The University of North Dakota men’s hockey defeated the University of Minnesota-Duluth 4-1 in the third-place game of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Frozen Faceoff on Saturday night in St. Paul’s Excel Energy Center, but it wasn’t enough to extend the Fighting Hawks’ run to 16 consecutive national tournament berths. Boston University’s victory over Providence in the Hockey East championship was a fatal blow to UND’s NCAA Tournament hopes and ended the season for the Fighting Hawks. In the win over UMD, Austin Poganski, Ludvig Hoff, Joel Jantuinen and Shane Gersich scored for UND, while Mikey Anderson scored the one Bulldog goal. UND goalie Cam Johnson stopped 27 shots as did Hunter Shepard of UMD. The Fighting Hawks finished the season with a 17-13-10 record. (Check out more photos from Russ Hons here.)
We’re not certain what constitutes sufficient numbers to be able to call a gathering such as the one I attended this past weekend a “bee,” but I was invited by my older sister to a “quilting bee,” so by gosh I’m going to call it a “bee.”
I was a member of this bee, held in the Bad Lands south of Medora, N.D., by the invitation of my elder sister. My younger sister and I drove over together. She asked me if I had ever done this and confirmed that she had not.
I asked her how old little sister is because this helped me determined how long it had been since I had last quilted. Little sister was a baby in a bassinet the last time that my mother put up the frame in our Slope County living room and we quilted with Mama Crook, my paternal grandmother. The bassinet was tucked under the quilt frame allowing us to keep an eye on her. Thus, for me, it had been more than 45 years since I had quilted.
There was a great deal of laughter and self-poking of fun at lack of needle skills. The quilt we were working on was pieced about 30 years ago. There was plenty of becoming acquainted and sharing stories. The hospitality was very fine indeed, with much delicious food shared with those of us who had traveled from afar to “assist.” (I hesitate greatly to describe the work I did with my needle “helping.”) We each fell into our own rhythm as the day progressed.
We also shared our memories of ancestors’ quilting activities and the beautiful craftsmanship we have seen on display as well as in our personal collections of quilts. We talked of what bees would have been like in bygone days and of quilt auctions we’ve all attended as fundraisers.
Then, it was time to put away the work for the day and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, dining on rich Irish stew and freshly baked soda bread. We compared pin pricks on fingers and sore muscles from a hunched-over day’s work.
The weekend ended with a good night’s sleep in the silence of the Bad Lands, followed by fellowship this morning at the Medora Lutheran Church, and … more food!
Life has surrounded me with good people — and the best two sisters a gal could wish for.
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.
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.
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.
The University of North Dakota men’s hockey team’s quest for landing a spot in the NCAA tournament field took a hit Friday with a 3-2 overtime loss to St. Cloud State University in St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center in the semifinals of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Frozen Faceoff. Nick Poehling’s goal 1:47 into overtime gave the Huskies, who already have clinched an NCAA tourney spot, the victory. The Fighting Hawks had come from behind twice to tie the game to send it to overtime. Nick Jones and Jordan Kawaguchi scored for UND, while Patrick Newell and Easton Brodzinski also scored for the Huskies. UND goalie Cam Johnson had 31 saves. SCSU’s David Hrenak stopped 21 shots. Today, UND plays the University of Minnesota-Duluth in the third-place, and St. Cloud meets Denver University in the championship game. (Check out more photos from Russ Hons here.)
When Dorette and I visited New Zealand a while ago, we heard a Maori proverb.
“Walk backwards toward the future.”
I thought of it when this picture of me as a kid (above) surfaced recently from my archive (that is to say, from my boxes of clutter).
It was taken by my father decades ago on the family farm in Wells County, North Dakota. Some of the tones have shifted over the decades, but the image still captures me. I have no recollection of the occasion — perhaps I was duded up for a school or church “program.”
As we used to say about active old guys, I’m still “spry.” But lately, a darker thought has occurred to me: “Is this my last good year?”
But I now truly understand the meaning and wisdom of the Maori saying — it’s useless to dwell on the future.
I’ll learn the ending of my story soon enough.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was fired this week. Being fired in the Trump administration has become commonplace, but the means by which Tillerson was “let go” was new. Secretary Tillerson learned of his dismissal by reading a @realDonaldTrump Tweet. Seems a little distance for someone whose television catch phrase was “You’re Fired!”
I was fired only once, from a television job in Bismarck. The year was 1975. The time and place were a little odd. The news director had asked me to join him at a Mandan, N.D., coffee shop. It was about 10:30 on a Sunday night.
After more than two years on the air, I was told the owner of the station “didn’t like the way I looked.” That is a direct quote. I remember it as if it were yesterday. I didn’t particularly like the way I looked either, but what can you do?
Years later, a friend said, “You should have sued their asses. You could have owned the station.” I don’t know about that. But I don’t think that line, or that line or reasoning, would work today.
In light of the Tillerson tweet firing, I asked some Facebook friends if they’d ever been fired in any odd ways. Oh, yeah. A few examples follow.
As one story goes, once upon a time there was a television station manager in Fargo who fired reporters by taping dismissal notices to the windshields of their cars, which makes my TV firing kind of lame.
One Facebook friend was fired by memo.
After 10 years of employment, another friend writes he was seen on a date with another guy by a worker who immediately informed his foreman. He picks up the story. “The next night I was called to the office and told ‘your being fired for unethical, immoral, indecent and inappropriate behavior, and you, are violating my religious right by even existing.’ Then the man proceeded to out me to my welder co-workers, and my family, some who did not know.”
And yet, another. “I was fired from my waitress job at a piano bar. They took me off the schedule but no one told me. I went to work at my regular time and someone else was doing my job. Turns out I was fired for not sleeping with the bartender. I guess my replacement had lower standards.”
A large number of FB friends say they have never been fired. To which I would say only, sorry you missed out on so much of the “fun.”
I was watching a Facebook video showing a young man walking into a street pole; a young man falling into a pool; a young lady smashing into a glass door; a young man stepping in front of a moving car; and a young lady falling flat on her face after missing a step.
These people all had one thing in common: They were all looking at their cell phones and not where they were going. It’s even worse when they do the same thing while driving. That’s how accidents and sometimes death occurs.
Just look around at family gatherings, in town, at sporting events, at the lake. … Young people simply can’t put down their phones and enjoy the real world. While I do have a cell phone, a computer and a tablet, I don’t live on them (at least, if you don’t count Facebook). I have to admit I’m beginning to resent those personal machines and how their owners use them.
I have a hard time watching this younger electronic generation marching to the beat of their electronic drummer. To be sure, given the murders of students in this country, our young people are doing what the adults up to now have not dared to do. They want the carnage to stop, and they are organizing to do just that. The courage of this new generation is not in question.
But I just wish there was a way to let them know what they are missing … without going through my own youth, back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.
We had our electronic messages also. When the streetlights came on, we knew it was time to head for home. If the streetlights didn’t get your attention, then your porch light came on and you knew to head for home to avoid a grounding.
Daylight Saving Time would have created mayhem back in those days. Thankfully, it didn’t yet exist.
Back in my day, we knew entire neighborhoods — including everyone’s name and occupation. We knew the owners of the neighborhood grocery stores where our parents sent us to pick up whatever our moms wanted. We knew the names of the neighborhood bus drivers, the milkmen and our mailmen. In other words, we were connected to our surroundings personally, not through impersonal electronic media.
We organized neighborhood park activities. Most of us had our own disorganized softball, touch-ball, flag ball, baseball, basketball and hockey teams. The park boards slowly but surely caught up with us and came to organize the same things — but that was never the same as when we picked our own teams. By the way, never did we ever leave out someone because they weren’t talented. None of us were talented! That worked just fine.
In our neighborhoods, bullies weren’t tolerated. We all had older brothers and sisters. If someone gave us crap, they only did it once. Our siblings didn’t have to hit anyone. They simply explained the pain the bully would feel if they didn’t back off.
Kenny Hunt, a classmate of my older brother, went on to play for the New York Yankees. My eldest sister could throw a softball just as far as Kenny. (But if I use her name, she’ll scalp me.)
I guess the point I’m trying to recommend that young people take a timeout from their electronics. Use your phone when you need to, not just when you have nothing better to do. See the world and the environment around you as it is — not in a fog as you live instead in your electronic world.
There are so many thing to see, so much to do, so many friends to cultivate in this world of ours. It all works better in person than through a colored screen.
I wouldn’t trade my childhood for that of kids today for anything. But,then, I’ll be 79 on April 4, so some won’t care. By the way, if you want to make me happy, send cash April 4. Amen.
March 15 is “plant the tiny tomato seeds” day at Red Oak House.
When I wandered into the kitchen this morning, Jim asked me, with great delight in his voice, if I knew what the significance of this day was. I had not yet had coffee and was stumped (I’ll admit that I didn’t try very hard).
This project is tedious joy for Jim, if I may use an oxymoron to describe this. You can see in the photo below that he has to use a tweezer (below).
Yes, he saves his seeds from the previous harvest, as shown here (above).
Wednesday he transplanted the pepper sprouts into small pots. Next week, we will celebrate the vernal equinox, the arrival of spring. We chose this date for our wedding date, after much thought. The days ahead will be busy with joyful tasks.
Spring and All by William Carlos Williams
By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast — a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen
patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees
All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines —
Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches —
They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind —
Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined —
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf
But now the stark dignity of
entrance — Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted they
grip down and begin to awaken
The Colorado Avalanche moved to within three points of the Minnesota Wild in the National Hockey League’s Central Division of the Western Conference with a 5-1 win over the Wild on Tuesday night in St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center. Minnesota’s Mikku Koivu and Colorado’s Nikita Zadorov traded second-period goals before J.T. Compeer scored two goals and Nathan McKinnon and Tyson Jost one each to put the game on ice in the third period. Goalie Devan Dubnyk of the Wild (39-24-5) stopped 17 shots, while Semyon Varlamov of Colorado (37-24-7) had 30 saves. (Check out more photos from Russ Hons here.)
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.