe Joel Heitkamp. I mean, I ain’t exactly Sherlock Holmes, but if I were going after dirt, I’d start digging in his backyard. Someone once asked Willie Sutton why he robbed banks. “Because that’s where the money is,” he said.
Joel has more skeletons in his closet than Jeffrey Dahmer. Far be it from me to cast aspersions, but I had lunch with him once, and he ordered fava beans and a nice Chianti, and for the record, that’s not even on the menu at Burger King.
It’s true that Rob Port has broken more than a few news stories over the years, but so far, all he has on Heidi is that she cheated at Parcheesi in fifth grade, has too many freckles and is bad at handshakes. Meanwhile, I know for a fact that Joel Heitkamp once robbed Willie Sutton. With an AR-16.
You could write for months just about prom night. There’s a version of the Steele Dossier on the bathroom walls at Hankinson (N.D.) High School. Joel’s senior year reads like “Fifty Shades of What the Hell!?”
But you know what they say — “You can lead a columnist to water, but he probably can’t swim.”
Personally, I refrain from talking about other columnists except for Tammy Swift, who has the cutest curly blonde hair ever. And while I’m at it, I’d like to thank Roxane Salonen for casting out my demons — I’m a Republican now — and I’m really sorry about the carpet. Roxane is my spirit animal, which, if you think about it, is really messed up.
To paraphrase Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment, I believe one should “Speak no ill of a fellow columnist,” although these days in the White House I think it’s “Speak no ill of a fellow Communist.”
But I’m giving McFeely a pass on this one. This was more of an intervention. Not that I think Mike is the right guy for the job. If he showed up in my living room and gave me a hug, I think I’d start drinking more. They probably should have sent Roxane Salonen to Rob’s house. With a tarp.
This is getting worrisome. When Jake from State Farm called Rob and asked him what he was wearing, the answer was “Heidi Heitkamp’s pajamas.” That can’t be comfortable. Heidi is so folksy, she wears burlap, and according to the TV commercial I saw, Crocs.
If you dealt with as much chaffing as Rob Port, you’d lash out, too.
The problem with picking a fight with Rob is you’re going to need a thesaurus. (For you South Dakota State University grads, that’s not the dinosaur that ate the lawyer in Jurassic Park.) Rob has a propensity for using big words. Like propensity.
On this one, the smart money is on Port. McFeely knows just one big word. Kerfuffle. I don’t know what that is exactly, but it sounds like something you’d need a trained pig to sniff out in French forests. Or something you do after eating fava beans. Or a colorful nickname for an Austin Powers villain — Kerfuffle Carbuncle.
McFeely’s column went virus on the interwebs, but surprisingly, many liberals were critical of him. They weren’t exactly rushing to Port’s defense, but they felt that it was too little, too late. Apparently, McFeely should have attacked like a rabid dog (or Shawn Hannity) the instant Port showed his conservative leanings. Which was at birth. He only suckled from the right.
And the narrative is McFeely should have been even tougher on him.
Wow. Democrats have gotten so grumpy these days I can’t tell them from Republicans. Except in coffee shops and on the highway. At Starbucks, Democrats are the ones ordering soy caramel macchiatos, and Republicans are the ones making black people leave. Except for Kanye.
On the road, you can tell them apart because conservatives drive Cadillacs and liberals drive hybrids. Democrats will stop traffic to move a turtle. Republicans want to make it legal to drive over protesters or at least waterboard them.
One of my hobbies is cruising the Whole Foods parking lot with Make America Great Again bumper stickers. I put them on every Prius I see.
I slap PETA stickers on Suburbans parked at gun shops.
In my own small way, I feel I’m bringing us closer together.
My buddy, Rob Port, used the coveted space for his Sunday column to set up a hypothetical Festivus pole, air his grievances and sob over his keyboard. My sources say he paced in the hall for a solid 45 seconds before getting winded and falling into a heap of self-pity. The feats of strength portion of Festivus was canceled, due to a lack of strength.
It is a Festivus miracle that anyone would waste money on this rube.
The headline and copy exemplified why he isn’t taken seriously, and many people consider him an embarrassment to the newspaper industry, worldwide, and Forum Communications in particular. I’m just generally embarrassed for people with no self-awareness or shame. Ferrets also have no self-awareness or shame. They are the Ports of the animal kingdom.
It’s as if he impersonated a real journalist and a real higher education expert, in a debate at Minot State University. Oh, right. Port did that and wore his finest checkered shirt and what appeared on video to be skinny jeans. The dull-witted one argued with people who have degrees up to their knees.
It’s doubtful that Port understood most of the words, but he was pleased with himself anyway. That’s the type of person we’re dealing with\ and partly explains his column of victimhood woe.
Let’s dissect this dead carp. Port’s words are in quotations.
“COMMENTARY: CRITICS CRY SHUT UP, BUT MY CRITICISM ON SENATOR IS SOUND”
What critic said shut up? He doesn’t know. Port’s Heidi obsession cannot be summed up as sound. It’s not. If you’re into the 109 degrees of separation game, laced with venom, Rob’s your dude.
“MINOT, N.D. — Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and her network of operatives and supporters are out to make me Public Enemy No. 1.”
The youngster never names any of these operatives involved in this conspiracy. He usually calls these imaginary people “surrogates.” The word surrogates, appears in 7,436 Heidi hit pieces.
And he isn’t No. 1. He wishes. Port’s just a lackey.
“The problem is that the senator’s approval numbers are tanking ahead of what promises to be the most vigorously contested election of her life.”
The Portweasel just made that up. His mediocrity is the problem.
“The solution, it seems, is to paint yours truly as a big, bad bully who just won’t leave poor Heitkamp alone.”
The Portweasel just made that up.
“Remember, this is a U.S. senator we’re talking about. As one of just 100 members of that legislative chamber, she is one of the most powerful political figures in the country. She has a war chest stuffed with millions in donations which funds, among other things, a campaign staff eager to mau-mau anyone critical of their candidate.”
Mau-mau? OK. Port is eager to mau-mau anyone critical of Kevin Cramer. Kevin can say nothing too stupid to get the mau-mau thing from his third favorite media sycophant.
“Lately, though, Heitkamp has taken the posture of a victim in the face of criticism from me. Her staffers, who never bother to respond to my requests for comment or interviews, routinely contact my bosses encouraging them to shut me up. The state’s opinion pages frequently feature letters to the editor from Democratic operatives whinging on about a supposed “obsession” with the senator.”
Heitkamp has never mentioned the blogger’s name, to my memory, but Rob can fantasize about keeping her up at night. Heidi doesn’t consider Port at all. He’s a hack who thinks he deserves some respect because JoeMN, Orville and a small cast of turkey vultures,who circle the polluted pond on his blog, are waiting to attack anyone who might leave a factual comment. These mooks hang on his every word, or at least try to sound out the headline.
“Even my colleague, Mike McFeely, is doing his part for Heitkamp under the guise of promoting professional standards. In a recent column, he was floating the scurrilous idea that I might be paid off by Republicans. He claims that a political commentator like me writing a lot about a candidate in what promises to be the biggest political brawl in state history is somehow unbecoming of someone in our profession.”
McFeely is not Jr.’s colleague (that implies some level of equality), and he wasn’t doing anything on behalf of Heitkamp. And he didn’t float anything. As McFeely stated, readers have wondered about his obviously adhesive relationship with Kevin Cramer. How many lies is that, so far?
“There’s a simple explanation for why all of this is happening: My criticism of Heitkamp is sound.”
No it isn’t. Sorry, you little hombre.
“It’s resonating with the public.”
“It’s become inconvenient to Heitkamp’s efforts to get herself re-elected.”
Wrong again. Voldeport (copyrighted by Kris Wallman), thinks a lot of himself.
“Thus, it must be removed. Or diminished.”
Thus, the thin-skinned one doesn’t understand the issue. Drama queen.
“Hilariously, there seems to be little concern from my critics about the senator’s brother operating a Fargo-based radio station as a de facto campaign headquarters. When Joel Heitkamp was riding herd on Heitkamp’s opponent in 2012 — former Republican Congressman Rick Berg — there were no complaints from our friends on the left.”
Port complained, and since I listened to KFGO before that election (did Robbie?), and to call the radio station as a de facto campaign headquarters, is ridiculous. Another lie. I’m sure it sounded true during a fever dream brought on by mayonnaise malaise.
“The hypocrisy is so thick you could cut it with a knife.”
I love cliches.
“You’ll notice that the bulk of the criticism of my coverage of North Dakota’s U.S. Senate race is not focused on what I’m writing. There are few rebuttals offered for the points I’m making. Rather, we are being treated to tantrums from people who are upset that I’m writing anything at all.”
Also, not true. Weasel boy is throwing the tantrum in this comedy.
“I dislike dedicating a column like this to some food fight with a bunch of politicos and campaign operatives, but I felt I owed you, the audience, a rebuttal to the smear campaign against me.”
Gosh, thanks, I did feel owed. Port knows how to smear, but not enough people care about him to call anything a campaign.
“I choose topics because they matter. My critics want me to shut up because they know those topics matter.”
Another miss. Have another bottle of cough syrup.
“One truth I’ve learned in 15 years of writing about politics is that you usually get the most flak when you’re over the target.”
I bought a gizmo that is supposed to drive away vermin by emitting a super high-pitched sound. I wanted a herd of hard-partying ants on a sugar high to take a hike. Or take a long walk off a short pier, like my uncles used to tell me on a regular basis.
It’s undignified to live with insects that strut around like they own the place. So far, all the annoying squeal (I imagine) has kept away are bears. White through black. Haven’t seen a one of them. The ants laugh and line dance on the gadget. “Boot Scootin Boogie” still haunts me, from a former life.
Speaking of bears, I imagine that some of the college-educated professional news people at the Forum and WDAY have also tried audio waves to shoo away the pesky amatuer Rob Port. The raccoon infestation has moved over to Broadway, but the blogger is evidently immune to good vibrations, toxic sprays and kites that look like dragons. Hang in there, people.
Aside from his calling them “colleagues,” which insults me and I don’t even work there, Port also has a neurological problem level of shrill repetition, with his topics.
HEIDI HEITKAMP WORE MISMATCHED SOCKS TO PROM!
WHO GAVE BIBI NETANYAHU A NOOGIE IN AN UBER? WAS IT HEIDI?
HIGH FOUR? IS HEIDI HEITKAMP TOO SHORT?
DOES RED CAUSE VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY? MY SOURCES SAY YES!
HEIDI TOOK A KNEE WHEN HER COACH SAID, TAKE A KNEE!
She’s a vicious red-haired she-devil, no doubt.
Obviously, Port writes his own headlines because no standard-issue person could concoct such clunky word strings.
One of his favorite heavily repeated themes is that Heitkamp is a big meany, and she will surely pick on the angelic Congressman Kevin Cramer.
Recently, Port posted the following:
“THIS IS WHY SENATOR HEITKAMP HAS TO MAKE VOTERS HATE HER OPPONENT”
“I’ve long predicted that the 2018 U.S. Senate election will be one of the ugliest North Dakota has ever seen.” (Now, that’s some fine punditing.)
“Part of the foundation for that prediction lays in the way the incumbent, Sen. Heitkamp, campaigned in 2012. She ran a VICIOUS campaign that year, BRUTALIZING her opponent Rick Berg with her surrogates painting the man as a “slum lord” and worse.” (Robbie made the wrong prediction and has been pouting about it ever since. Berg claimed that Heitkamp wanted to disarm our military, so Port can hang his hat on that gem.)
“But if she can use her millions in out-of-state contributions to turn the race into referendum on what an awful person Congressman Kevin Cramer is, maybe she can win.” (Well, he is awful.)
“She’s a gifted politician, she has millions from out of state donors in the bank already, and she’s proven to have FEW SCRUPLES when it comes to SAVAGING her political opponents.”
So, because the smiling, smarmy, smirking Cramer would never resort to running a negative campaign, little Port has taken the initiative to pick up the slack with the scruple-free, vicious and savaging of Kevin’s opponent, Heidi Heitkamp. Chris Berg and Scott Hennen help.
And Cramer has a standing spot on Port’s radio show. I wouldn’t listen if threatened with a push into a pit crawling with saw-scaled vipers. But it’s hard to stifle the commercials, and I can confirm that Robbie giggles like a little girl when he thinks he’s said something funny.
Of course, junior is also a flack for big oil, the North Dakota GOP, pipeline companies and downtrodden wealthy corporations.
He prefers provocative statements for headlines that aren’t proven in the copy or don’t match the content of the post. But it doesn’t matter.
While being indoctrinated in government high school, he might have been told that 60 percent to 80 percent of readers peruse only the deceptive headline, and Forum Communications allows him three or four headlines per day, which enter the bloodstream of the organization.
Many take Port’s headlines as gospel. It’s an insidious way to push an agenda. He can come up with any dribble that leaks out of his ears without any pushback.
Port also misrepresents the facts on a regular basis. Opinion is one thing, math is another. As is science. Truth supersedes ideology. Port is a liar. The match with Cramer makes sense.
But the deceit never gets corrected. He just moves to the next sham Heitkamp scandal. Try digging through her garbage, you little brown-nose bear.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I really thought (and kind of hoped) when I read in the paper Friday morning that the State Land Board had said good-bye to its longtime North Dakota State Land Commissioner, Lance Gaebe, that the next story I would read about him would be his appointment as director of the USDA Rural Development office in North Dakota.
But Donald Trump, John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer slipped one by me. That job, one of the plum federal appointments up for grabs in each state when the presidency changes parties, vacated by Democrat Ryan Taylor last January when Trump took office, is already taken. It became official this week.
Clare Carlson, who held the position for eight years under George W. Bush, is back in his old office.
I expect Carlson’s qualified — he did it before. But I thought Gaebe was probably the “most” qualified person in the state. He served as State Land commissioner for more than seven years, and that job gave him one of the largest — if not THE largest — pool of money to be given away in all of state government. Before that he gave away money as director of the state’s Ag Products Utilization Commission. And that’s pretty much what the State Rural Development director does — gives away money.
Although Carlson’s appointment wasn’t officially announced by USDA until Thursday, the same day Gaebe walked out of the State Land Department office for the last time, North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven actually slipped it out in a news release Nov. 6 — the day before this year’s election.
Unfortunately, there was a bit of other news happening that week, and somehow the North Dakota media didn’t pick it up (it still hasn’t). There was one piece of North Dakota news that did make the papers the next day though — that was the day Lance Gaebe lost his job — the day the State Land Board fired him and hired his replacement, Jodi Smith, on a 3-2 vote.
Bad timing. I might’ve thought Hoeven, who along with the rest of the Land Board hired Gaebe back in 2010, would have some loyalty to him and favored him for the Rural Development job, but I guess he, along with most of the rest of us, never guessed that new Gov. Doug Burgum would side with State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler in voting to let Gaebe go from his Land Department job.
If the timing had been different, maybe Gaebe would be headed to a new job in the federal building. And Carlson would still be the No. 2 guy at North Dakota’s Workforce Safety and Insurance.
I guess it shouldn’t have been that great of a surprise. Burgum started replacing old Jack Dalrymple appointees slowly, but he’s been picking them off one at a time as he nears his one-year anniversary of taking office next week. So far, of the 17 appointed officials he lists as members of his “cabinet,” there are only five holdovers remaining from Dalrymple’s administration.
Gone are department heads at Commerce, Financial Institutions, Parks and Recreation, Health, OMB, Human Services, Information Technology, Job Service, Highway Patrol, Transportation, Labor and Securities. Not bad.
Hanging on are the Adjutant General and the directors of the Game and Fish, Workforce Safety and Insurance, Indian Affairs, and Corrections and Rehabilitation Departments.
There are a few important jobs hired by boards on which the governor serves, like the Land Board, from which Gaebe is departing, the Water Commission and the Industrial Commission. Gaebe’s the first to go. Nobody’s holding their breath waiting for State Engineer Garland Erbele or Oil and Gas Division Director Lynn Helms to depart, although there’d probably be a big party if Helms was dismissed. Erbele probably should have been fired for letting his engineers issue 600 illegal Little Missouri River water permits, though.
But back to matters at hand. Carlson and Gaebe have kind of parallel career paths, changing jobs as administrations change, always dependent on political connections. Both were mentioned on a short list to succeed Roger Johnson as State Agriculture commissioner when Johnson left for Washington, D.C., eight years ago, a job that went to Doug Goehring. Both Goehring and Carlson had run against and lost to Johnson, but Goehring had run twice and Carlson only once, so I guess that counts for something. Gov. Hoeven appointed Goehring.
Carlson gets the last financial laugh though. In his new job, he’ll probably be making about $135,000 a year, about $30,000 more a year than Goehring, whose salary is set by law at $105,000.
Goehring’s been agriculture commissioner a little more than eight years now. Maybe he can find a place for Gaebe. But probably not at the $120,000-plus salary he was making at the Land Department. For now, Gaebe’s out of work. But I bet — and hope — he lands somewhere pretty soon.
Carlson is in, continuing a career of more than 35 years in government, including service to Former Govs. Hoeven, Dalrymple and Ed Schafer and former U. S. Sen. Mark Andrews. He’s been a good Republican foot soldier, serving a couple of years in the North Dakota Legislature and running for North Dakota agriculture commissioner. His most recent job was deputy director of Workforce Safety and Insurance (he tried really hard to get the head job at WSI, which was open at the same time as Johnson’s job in 2009, but Hoeven hired former Highway Patrol Commander Bryan Klipfel, I’m guessing with instructions to make Carlson his deputy — Carlson was out of work after losing his Rural Development job when President Obama took office). Carlson’s job at WSI actually paid around $125,000 a year, also more than the Ag Commissioners job.
Carlson’s paid his dues (he contributed more than $3,500 to North Dakota Republican candidates in the last election cycle), but at the same time, every job he’s held since about 1985 has been a Republican patronage job. And I’m sure he’ll do fine in this one. It’s not too hard to give away money, and his predecessors, Jasper Schneider and Ryan Taylor, built a good professional staff to carry out the real work of the office.
I feel bad for Gaebe, though. He’s also been a good soldier for the Republicans. And as a friend of mine who knows him well said, “He didn’t f**k up that bad” as land commissioner. I’m a little more charitable — I thought he actually grew in the job and became a pretty good protector of the public’s interest in all the land the state owns. We have a lot of land and minerals in the Bakken, in environmentally fragile Bad Lands areas, and he’s become more sensitive to looking out for that land. I hope Jodi Smith continues that path.
Footnote: Carlson likely needed a lot of help from Hoeven and Cramer to convince the Trump administration to give him the job. At last year’s Republican state convention, Carlson’s name was on the Republican National Convention delegate slate for Ted Cruz for President (although he later denied he ever supported Cruz, after the state convention, just before the cock crowed). You’d think someone in the Trump circle kept those kinds of lists for referring to later. But Hoeven and Cramer have curried favor with Trump with their votes on health care and tax reform and can generally get what they want from him.
This one is for North Dakotans — and those who follow North Dakota politics.
I received an e-mail this week from some thoughtful person who thought I might be interested in a fundraising event for State Rep. Al Carlson, the Republican legislative leader. Turns out I wasn’t interested in the fundraiser, but I was interested in the e-mail.
The e-mail, which was actually forwarded to me — I wasn’t an original recipient — was sent by Bismarck advertising executive Pat Finken, on behalf of himself and Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council. The invitation was to join about 350 of my best friends at a $200-per-person fundraising event for Carlson, to be hosted by the two of them, Wednesday. I only know that number because Pat had invited 350 of HIS best friends, and had listed them, and all their e-mail addresses, right at the top of the invitation
They must have been his best friends because he had their e-mail addresses. And he showed off the fact he had those e-mail addresses by showing them to all 351 of us, now. Or else he just didn’t know how to hide those addresses, a task even my fifth-grade grandson knows how to do. Me, too, a 70-year-old English major with no technical skills.
Actually, I’m pretty sure he did it on purpose to let all 350 of those people know who else he had invited. And he did it in all capital letters, so it just shouts at you to read through the list. Or not. I mean, who does that? Who types a list of 350 e-mail addresses in all capital letters? Yeah, e-mail addresses, unlike the 100 or so passwords I have in my computer, are not case sensitive, but still . . . And who includes all 350 of them in an e-mail?
And who did he invite? Well, it looks like almost every registered lobbyist in North Dakota, including the Lutheran bishop, three North Dakota Catholics, the FM-YMCA, the Home Birth Freedom people, the director of the Anne Carlson Center (no relation — I’m pretty sure) and the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library (Sorry, but TR hated lobbyists).
I don’t know everyone on the list, but I know a lobbyist when I see one, and there were enough of them I know on this list that I just figured the ones I didn’t know were lobbyists, too.
Finken is president of Odney Advertising and has long been involved in Republican politics in North Dakota. He rose to a pretty high level in the Republican hierarchy here because he was a high school friend of former governor and now U. S. Sen. John Hoeven. Most recently, he directed Wayne Stenehjem’s failed effort to get the Republican nomination for governor last year. He recently added a lobbying division to his agency’s other work.
I suspect he and Ness are moving their political priorities into the legislative arena because they’ve lost their overnight privileges at the governor’s residence since the election of Doug Burgum.
Carlson is now one of two power brokers in the state to be reckoned with (if you ask him, he’s the only one — Burgum doesn’t count), and there are lots of things Finken and Ness need from the Legislature every year. Raising a bunch of money for the majority leader certainly ranks high on their priority list now.
This is a pretty big deal. At $200 a head, if all 350 show up (they better, if they know what is good for them) Al could pocket $70,000 for his campaign. That would be about the richest legislative campaign in North Dakota — ever.
The invitation, and the event itself, raise some legal questions in my mind. North Dakota’s election laws prohibit corporate contributions to political campaigns. But the e-mail invitation was sent from Finken’s Odney.com corporate e-mail address. The rsvp is to be made by phone to the Odney corporate office, where it will be answered by an Odney corporate employee, or by e-mail to an Odney corporate employee.
The event will be held at the Odney corporate office. I’m wondering if Carlson is renting the office for the event?
The pretty flyer in the e-mail advertising the event (see below) was likely designed by an Odney corporate employee. I wonder if Carlson paid to have it designed?
Surely the state’s top legislator and a major lobbying firm wouldn’t think about violating election laws by using corporate funds to raise money for a political campaign, would they?
It’s not like Finken can’t afford to do those things for free — he’s probably got $4 million or $5 million worth of state business coming in the door through his relationships with the GOP and especially Hoeven and former Gov. Jack Dalrymple, although he’s taken a bit of a hit since Burgum took office, especially with the loss of a nearly $2 million a year contract with the state’s tobacco prevention agency, which was abolished by the Legislature earlier this year, a Burgum (and Carlson)-backed initiative.
Well, anyway, I read through the list and the fundraising flyer again while I was writing this, and it struck me that maybe there are friends of mine running for office next year who could use this e-mail list, too, to raise some money. Somebody went to a lot of trouble to put it together (someone at Odney Advertising’s corporate office?), and it seems a shame to just let all that effort go to waste on just one legislative candidate.
And when I look at it, typed in all capital letters like it is, it just shouts at me “USE ME, USE ME!”
So, I’ll just tack Finken’s e-mail onto the end of this blog post, with all 2½ feet of e-mail addresses, and the fundraising flyer, too, so if my friends want an example of good design for raising money, they’ll have that too. Oh, and the donor information form, too. Hey, don’t thank me — thank Pat Finken. He did all the work. I just copied things.
If you didn’t like Billy Kretschmar, the fault was not his.
Billy was a fixture in the North Dakota House of Representatives from 1974 to 2016, with one lost election in between, and during that time, most politicians would have developed fierce enemies.
If Billy had them, I don’t know who they are. When I deconstructed his career in a February feature story, I couldn’t find anyone who had a bad thing to say about him. I tried.
I knew Billy almost 20 years before he died Thursday at 83. He’d told a close friend that no Kretschmar man had ever lived to 84. That was Billy, a traditionalist. But the first word that leaps to mind when I think of William Edward Kretschmar is “gentleman.”
Billy had been in poor health in recent months, so we should have been prepared. But I don’t suppose anyone was. I got the news just before I headed out on a road trip. My eyes were a bit blurry for the first stretch. I started searching my memory, wondering if I had ever before shed a tear for any politician. I don’t think so.
Although Billy was a Republican, and I was not, I only took him to task for two votes over the years. One of those discussions caused the normally unflappable Billy Kretschmar to become flapped.
It was a pro-life bill I found ill-conceived. As was his nature, Billy listened — really listened — and, in any other case, he would have gently, respectfully, and concisely explained his reasoning.
This time, he just took the barrage. Finally, he grew exasperated, throwing up his hands, saying, “I’m Catholic!” and walked away. You know, I had to respect that.
As a legislator, Billy was what has become an almost extinct species, a moderate, willing and able to work with members of both parties. His votes were reasoned, not ideological. Billy did what he thought was right, and most of the time, I think he got it right. After sessions, he’d hold court at a Bismarck watering hole with members of both parties, something they called “The Billy Club.”
If anyone ever accumulated more institutional knowledge and history of the North Dakota Legislature, I don’t know who it is. If there was a question about procedure, or if a bill needed background and context, Billy Kretchshmar knew.
Bruce Eckre, a former legislator, said, “The history of the Legislature is not in the history books. They say when a person dies, a whole history book goes with them. In Kretch’s case; it was many books.”
Mostly, I knew Billy as a friend. He was a neighbor, a resident of Venturia, N.D., population 10, so if you consider the mayor and other city officers, most Venturians are politicians. There’s a minister and a bartender, too, because with that percentage of politicians, you need therapy of one kind or another.
Billy, who loved, loved, loved to gamble, was a stalwart member of the Ashley Fantasy Football League, but not a particularly well-prepared one. One recent year, during the draft, as Billy fumbled around, I cracked, “Billy, why don’t you just write me a check now, and let’s get this over with.” In spite of Billy’s unorthodox draft picks, one year he won the league trophy, and that still makes me smile.
One of the charms of life on Main Street in Ashley, is that it’s personal. Fellow merchants still walk through each other’s doors at the end of the month delivering payments personally (and it saves a stamp).
Sure, we use more email these days, but with Billy, you couldn’t do that. At the Legislature, his inbox was ignored, and his computer mostly a paperweight. Yes, he had a cell phone, but it was maddeningly used for outgoing calls only, so you had to catch him in person.
If it was coffee break, you’d find Bily at the cafe with a long table of retirees, gambling to see who picked up the tab. When the cafe, which has been closed until new owners take over, re-opens, I hope they leave Billy’s chair vacant for awhile.
I’m writing this on the day of the eclipse. I could draw some analogy, but I know Billy wouldn’t want that. I will tell you he would have been 84 today.
I have this image of Billy arriving at the pearly gates, humbly, genteel, but with a twinkle in his eye, as he meets St. Peter.
So it begins. North Dakota has its first official candidate in the 2018 election. Given all the weird shit (read: Trump) that’s been going on over the past eight months or so, I’m eager for a fresh start, and my young friend, Ben Hanson, has provided that. Thank you, Ben.
Ben sent me an e-mail shortly after midnight last night announcing he is running for Congress, to represent the great state of North Dakota in Washington, DC. I hope he wins.
He’s running against another friend of mine, Kevin Cramer (who I used to vote for until he went crazy on me in this Trump thing), if he gets the endorsement of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party next spring. To do that, he may have to sneak past a couple of other Democrats who are said to be considering the race, former State Senator Mac Schneider and current State Senator Merrill Piepkorn.
Both are better known across the state, Schneider, the former Senate Minority Leader and Grand Forks attorney who was ousted from his District 42 State Senate seat last November, and Piepkorn, the longtime voice on Prairie Public Radio, who won his first race for the State Senate in the same election in Fargo’s District 44. Neither has announced, but if they do, it will be a healthy thing for the Democrats.
I can see them traveling around the state together seeking the party endorsement, like the four Democrats — George Sinner, Art Link, Buckshot Hoffner and Walt Hjelle — did in the run-up to the 1984 Democratic-NPL convention. That was good for the party, and the attention it got helped Sinner defeat incumbent Allen Olson in the November election that year.
I really like Hanson (no relation to Bob Hanson, the former Democratic-NPL state officeholder) and will support him in his efforts to get the nomination, despite my friendship with Schneider and Piepkorn.
I first met him in 2006, when he was a teenager getting involved in Democratic-NPL Party politics. He was making a video about Art and Grace Link, and I think we showed it at the State Democratic-NPL Convention. I could see he had an intense interest in politics, even as a young college student.
He went on to get his college degree and become a real estate broker. He got involved in his local district party and got himself elected to the state Legislature from Fargo’s District 16, where he served two sessions before losing a re-election effort last year. He quickly got involved in leadership in the Legislature, becoming his party’s House Caucus Co-Chair, and he called me from time to time to get together and talk strategy for the future of the party and the state.
He called last spring, and we sat and drank a beer, and he said he thought he’d like to run for Congres, and asked me what I thought. I said, “Go!” in the strongest possible terms. I like his ideas about our state, his political knowledge despite only being 30 years old and his belief that people should be involved in politics for the future of the state, not the future of the candidate. Whether or not he becomes our state’s congressman, he’ll be around in leadership roles for a long time.
It’s heartening to see young people like Hanson getting involved in politics and government at this level. I hope he becomes our congressman. Here’s what he had to say in his announcement e-mail:
BEN HANSON ANNOUNCES BID FOR CONGRESS
Vows to fight for North Dakota families, create good middle-class jobs & grow North Dakota’s economy
(FARGO, ND) — Lifelong North Dakotan Ben Hanson announced today his intention to run for North Dakota’s lone seat in the United States House of Representatives. Hanson released the following statement:
“I’m excited to be running to become North Dakota’s next Congressman because I love North Dakota. I was born here, raised here, and my family has farmed North Dakota ground for generations. They taught me North Dakota values like hard work, dedication and looking out for your neighbor. These values have guided me this far in life and just as I have lived by them I will run by them.”
“I’m running because I believe that North Dakota deserves a congressman who will focus on the needs of hard-working North Dakotans — creating good paying jobs for working families, strengthening the middle class, and building an economy that works for everyone. Over the course of my campaign, I will focus on boosting job growth and jumpstarting our economy by investing in small businesses, an all-of-the-above energy strategy, and rebuilding our infrastructure.”
“North Dakota needs an advocate in Washington to help solve problems and navigate its complexities. Unfortunately, Kevin Cramer has lost focus on issues that matter to North Dakotans and instead has become part of the mess that is Washington, D.C. Together we can move forward — with an eye toward bringing North Dakota values and work-ethic to the halls of Congress. I look forward to the privilege of representing the people of North Dakota and earning your support.”
Kenton Onstad, Former House Minority Leader, Parshall School Board Member: “Ben not only understands the complexities and the dynamics of Western North Dakota but the entire state of North Dakota. He would represent all of the citizens of our state. Young or old, male or female, those fortunate or less fortunate, Ben would be proud to represent you, as you would be of him.”
North Dakota State Senator Tim Mathern: “I’m excited to see Ben Hanson enter the race, as well as this new leadership for our state, and a rebirth of the party. As an added bonus Ben Hanson’s roots are deep across North Dakota, from Crosby to the Red River Valley. We will all benefit with Ben Hanson in Congress.”
About Ben Hanson:
With family from Crosby to Casselton, Ben Hanson is a lifelong North Dakotan with deep roots in this community. Ben grew up in the Red River Valley, attending Fargo South High School, and he is a graduate of Minnesota State University-Moorhead.
As a North Dakota state representative, Ben was focused on making North Dakota a leader in creating good-paying technology jobs and making state government more transparent.
Ben currently works as a commercial broker for Archer Real Estate Services and lives in Fargo.