JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Wayne Stenehjem: Public Lands Enemy No. 1

We’ve got a million acres of public land, most of it excellent wildlife habitat, in western North Dakota, owned and managed by the U.S. government, which means you and me. I know, you’ve read those words before in my writings. Sorry, but I’m going to keep talking about this UNTIL SOMEBODY LISTENS!

There’s a huge overlap between those public lands and North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields. In fact, about 96 percent of those public lands are open to oil development. And there will likely come a day, probably in the next 10 years, when there are oil wells on almost every single square mile of those public lands. I say “almost” every single square mile because there are about 40,000 acres out of that million acres — about 4 percent — that are protected from development. So far.  A few words about that — a lot of you already know this story.

In the depths of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl, the federal government came to the rescue of Great Plains farmers and ranchers facing foreclosure, many of them North Dakotans. The government bought parts of their operations, giving them much needed cash to make payments on their mortgages, and then leased it back to them for pennies on the dollar so they could continue farming it or grazing cattle on it. Much of it was grazing land, and in North Dakota, it became what is today the million-acre Little Missouri National Grassland. And many third- and fourth-generation ranchers in western North Dakota still run cows on that same land their grandparents did.

Along with the land, the government bought the minerals under that land, and no one anticipated there would be billions of barrels of black gold under that vast expanse of prairie. But the black gold was there, and today, the government receives billions of dollars in royalties from oil companies that lease the right to drill for oil under that land.

Because the government’s holdings are so vast, the U.S. Forest Service, which manages most of that land, writes a Management Plan from time to time — sometimes every 10 years, sometimes as long as 20 — which it shares with the ranchers who lease the surface, the oil companies who lease the minerals and the general public, those of us who use it for recreation uses and have conservation interests.

Management plans for North Dakota were written in 1974, in 1986 and in 2002. The one in 2002 set aside some 40,000 acres, which had not yet been developed for anything but cattle grazing, as “suitable for wilderness.” That meant that if the president and Congress decided they would like to permanently keep four little undeveloped islands in a great sea of oil, gas, coal and gravel development, they could designate that land as Wilderness with a capital W under the federal Wilderness Act of 1964.

Those four areas, Long X Divide, Twin Buttes, Kendley Plateau and Bullion Butte, shown on the map below, joined what we call two additional “roadless areas,” one near a landmark called Lone Butte west of the Killdeer Mountains in western North Dakota, and the other on the Sheyenne National Grasslands in eastern North Dakota, in being off-limits to development.

A small group of dedicated conservation-minded North Dakotans, members of Badlands Conservation Alliance, has presented a plan for Wilderness designation, called Prairie Legacy Wilderness, and they’ve recently found what could become an important ally, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, which I wrote about here a couple of months ago, a sportsman’s organization dedicated to public land preservation. So far, the formal Wilderness plan hasn’t gotten any traction in Washington, but these are persistent folks.

The Forest Service continues to protect those areas, but there are increasing threats to that protection. A couple of years ago, I wrote here about a lawsuit filed by some western North Dakota county commissioners, aided by North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, to open those areas to roads and to the development which will accompany those roads.

The suit is approaching its sixth birthday now, and it’s costing the taxpayers of North Dakota a lot of money, since Stenehjem is essentially taking the lead in the case and picking up the tab for what a lot of people think is frivolous legal activity.

The case was filed in the fall of 2012. It asks the federal government to “quiet title” to the section lines through the roadless areas, giving the state and the counties the right to go in and build roads through what is now roadless, which would destroy the “suitable for wilderness” designation. It would also destroy the prized scenic and recreational values of the areas and wipe out critical habitat for wildlife.

These are the last truly undeveloped areas in all of North Dakota, and they make up less than 1 percent of our state’s total land area. I went to Stenehjem’s office to visit with him about this a couple of years ago. His argument: “Jim, it’s about state sovereignty. The people of North Dakota have a sovereign right to use those section lines.”

Well, Mr. Attorney General, I don’t think most of the people of North Dakota give a rat’s ass about sovereignty. What they do care about is the land — and the critters. Meadowlarks are disappearing from the prairie. Pronghorn and mule deer herds are stressed like they’ve never been before.

Actually, the lawsuit should be over now. Last summer, after five years of motions and arguments and court briefs, U. S. District Judge Daniel Hovland in Bismarck wisely dismissed the lawsuit and threw it out of his court, telling the North Dakota attorney general, in much kinder words than I’d have used, to go away from his courtroom and not darken his door again on this issue.

Hovland’s decision hinged on the fact that there’s a statute of limitations thing — a federal law that gives states 12 years to file a lawsuit against the federal government if they feel that the feds have unjustly taken something from the state — in this case the right to build roads on section lines on federally-protected  land.

Twelve years should have been plenty of time for the state to get its stuff together and challenge the Forest Service if it had wanted. The judge essentially said, “Hey, you’ve known about this protection for way more than 12 years, so you’re too late. The law is the law. Go away.”

So Stenehjem lost. Winners were mule deer, sharptail grouse, meadowlarks, pronghorns, coyotes, hunters, anglers, photographers, hikers, campers, birders and everyone else who just wants to WALK on that land without being interrupted by pickups and four-wheelers, or much worse, oil wells with hundreds of fracking trucks and noisy flares that light up the night sky and scare away the critters.

But that wasn’t good enough for Stenehjem. He’s filed a motion — another exercise in frivolity and futility, lawyer friends of mine say — asking Hovland to “reconsider.” No one I know could explain why the judge might be willing to reconsider his ruling, after doing hours and hours of research and writing a 72-page opinion explaining why he was dismissing Stenehjem’s lawsuit.

Worse, it’s not just the North Dakota taxpayers whose money is being wasted — the federal government’s lawyers had to go back to work as well, writing their own response, which essentially says “Hey, Stenehjem, WTF are you thinking? Get over it.” So we’re paying for that as well.

Hovland will hopefully rule on the motion to reconsider this summer. If he rejects it, we’ll see if Stenehjem decides to keep on spending our money by appealing to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. Don’t bet against that. It’s election year, and there’s nothing better for a politician in an election year to get headlines by taking on the big, bad federal government. He’d probably be making his arguments, and getting his headlines, in the months leading up to the election, but if he loses, which I hope is the eventual outcome, it won’t be until well after the election is over that we find out how much the whole fiasco cost the taxpayers.

There’s a danger, though, slight as it is, that the appeals court could overturn Judge Hovland. That would be a much bigger loss. Then get out of the way, cuz the dozers are coming.

Meanwhile the mule deer and the sharptails and the meadowlarks don’t read newspapers or magazines or websites, so they’ll go on enjoying their wilderness (with a small w, but maybe someday …), not knowing what’s being plotted in the attorney general’s office in the North Dakota Capitol. For now, let’s not tell them.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Who’s Got Money, Who Doesn’t? And Who Didn’t File A Report?

AND THE WINNER IS … Ryan Rauschenberger!

North Dakota’s election laws require all candidates for statewide and legislative offices to file campaign finance disclosure statements three times a year — before the primary election, before the general election and at the end of the year.

All contributions greater than $200 from an individual or a political action committee must be reported. In the case of statewide candidates, the total collected in smaller amounts must also be reported but names remain secret, allowing Democrats to give secret small donations to their Republican friends or neighbors, and vice versa, without being exposed. I admit, I’ve done it.

And then, statewide candidates also have to list their “cash on hand” with each report. That’s the contest Rauschenberger, our state tax commissioner, won. On May 11, 2018, Rauschenberger reported he had $110,097.02 in the bank, the most of any candidate in North Dakota, except for those running for U.S. Senate and House.

That’s a pretty significant accomplishment. But the timing of his fundraising is more interesting than the amount.

On Sept. 30 of last year, just three months before the start of the year in which he was scheduled to run for re-election, Rauschenberger had raised just $4,000 for his 2018 campaign. That night, (y’know, I’m tired of typing that long name, so I’m just going to use his first name from now on) Ryan went on a bender and got nailed for drunk driving. In the next three months, between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, Ryan raised $53,500 for his campaign.

And in the next four months after that, from January to May 2018, he raised another $48,000. Which means that, since the day he put his career as North Dakota state tax commissioner in jeopardy by getting arrested for drunk driving, he has raised more than $100,000 for his re-election campaign. Go figure.

Of course, with that stain on his record, he’s going to need it, and his opponent in the general election, Kylie Oversen, hasn’t done badly herself, with $28,000 in the bank so far. But she’s going to need a lot more than that. I don’t know what the key to Ryan’s fundraising prowess is, except that his father, Ron, is a longtime high-ranking figure in the North Dakota Republican Party, and maybe he helped. But he’s raised a ton of money IN SPITE OF his drunk driving arrest. Republicans donors are so forgiving.

I don’t know if Oversen is going to make the drunk driving conviction an issue or not, but there’s this video that keeps resurfacing on the internet, and it might make a pretty interesting TV spot. We’ll see how this plays out. TV costs a lot of money, and she’s going to need a lot more than $28,000.

So who else is on the winner’s list? Well, no surprise, they’re pretty much all Republicans, which makes sense, because the incumbents are all Republicans, and incumbents have an easier time raising money than challengers, generally.

In second place is Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, with $89,000 in the bank, followed closely by Public Service Commissioner Randy Christmann with $81,000.

Goehring got a head start. He had $69,000 left over from his 2014 re-election campaign against Ryan Taylor. That was a big-spending race, with Goehring raising $511,000 that year and Taylor $425,000. Goehring won by about 30,000 votes. Taylor has bowed out of elective politics — for now, anyway. But don’t be surprised …

Goehring’s added funds to his campaign each year since, but his 2018 opponent, Sen. Jim Dotzenrod, didn’t get into the race until the State Democratic-NPL Convention in March and reported raising just $1,000 so far.

Christmann, likewise, in office since 2012 because PSC members serve six-year terms, has taken advantage of incumbency and has raised at least $10,000 every year since 2014. Not surprisingly, much of his campaign money comes from energy interests and utilities, who have an interest in what the PSC does.

But there’s also a Democrat among the fundraising leaders — secretary of state candidate Josh Boschee, who right now appears to be the Democrats’ best shot at winning a statewide race given the chaos in the Republican Party in that race with their endorsed candidate Will Gardner peeking past the primary to the day he can withdraw and avoid any further embarrassment.

Josh has raised more than $80,000 and has almost $63,000 of it in the bank right now. What’s interesting about Boschee’s funds is that, unlike the Republican candidates, almost half of his money has come in small checks, under $200. Most of the Republican checks have four and even five numbers in them.

But with Boschee’s bank account, and the prospect of not having a candidate on the ballot in November (Al Jaeger will likely be there as an Independent), Republicans are rightfully nervous, to the point that their right-wing radio mouthpiece Scott Hennen took after the openly gay Boschee for being gay on the radio the other day, calling him a “sinner” for being gay. Better be careful, there, Scott, I’m pretty sure there’s more than one gay person on the statewide ballot, and they’re not all Democrats.

The only other statewide candidate with significant funds on hand is Brian Kroshus, the Public Service Commissioner appointed by Gov. Doug Burgum last year, with $43,500 in the bank. Kroshus’ money is an interesting case. In late 2015, he announced he was going to retire from his job as publisher of The Bismarck Tribune and run for North Dakota state auditor in 2016, to succeed the retiring Bob Peterson.

To show he was serious, he and his partner, Kim Jondahl, put $96,000 into the campaign account to get it going — Brian $45,000 and Kim $51,000. That might have been enough to get elected state auditor — if he had gotten the Republican Party’s endorsement. But he didn’t. A young bureaucrat named Josh Gallion came along and won the hearts of convention-goers and left Kroshus on the sidelines.

Kroshus had raised another $3,000 from supporters before the convention, so he had $99,000 available. But there’s a mystery. At the end of 2016, Kroshus had to file a campaign finance disclosure report, and he reported that he had only $31,000 remaining in his campaign account. Somehow he had managed to spend $68,000 of the $99,000. That must have been a pretty expensive preconvention campaign.

Or maybe he decided he and Kim had been a little too generous with the campaign and yanked some of it back. You can do that in North Dakota, you know. For now. A ballot measure being circulated right now for the 2018 general election would prohibit campaign funds from being converted to personal use. We’ll vote on that this fall if petitioners get enough signatures. And they’re sounding pretty confident.

Anyway, Kroshus transferred that leftover $31,000 from his auditor’s race to his PSC campaign, and with what he has raised since being in office, he brings about $43,500 into this campaign.

None of the other statewide office candidates have raised more than a few thousand dollars, including, surprisingly, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who reported having just $3,800 in cash on hand when the preprimary reports were filed May 11. Surprising, because Stenehjem has been a money machine since taking office a hundred or so years ago.

And here’s something a little but mysterious about his reports, too. In his 2017 Year-end report, Stenehjem reported he had $15,005 in the bank as his ending balance Dec. 31, 2017. But when he filed his preprimary report, he listed his starting balance, on Jan. 1, 2018, as just $4,770, a difference just overnight of more than $10,000. Must have been one heckuva New Year’s Eve Party.

I’ve been a little critical of Stenehjem’s fundraising in the past. In his 2010 and 2014 attorney general’s races, Wayne took more than $200,000 from a national Republican fundraising group, the Republican State Leadership Committee, including $150,000 in late 2013, just weeks before the Republican Attorney Generals Association split from the RSLC, possibly in part because the RSLC was taking corporate checks. When I asked Stenehjem after the 2014 election how it was possible for him to take RSLC money when the funds came from corporations, he replied that the RSLC segregated corporate contributions from personal contributions and distributed noncorporate funds to candidates who weren’t allowed to take corporate funds, like in North Dakota.  I said “Uh-huh.”

Well, anyway, Wayne didn’t need that much money to win in 2014, and had $152,000 left in the bank at the end of the year. Then he decided to run for Governor in 2016, and he transferred $145,000 of it to his governor’s campaign, and left his attorney general’s campaign account with about $10,000 at the end of 2016 (just in case . . . ). He added another five grand in 2017, getting him up to the $15,000 I mentioned earlier, at the end of last year. Which is now just $3,800.

Figure all that out, David Thompson. How did $10,000 disappear overnight? David is Wayne’s 2018 opponent. He needs to get his ass in gear. He reported having just $11,000 in the bank, $10,000 of it his own. Of course, like Dotzenrod, he wasn’t a candidate until March. I think he can raise a lot of money if he gets going.

Speaking of raising money, there’s a state legislator who’s outdistanced all but four of the statewide candidates — District 35 State Sen. Erin Oban, a Democrat, who appears to have almost $60,000 in the bank. She ran a big money race in 2014, knocking off Sen. Margaret Sitte and just kept right on raising funds.

She’ll need them — her opponent is a newcomer to the district, Gary Emineth, a purportedly wealthy businessman willing to spend some of his own money (he’s already written a $5,000 check to his campaign) to try to get Republican revenge on Oban, although there wasn’t a lot of Republican wailing and gnashing of teeth when Oban beat Sitte last time — she had become pretty much of an embarrassment to the party, and most Senators welcomed Erin with open arms. But political memories are short …

Next, I think, is House Majority leader Al Carlson with about $20,000 in the bank.

I didn’t check other legislators, but I did check the rest of the statewide candidates. The soon to be departed and forgotten Will Gardner had raised about $12,000, including $2,500 from John Hoeven just a couple of days before the news of his peeping broke. Not sure what he will do with that.

Jaeger didn’t even file a preprimary report, so he must not have raised any money this year, and figured since he was not a candidate May 11, he didn’t need to file. But he raised $12,000 last year and had that in the bank at the end of the year.

I think somebody should ask him. “Al, really, you didn’t raise a single penny for your campaign prior to the convention in 2018? Not a penny?”

Because if you did, if someone slipped you a check at the convention, and you forgot to file a report, you’re in big trouble. And you’re the elections guy, Al, it’s your office where these get filed. But as I write this May 25, two weeks after the filing deadline, there’s no report listed on the Secretary of State’s website. The only statewide candidate with no report. Hmmmm. No wonder you lost the endorsement, Al. Dang.

You can look at all the reports here.


I’m not a lawyer, although I generally know my way around North Dakota’s election laws after a lot of years of working in politics. After I wrote this blog, I went wandering through Section 16.1 of the North Dakota Century Code and found two things I did not know. They are explained below.

Note 1

I mentioned that if Brian Kroshus pulled some of the money that he and his partner, Kim Jondahl, donated to the campaign, it was legal to do that. Well, it was in 2016, when that would have occurred, but it looks like the 2017 Legislature changed the law:

“16.1-08.1-04.1. Personal use of contributions prohibited. A candidate may not use any contribution received by the candidate, the candidate’s candidate committee, or a multicandidate political committee to: 1. Give a personal benefit to the candidate or another person; 2. Make a loan to another person; 3. Knowingly pay more than the fair market value for goods or services purchased for the campaign; or 4. Pay a criminal fine or civil penalty.”

That’s the law today, as of last July 1, as I read it. The initiated measure I mentioned earlier just enshrines it in the state Constitution. If Brian would have done that in 2016, it was legal. Today it would not be. Got in under the deadline there, Brian.

Note 2

Regarding Al Jaeger’s not filing a campaign disclosure statement, even if he received some contributions in 2018. Section 16.1-08.1-02.3 says this:

“A candidate whose name is not on the ballot and who is not seeking election through write-in votes, the candidate’s candidate committee, and a political party that has not endorsed or nominated any candidate in the election is not required to file a statement under this subsection.”

That would seem to apply to Al, since he is not participating in the primary. It seems a little goofy that someone could seek a party endorsement, raise a million dollars, lose at the convention and not have to report that, but that seems to be the law, and Al seems to be taking advantage of it. I’m guessing, however, he may have to report any contributions he received in his subsequent reports, the pre-general election report and theyear-end report.

RON SCHALOW — Meet The Bastiats

“But how is this legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.” ― Frédéric Bastiat, aka “Monsieur le soleil”

OK. He seems nice.

Until recently, the North Dakota Legislature had two major caucuses. The Republican and the Democratic, as far as I know. Caucus watching was never a hobby of mine.

There are a few intramural caucuses, no doubt. Like the “I Just Wanted The Insurance Caucus,” or the “This Title On My Business Card Looks Great Caucus.” I believe there is a “Prayer Caucus.” I imagine it involves quite a bit of praying. The meetings get pretty wild after school shootings.

Now, there is the Bastiat Caucus because, of course there is. It’s not a secret. They have a Facebook page and a website, and a “bring a Bastiat for boilermakers” day at Peacock Alley Grill & Bar. I think it’s Tuesdays, but no one who drinks boilermakers is fussy about the day.

Anyway, I’m sure that most of our citizens couldn’t give a hoot about the B-Boys because nobody knows what the hell I’m talking about, when I say, Bastiat Caucus.

If you jump out of a closet near an unsuspecting soul, and yell, Bastiat Caucus, you’ll need an orthodontist and an eye patch. Just saying.

The “Kill Lib#$!% Cucks Caucus” name was already taken, so the “Bastiat Caucus” was the obvious second choice. Obscure French 19th century thinkers are all the rage, I imagine, somewhere. Not here, I wouldn’t have thought, in “freedom fry” territory. All living thinkers are obscure, except for the  rare stable geniuses.

Bastiat holds the title of “Father of Libertarianismismism” — an ideology with many fathers and mothers (Ludwig von Mises and Ayn Rand are a couple of the celebs). It has never worked in any practical governmental application, but evidently, that fact isn’t a deal breaker, for the true believers.

In 1825, Bastiat inherited his grandfather’s estate and quit working. This made it easier to live selfishly, bitch about taxes, and walk around looking dapper. Frédéric lorded his 6-foot-high stovepipe hat over the other sporty types. Rumor has it, he kept live chickens in the headwear, which put off the expected odor, and angered the chickens. When not tending to head wounds, he did a lot of serious pondering and brooding. Bastiat contracted tuberculosis and died young in 1850, because it was 1850.

Anyway, Frédéric Bastiat, who developed the economic concept of opportunity cost and introduced the parable of the broken window became the namesake of the caucus. I’m not going to explain either of those concepts, and you don’t want me to.

N.D. legislator Rick Becker, R–District 7, formed the Bastiat Caucus a few years ago, during a blood moon. On his Twitter account, the representative says he is a constitutionalist, a classical liberal, a paleoconservative, a laissez faire capitalist and a libertarian.

Luckily for Becker, most people have no idea what those words mean, which ooze superiority, and impresses the rabble. I used to fish, golf, and monkey around with cars, but nothing paleo. And I thought what I thought. Now I feel bad that I never micro-analyzed every rumination and categorized each of them.

Becker performed strongly at the last republican convention, as a candidate for governor, which gave him a ton of street cred. Delegates are more conservative, than humans anywhere, which is their frightening prerogative. It worked to the representative’s advantage.

Becker is, by far, the brains of the outfit. It’s really not that close. I wasn’t able to ascertain the intellectual level of every Bastiat, since most of them never post, or say anything, but I’ll stand by my statement.

The Bastiats are libertarians, and some of them identify with the alt-right (See the article “Dislike” in the High Plains Reader). Torches are optional. The Bastiats hang around tensely with the regulation genre of republicans, since they ran for office as republicans, which makes the old Elks Club republicans a little prickly.

Basically, the legislature is currently infested with libertarians, who have won seats with the (R) by their name on the ballot.

Had these Bastiats been truthful, they would have run as libertarians, like Jack Seaman, Martin Riske and a few others do every cycle, they would lose. Bigly. Instead, these folks appropriated a known brand, and then tinkered with the innards to suit their tribe. This is how we got “new Coke.”

Moving the NDGOP to the right is the goal, as if that’s necessary. It’s like throwing darts at the already intolerant family Tasmanian Devil to really get it irritated. Legislate angry, my friends.

Why have regulation issue republicans allowed this infiltration? Who knows?

Al Carlson, barely awake, shouts, “What the hell is going on down there, with all that racket? Who is there?

B-Boys. “Nobody! It’s just us Bastiats, sir.”

Al. “WHO?”


“Screw you, too,” hollers Al. “And stay out of the fridge! Try to keep the gunfire to a minimum, you stupid bastages.”

And that was that.

The Bastiats want an unfettered free market, which we have tried, or gotten pretty close to, and it sucked. One guy named Bud did pretty well, but that’s about it. It’s currently getting pretty unfettered around here.

“Oh, you’d like to just dump your clean coal mining trash in the rivers, huh? Well, hell, we can’t see any reason why not. Enjoy.”

They like freedom, liberty, fewer refugees, homeschooling, property rights, and raw milk, just for starters.

They hate government and want it small. Real small. Bite size. Small enough to drown in the bathtub, paraphrasing Grover Norquist, who is going to need a much larger tub.

Common Core really ticks them off. Government shouldn’t be involved in education, at all. Dig this.

“You say: “There are persons who lack education” and you turn to the law. But the law is not, in itself, a torch of learning which shines its light abroad. The law extends over a society where some persons have knowledge and others do not; where some citizens need to learn, and others can teach. In this matter of education, the law has only two alternatives: It can permit this transaction of teaching-and-learning to operate freely and without the use of force, or it can force human wills in this matter by taking from some of them enough to pay the teachers who are appointed by government to instruct others, without charge. But in the second case, the law commits legal plunder by violating liberty and property.” ― Frédéric Bastiat

“What do think, should parents be able to direct their child’s education in a manner that they feel is best? If that choice means private education, should that parent be forced to fund the public school monopoly, essentially being double dipped?” — Rep. Daniel Johnston

“The most urgent necessity is, not that the State should teach, but that it should allow education. All monopolies are detestable, but the worst of all is the monopoly of education.” ― Frédéric Bastiat

Taxes are theft. If you go by the words of the Bastiat Institute, they aren’t crazy about cops, or anyone getting in their business. Also, no food stamps, or any other helping of the poor. God is with them, but the poor aren’t. Did I mention that?

They really love guns. Immensely. No infringement, and all that. They interpret the Second Amendment improperly, but don’t even bother challenging their rendition. Futile would be the word for it. It’s part of their ideology, and there is no room for pragmatism.

I haven’t heard of any plans to build more, or any, bell towers to let the owners of 50-caliber sniper rifles blow off some steam, but Rep. Luke Simons, from Dickinson, almost blew a gasket, when he got wind of our attorney general even thinking about talking about the bump stock.

“North Dakota state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, along with 32 fellow state attorneys general, recently signed a petition urging Congress to outlaw bump stocks for firearms. Even though the NRA is in to direct opposition to this action. Now is the time to let your voice be heard and contact Stenehjem’s office with your concerns.” — Rep. Luke Simons

Of course, the bump stock and other devices utilized to turn a semiautomatic weapon into an automatic have no useful purpose, except to spray bullets in a general direction. Say you want to kill a lot of people, that are packed tightly together, maybe to watch a concert, and you’re not fussy about which people are hit, get yourself a bump stock. Otherwise, as Simons has said, they are fun to use. Not a good enough reason.

Luke also speaks with the accent of a Confederate general, for some reason, wears a cowboy hat, and has a fine looking set of teeth. Luckily, they aren’t ivory.

Dr. Becker succeeded in passing “constitutional carry” — the way the founders intended, the Bastiats said, which isn’t true, but this is North Dakota.

“The legislation means North Dakota will become one of about a dozen so-called “constitutional carry” states Aug. 1. The bill would allow law-abiding people 18 and older to forgo background checks and classes that are now required. The legislation only requires someone carrying a concealed weapon to have a valid ID and notify law enforcement of the weapon during instances such as a traffic stop.

The bill was among a package of gun-rights measures being considered this session, including allowing people with concealed carry permits to have guns in churches, schools and other public places.” — The Associated Press

Simons and Bastiat buddies forwarded House Bill No. 1391 to circumvent federal laws and regulation, to get our neighborhood bullet and gun garage manufacturing some cover. It’s not constitutional, but hey. They ran a lot of pro-gun Bills, through the legislature last session. Some passed. This one didn’t.

House Bill No. 1381

(Sponsors) Reps. Simons, Rick C. Becker, Ertelt, Johnston, Jones, B. Koppelman, McWilliams, Olson, Toman, Sen, Kannianen

“A personal firearm, firearm accessory, or ammunition manufactured commercially or privately in the state and which remains within the state is not subject to federal law or federal regulation, including registration as those items are not subject to regulations related to interstate commerce. This section applies to a firearm, firearm accessory, or ammunition manufactured in the state from basic materials and which can be manufactured without the inclusion of any significant parts imported from another state.”

It runs afoul of Frédéric, though.

“When goods do not cross borders, soldiers will.” — Frédéric Bastiat

The Bastiats were successful with their Food Freedom Bill, though. No one had ever been arrested for any of the things they got codified. Baked goods from home are the keystone of our healthcare system up here, for crissakes. Food has been exchanged for money, or not, since forever, without any dustups over black market muffins. Eggs for bread. But now, ears perked up at the Health Department, where they hate freedom, which I believe is the opposite of what the B-boys intended.

Frédéric was right, when he said, “There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen.”

Whoops. Bitten by an easily foreseen effect. My feelings of freedom are waning.

Simons has cows, but he had to drop raw milk from the Food Freedom Bill. Raw milk is sold at premium, and is trendy, I guess, just to tick off the smartass dead scientists, who conned the lot of us, with their unholy homogenization and pasteurization.

Only the criminals will have raw milk now. Or anyone else who wants it, because no one cares.

“Should duck eggs and ostrich eggs be illegal in North Dakota? We don’t think so. It’s time to pass the ND Food Freedom Act, HB 1433!”

I don’t know for certain who all of the members are, although I’ve asked. Membership seems to be fluid. Becker once suggested 24, or so. Maybe they serve delicious homemade pastries and mason jars of cold raw milk, to either encourage, or discourage, attendance at the genial meetings they hold. No bare knuckle stuff.

These are my guesses. Either Gold card members, or just occasionally in cahoots.

  • Rep. Rick Becker (R-District 7)
  • Rep. Luke Simons (R-District 36)
  • Rep. Chris Olson (R-District 13)
  • Rep. Sebastian Ertelt (R-District 26)
  • Rep. Tom Kading (R-District 45)
  • Rep. Daniel Johnston (R-District 24)
  • Rep. Ben Koppelman (R-District 16)
  • Rep. Robin Weisz (R-District 14)
  • Rep. Nathan Toman (R-District 34)
  • Rep. Dwight Kiefert (R-District 24)
  • Rep. Jeffery J. Magrum (R-District 28)
  • Rep. Todd Porter (R-District 34)
  • Rep. Mike Schatz (R-District 36)
  • Rep. Bill Oliver (R-District 4)
  • Rep. Matthew Ruby (R-District 40)
  • Rep. Gary Paur (R-District 19)
  • Sen. Larry Luick (R-District 25)
  • Sen. Janne Myrdal (R-District 10)
  • Sen. Shawn Vedaa (R-District 6)
  • Sen. Kelly Armstrong (R-District 36)
  • Sen. Oley Larsen (R-District 3)
  • Sen. Dwight Cook (R-District 34)
  • Sen. Jordan Kannianen (R-District 4)
  • Sen. Lonnie J. Laffen (R-District 43)
  • Sen. Ray Holmberg (R-District 17)

Rep. Chris Olson is the current president of the caucus, but he’s chosen not to run in 2018. He tried to run an anti-immigrant Bill through the House, but failed. It was barely obvious what the intent of the legislation was.

“My original Refugee Capacity Bill (HB 1427) was intended to determine the absorptive capacity of our communities and state for the federal refugee resettlement program.” — Rep. Chris Olson. We’re a barely inhabited large space on the map. Even the moose are confused, by the emptiness, when they inadvertently wander into the flat lands.

“Another huge victory for liberty here in North Dakota. Thank you Gov. Doug Burgum for signing into law Rep. Chris Olson’s Homeschool Testing Freedom Act, HB 1428!” — Bastiat Caucus

“Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.” ― Frédéric Bastiat

I’ve had a number of communications with Senator Oley in the past few years and he’s told me some weird $#it. My favorite  hobnobbing with the SENATOR involved me explaining how plagiarism worked, since that’s what he had done. What he posted was too well written. It didn’t take a word detective to figure it out.

“Just read that Trump Donated all of his Salary to the park service and the funds will go to the veteran’s cemeteries. I don’t care who you are, even High five Heidi, pilosie and whoppi have to respect that.” ― Sen. Oley Larsen. Can you spot anything a little off?

Oley also plans to introduce a Bill in the next session, that would allow Bible study in public schools, so there’s that.

“Life, faculties, production-in other words, individuality, liberty, property-this is man. And in spite of the cunning of artful political leaders, these three gifts from God precede all human legislation, and are superior to it.” ― Frédéric Bastiat

They put forth a bill to eliminate “safe spaces” from our colleges, based on some harrowing anecdote. It’s just a right-wing attempt to tar students with a label, when they don’t comport to some silly standard.

Is there a safe space at a North Dakota college? Nobody seems know. Is the counselor’s office a safe space? It should be. The nursing offices? Personally, anywhere I walk is a safe space, as far as I’m concerned. Home is. My favorite chair is. Another big deal made, where there is no problem.

“When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law.” ― Frédéric Bastiat

Rep. Dwight Kiefert, likes to post his disdain for Muslims, and anyone with a different sexual orientation, than whatever he claims to be. The bigotry isn’t even alarming anymore. Otherwise, Kiefert has been trying to get guns into the schools for years. Nothing new there. I asked him about the explosive oil trains passing close to mostly rural schools, and he ignored me. We don’t mess with the oil guys in this state.

Wayne LaPierre speaking at the NRA Convention in 1999, stating the organization’s position on guns in schools. “We believe in absolutely, gun free, zero tolerance, totally safe schools.”

Our congressman, Kevin Cramer, is one of those alt-righters, since his hero in Mar-a-Lago slopes at a sharp angle in that direction, and he votes 98.5 percent with the president. Cramer probably wouldn’t be conservative enough to join the B Caucus, if put to the same test.

“Make North Dakota conservative again! get your hat. I will never apologize for being conservative.” — Rep. Luke Simons. The hat is a replica of the Make America Great Again red hat, worn by Trump and his supporters. Did someone ask Luke to apologize? It wasn’t me.

“We must ensure that Gov. Burgum hears from Second Amendment-loving North Dakotans, and not just the radical, anti-gun fringe.” — Rep. Luke Simons

“The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else.” ― Frédéric Bastiat

They keep score by what The American Conservative Union Foundation rates them at the end of the session, based on their votes on a couple of dozen bills chosen by the ACUF.

Becker and Simons scored 100. Johnston and Ertelt came in at 91. Way out there on the fringe. Oley was the highest rated senator. I don’t know if they had the correct answers beforehand. The people formerly known as Republicans were lucky to get to 50 on this test.

“Legal plunder has two roots: One of them, as I have said before, is in human greed; the other is in false philanthropy.” ― Frédéric Bastiat

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — A Victory For The Good Guys — And The Bad Lands

In a major victory for conservationists, and for the North Dakota Bad Lands they work hard to protect, U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland of Bismarck ruled this week that the state of North Dakota and four western North Dakota counties have no right to go in and build roads in areas of the Little Missouri National Grasslands that have been inventoried as “roadless areas” and identified as “suitable for wilderness designation.”

Hovland dismissed the lawsuit filed nearly five years ago by North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Billings, Golden Valley, McKenzie and Slope counties because a 12-year statute of limitations for the state and counties to open section lines for development had expired. The state and the counties can appeal the decision, and this may end up in the U.S. Supreme Court, but that’s a lengthy and expensive venture at a time when budgets are lean because of the oil bust. We’ll see if the attorney general is willing to gamble away more of the state’s tax dollars pursuing this.

Here’s a little background. Over a long period of time (40 years), going back to a management plan for the Grasslands written in 1976 and 1977, and followed by numerous updates in public notices issued by the Forest Service in the years since, the Forest Service has let it be known that they consider several areas of the Grasslands off limits to motorized travel.

But when the oil boom came, county commissioners out west decided to challenge those restrictions in court, hoping to get access to section lines in those areas to build roads so oil companies could get in there and drill. When Stenehjem heard about it, he jumped right in and joined the lawsuit, and in a heroic gesture, said, “We’ll handle it from here in Bismarck.”

Bullion Butte — the mothership of the Bad Lands. Still roadless.
Bullion Butte — the mothership of the Bad Lands. Still roadless.

So in September 2012 Stenehjem, as he loves to do, sued the United States government, claiming that the state should be allowed to build roads on every section line in the state (although, in a magnanimous gesture, he said he was OK with not building roads in Theodore Roosevelt National Park).

I went to his office to ask him about that, and he claimed he was just defending “state sovereignty.” Well, I didn’t believe him then, and I don’t believe him now. In reality, he was just putting on a good show for those western counties, beefing up his political support out west in case he ever decided to run for governor.

The agenda for the county commissioners from the oil patch was different. They wanted to stop a movement by conservationists to get official wilderness designation for about 50,000 of those roadless areas, a proposal called Prairie Legacy Wilderness. If the lawsuit was successful, they’d send their graders and scrapers in there and build some roads, and take care of those pesky conservationists and their wild ideas.

The Forest Service and its U.S. Department of Justice attorneys were having none of that. They set out to prove that the court had no jurisdiction in the case because North Dakota and the counties had missed the deadline for filing their suit by more than 25 years, something Stenehjem might have thought about before he wasted all that state money on the case.

I went to the federal courthouse this week to look at the judge’s opinion and what I found in the case file was 190 separate court filings, with hundreds and hundreds of pages of arguments by the state and the federal government. It looked to me like the counties that originated the lawsuit really didn’t have to spend much time or money on this, which is a good thing because they’re overwhelmed with the crime wave to hit their part of the state as a result of the oil boom. But you and I taxpayers footed the bill for lawyers for both sides.

The Forest Service is operating the Little Missouri National Grasslands under a management plan written in 2001, and that plan sets aside about 5 percent of the million acres it manages as roadless. Ninety-five percent of their land is open for oil development. The remaining 50,000 acres or so — places like majestic Bullion Butte, isolated Kendley Plateau, the historic Long-X Divide and Twin Buttes, looking down into Theodore Roosevelt National Park — are walk-in areas for hikers, deer hunters, birders, photographers, cross-country skiers and campers. And for now at least, they’ll remain that way, in spite of state government’s desire to put an oil well on every section of land in western North Dakota.


Before I quit and go have a toast to justice served and a breath of fresh air blowing into the beleaguered Bad Lands, I want to point out two pieces of irony resulting from Hovland’s decision.

  • The law says that the 12-year statute of limitations only applies to lands on which the government or its lessees have made some investments or improvements, such as range improvement, tree planting, mineral activities, farming and wildlife habitat improvement. Well, thanks to some oil and gas activity on the lands back before they were included in a roadless area, and to shelterbelts, stock tanks and dams, fencing, and other range improvements by ranchers leasing the lands for grazing, the statute of limitations, which decided this case, applies. So thanks to the North Dakota Oil and Gas Division and the North Dakota Grazing Associations for your help with this decision.
  • Back in 2014, Attorney General Stenehjem proposed we protect a number of “extraordinary places” from oil development, and a bunch of those were in or near the roadless areas that Judge Hovland’s opinion protects. Now that Stenehjem has lost this lawsuit, those “extraordinary places” of his will be better protected from development.

God, it’s good to win one once in a while. Now let’s get going on that Prairie Legacy Wilderness designation.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — The Sellout Of Van Hook Park

WARNING: In this article, I’m going to rip some North Dakota politicians a new one. This isn’t personal, and it isn’t partisan. They’ve got it coming because of malfeasance in office. I’m not going to pull any punches. They deserve it. I know I’ve been pretty critical of some of our state’s leaders lately. Sorry. But we’ve got some really bad shit going on in our state, and someone has to talk about it. Our leaders are failing us.

This article appears in the current issue of Dakota Country magazine. The big boys who read that magazine possess about 90 percent of the guns and three-quarters of all the testosterone in North Dakota, so if they can stand my rants, so can you.

Now, first a little background.

There’s a little resort community called Van Hook Park on the north end of Lake Sakakawea, named for the town that formerly existed nearby until it was flooded by the waters backed up behind the Garrison Dam. It’s nothing fancy. Two hundred or so trailers and cabins, a bait shop and convenience store, gravel streets and a campground with 100 RV sites.

The Van Hook recreational community sits on land partly owned by the Corps of Engineers and partly by the Mountrail County Park Board. There’s a park manager and a cabin owners association to manage the facilities there. At times, when the walleye bite is on, the boat ramp next to the campground and cabin sites is the busiest boat ramp on Lake Sakakawea.

Fishing has been good over the years in what is known as the Van Hook Arm of Lake Sakakawea. Cabin owners have been happy, and users of the park and boat ramp, who come from all over western and central North Dakota, spend happy weekends there. Other than the hum of outboards during the day, and the singing of shorebirds and warblers at daybreak and dusk, it’s been a pretty quiet place. Until now.

This spring, an oil company named Slawson Exploration moved in beside the resort, and with its huge machinery, began clearing a 25-acre site at the top of the boat ramp, which will be home to an 11-well oil pad. The site is just a few hundred yards from the park and the homes in the community. Drilling could start there any day now.

Mountrail County officials, cabin and trailer owners and members of the Friends of Lake Sakakawea learned of the development last summer, long after it been permitted by the North Dakota Industrial Commission. And they’re pretty concerned.

Concerned because in December 2012, the same company had a huge blowout on a well a little ways east of the resort, which resulted in more than 50,000 gallons of saltwater and oil mist spewing almost a mile onto the ice of Lake Sakakawea.

“Our greatest fear,” says Terry Fleck, president of the Friends of Lake Sakakawea and a cabin owner at Van Hook, “is what happens if they have a blowout at the boat ramp when there are 200 boats on the water waiting to return to the resort?”

The thing is, this didn’t have to happen. You might recall a few years ago, North Dakota’s Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem wrote an administrative rule that he brought to the North Dakota Industrial Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry in North Dakota, to restrict drilling within a mile of what he called “extraordinary places,” — places that should be protected from industrial development. The list included state and national parks, wildlife refuges, the Little Missouri River and Lake Sakakawea.

In early 2014, he took the rule, with great fanfare, to a meeting of the Industrial Commission, being chaired at that time by the governor, oil industry sycophant Jack Dalrymple. It didn’t fly — Dalrymple and the oil industry objected. And Stenehjem quickly backed away. Instead he proposed, and the commission adopted, a “policy” of trying to keep the oil wells a mile away from the “extraordinary places,” except that the policy only applied to proposed wells on public land. And it did not have the force of law, so it had no teeth.

And so, proposals to put wells right up against national park borders or Lake Sakakawea’s shore were just fine with Stenehjem, Dalrymple and Agriculture Commissioner Douglas Goehring, the third member of the Industrial Commission, as long as they were on private land. Even those on public land only get a little scrutiny today — and can still be approved. Basically, it’s a policy with no teeth. Which is just what the oil industry likes.

And in the era of horizontal drilling, where wells can be placed anywhere and pipes run as far as three miles underground to get that oil, it didn’t take long for the oil industry to ferret out private landowners willing to take tens of thousands, often hundreds of thousands, of dollars for little pieces of land for the placement of oil wells beside lakes, rivers, wildlife refuges and parks.

I was at the meeting when the “policy” was adopted, and I can assure you that no one there was surprised by Stenehjem’s retreat at Dalrymple’s insistence. We all knew that the oil and gas industry had contributed more than $600,000 to Dalrymple’s election campaign two years earlier, and their shill in the governor’s office was not going to let them down.

Stenehjem and Goehring were richly rewarded by the industry in their subsequent election campaigns later in 2014. In early 2015, after they had been re-elected, Slawson Exploration submitted a request for a drilling permit for their Van Hook project, and it was approved by the same three men who had adopted the toothless policy a year earlier — Dalrymple, Stenehjem and Goehring.  Because Slawson had found, and rewarded handsomely, a landowner who had land right up to the lake, they were going to drill on private land and the “policy” didn’t apply to them.

Slaswon kept it pretty quiet, until the federal government issued a call for comments on the project last year, a necessary step because the government owns some of the oil under the lake. Slawson leased the drilling rights under the lake, and once Slawson had the minerals and a piece of private land on which to place the wells, there was no stopping them.

When the news got out last summer, the Friends of Lake Sakakawea and Mountrail County sent a letter to Dalrymple, Stenehjem and Goehring asking them to order that the pad be moved back away from the lake. They never received a response.

Slawson did agree to a meeting with the Friends of Lake Sakakawea last summer. The group’s president, Terry Fleck, said the company agreed to move the well pad back “a considerable distance” from the lake. They left the meeting feeling they didn’t need to protest further.

Turns out that was a mistake. Slawson had a different definition of “considerable” than the Friends group had. Locals learned that only when the stakes for the pad went in this spring — less than a fifth of a mile from the boat ramp and just a few hundred yards from the trailers and lake homes in the resort.

Fleck, Mountrail County State’s Attorney Wade Enget and a Mountrail County commissioner all told me this spring that they had done everything legally possible to move the project away from the lake. But their hands were tied by the Industrial Commission.

When Slawson asked the county to upgrade the road to the site, the county basically told them to go jump in the lake. Slawson then built its own road to the site. And there are signs on both ends of the resort community telling Slawson to keep out of town. The sites are so close to the town, though, that the noise from dirt work, drilling and well service operations will pretty much ruin the ambiance of the previously sleepy little community. And the lights from the 24-hour operation will eliminate the precious dark night skies that lake residents and campers have come to value.

And there’s more. When Slawson finished the dirt work on its pad at the boat ramp on the west side of the village this spring, it moved over to the other side and began building another one. That caught everyone by surprise. It seems that when they applied for the one at the boat ramp, they also applied for, and were granted, one on the east side of town, again just a few hundred yards from the shoreline and residences.

Through all the public furor and meetings with the Friends organization last year, the oil company never mentioned they were going to drill on both sides of the town.

It’s really hard to imagine what the Industrial Commission was thinking when it allowed the company to bookend the little resort community with oil wells. There’ll be at least 14 wells, possibly 17, and maybe a saltwater injection well, within shouting distance of the resort’s residents. The cacophony from the dirt work, then the drilling, with thousands of trucks hauling fracking water (I’ve read it takes a thousand truckloads of water to frack a well), and then the trucks to service the wells, is almost beyond comprehension. Not to mention the disaster if (when?) another blowout occurs.

According to a story in the Bismarck Tribune this spring, Slawson operates 300 wells in the Bakken and has reported 142 oil fluid spills. It has been fined by the state of North Dakota in only five of those cases, by — you guessed it — the Industrial Commission, although the little fines the state issues are more of a bother than a financial burden to the company.

But the federal government didn’t let them off so easy. The EPA had to be called in to investigate numerous Clean Air Act violations, and it found Slawson had inadequate vapor control systems on its storage tanks at oil and natural gas well pads, resulting in an estimated 15,000 tons of methane and other poisonous gases per year being released into the clean North Dakota air.

Just last December, the EPA fined Slawson $2.1 million and is requiring the company to install $5.6 million worth of vapor control systems and gauges on its well sites here. That’s still small potatoes to the company, though, just another cost of doing business. After all, Slawson will spend more than $100 million to develop the two Van Hook well sites.

Now, with the sellout of the community by the Industrial Commission a fait accompli, and with drilling under way, the county and the resort residents are putting together a list of things they’d like Slawson to do to try to mitigate some of the damage and danger to the lake and the resort community — and the chaos it is creating in this quiet little bay on Lake Sakakawea. We’ll know what those things are later this year. There are a couple of things we know now, for sure, though. You can’t mitigate evil politicians. And you can’t mitigate oil company greed.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — The Long, Strange Saga Of Jason Halek Comes To An End

Well, it looks like Jason Halek (pictured above) is finally going to the pokey.

Remember Jason? He’s the fellow who dumped more than 800,000 gallons of salty, oilfield wastewater into an abandoned oil well southwest of Dickinson in Stark County, North Dakota, and then attempted to cover it up.

And his partner in crime, Nathan Garber, might be sitting in the cell next to him after they are sentenced this summer by U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland in Bismarck, putting an end to a case that has dragged on for more than five years.

This is the eighth story I’ve written about these two guys in those five years, and with any luck, it’ll be the next to last, with the final one coming after they are put in a big black van headed for a jailhouse July 31, the date of their sentencing.


Jason Halek has pleaded guilty in a plea agreement signed just two weeks ago, Feb. 21, to three counts of violating the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act. In return for the guilty plea on those three charges, 10 other charges against him have been dropped.

Garber pleaded guilty a couple of years go to 11 federal charges, similar to Halek’s. He has not yet been sentenced because his willingness to testify against Halek would help determine how harshly the government wanted to treat him. Now that Halek has copped a plea, Garber’s lawyer will have to bargain with a judge and federal prosecutors for a lenient sentence, since he was the big hammer in getting Halek to plead guilty. I’d be surprised if his sentence is any stiffer than Halek’s. Both men also face substantial fines for their actions.


So that’s what’s happened lately. Everything’s done but the sentencing. Let’s go back and review a little bit.

What first got me interested in these guys was a big black headline screaming off the front page of the Bismarck Tribune in July 2012 with news of the “largest environmental violation fine ever” in North Dakota — $1.5 million — against a company called Halek Operating.

The owner, Jason Halek, and his manager, Garber, who was in the process of buying him out, dumped the saltwater from a failed drilling operation down an abandoned oil well in December 2011. North Dakota’s oilfield investigations team found out about it and busted them both.

Halek threw his hands in the air and said, “Garber did it. I didn’t know anything about it.”

“Bullshit,” said Garber, “I’m not taking the rap for this. Halek told me to do it.”

Or something like that. We’ll come back to that in a minute.

Well, Lynn Helms, director of the Oil and Gas Division, which is charged with enforcing oilfield environmental violations, took his charges against Halek Operating — civil, not criminal, and against the company, not the men — to the N.D. Industrial Commission, and it levied the $1.5 million fine. And the members puffed up their chests and strutted around the Governor’s Conference Room like peacocks on a mating binge.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple huffed and puffed and said, “There will not be any exceptions or leniency when these things happen.”

“The key thing is this guy is not doing business again in North Dakota, and that’s a good thing,” said Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. “We are not going to tolerate this.”

And Oil and Gas Division Director Lynn Helms chimed in, “It’s a very serious violation, and it needs to be dealt with in a very serious manner. They’ve tripled the risk of contaminating a drinking water zone with this well. It takes many, many years to clean it up, if it can be done at all.”

Well, la de da.


The Industrial Commission’s order stated: “The sum of the fines … is $1,525,000 and Halek Operating ND, LLC shall make payment immediately to the Industrial Commission, Oil and Gas Division.”

Halek’s company, of course, didn’t have any money. Its only asset was an abandoned oil well full of poisonous water. I don’t think the state wanted that. To date, five years later, the state has collected just $140,000 from the bond Halek had posted when he got into the oil business. A new definition of “immediately.”

Stenehjem told The Associated Press two years later, in August 2014, that it’s doubtful the state will ever collect the entire fine assessed to Halek Operating. Of course, he and the Governor knew that going in. That did not stop them from making big headlines though.

The thing is, this didn’t need to happen. Just a year earlier, the Industrial Commission had cited Halek for improperly cleaning up an oil spill, also near Dickinson. Halek faced more than $588,000 in potential fines but was ordered to pay less than 10 percent of that with the rest suspended, under North Dakota’s “second chance” policy. Perhaps if he had been made to pay the full fine, he would have been a little more careful in the future.

And as I wrote in an earlier post here, Jason Halek had a checkered past. “Before the company drilled its first well in North Dakota, federal officials say the man behind it (Jason Halek) had swindled $22 million out of 300 investors in a Texas oil and gas project,” according to a story in the Dickinson Press.

The Press cautioned that “state officials overseeing the nation’s oil and gas boom might need to look beyond promoting development and monitoring groundwater and keep their eyes open for plain old fraud.”

Yeah, with his record, perhaps Jason Halek should not have been given another permit to drill for oil in North Dakota. There’s 800,000 gallons of poisonous water under the ground threatening Dickinson’s water supply. Who knows what the outcome of that is going to be?


Well, none of this sat well with the state’s  attorney at the time, Tim Purdon. Because North Dakota wouldn’t file criminal charges against Halek, Purdon called in an investigative team from the Environmental Protection Agency, and it went to work on the case. In the fall of 2015, a federal grand jury, convened by Purdon, acting on behalf of the U.S. government because North Dakota wouldn’t prosecute, returned a 28-page indictment against Halek. The indictment contained 13 felony charges, including one charge for conspiring with Garber to dump the water. But the other 12 were far more interesting.

There were four counts of violating the U.S. Government’s Safe Drinking Water Act. The dumping of 800,000 gallons of toxic saltwater put Dickinson’s drinking water at risk. That’s what brought the EPA team to North Dakota. And those are the charges Halek has now pleaded guilty to, and will be sentenced for, in July.

There were also four counts of obstructing grand jury proceedings — essentially lying to the grand jury or hiding evidence from them, and four counts of “providing false statements to the North Dakota Industrial Commission.”

Those last four were crimes against the state of North Dakota, but the state had chosen not to prosecute, with Stenehjem claiming he didn’t feel he had enough proof against Halek personally. The state did file some criminal charges against Garber, and he pleaded guilty and got a suspended sentence and a $2,500 fine. And that was the end of that, as far as the state was concerned.

But the EPA and Purdon did what the North Dakota Industrial Commission and our own attorney general would not do: they pored through Industrial Commission documents from the Oil and Gas Division and interviewed staff and found out what Helms, Dalrymple, and Stenehjem apparently didn’t want us to know: that Jason Halek had indeed committed crimes against the state of North Dakota.

It took a federal investigation to charge Halek with crimes against the state of North Dakota because North Dakota’s attorney general, Wayne Stenehjem, wouldn’t act, despite having said earlier, “the case will be pursued vigorously in court.”

Well, eventually it was, but by the U.S. Department of Justice, not North Dakota’s attorney general. In Halek’s just-signed plea agreement, the government dropped the crimes committed against the state in return for a conviction on the federal crime, violations of the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act.That’s what he will be sentenced for July 31.

The bottom line here is, if Tim Purdon and the EPA hadn’t stepped in, Halek would be free forever and the state would have an uncollected fine on its books of $1.4 million, and the case would be history.


Halek and Garber remain free today, awaiting sentencing. Halek has been running a used car lot in Texas. I don’t know about Garber. He last lived in Kalispell, Mont. An attorney with the Justice Department in Washington told me Friday that in white-collar crime cases like this, it is not unusual for defendants to remain free until they are sentenced. Well, at least they won’t be free on Aug. 1. Halek anyway.

I’m not sure about Garber. Halek pleaded guilty because Garber had agreed to cooperate with the government in his prosecution. That threat was what likely prompted Halek’s guilty plea on the three Safe Drinking Water charges. We’ll see how good a deal Garber’s attorney can negotiate in return. Based on the federal charges filed, Garber could have faced up to 50 years in prison, but the plea deal calls for 30 to 37 months. It was Halek, after all, who was the big target, and the Department of Justice was able to get him because of Garber’s agreement to testify.

Halek’s plea agreement calls for a 24- to 30-month prison sentence, if the judge accepts it. Environmental attorneys tell me both are pretty stiff sentence for an environmental case.

The state of North Dakota got nothing except $140,000. Halek will get a free ride to a federal prison, his new home, without paying the $530,000 fine from his first violation or about $1.4 million from this violation.

But thanks to the much-beleaguered Environmental Protection Agency, the man behind what the Justice Department calls “the biggest injection well safe drinking water case ever” will at least serve time in jail. What becomes of the 800,000 gallons of poisonous waste water remains to be seen. It’s still down there.

Well, that’s a summary. It’s been a long saga. If want to go back to the very beginning and follow this chronologically, here are the links.

July 26, 2012 – Where it began (You have to scroll down a bit)

July 30, 2013 – The check’s not in the mail

Aug. 7, 2013 – An “egregious” act

Sept. 10, 2013 – “Drill some awesome wells”

Sept. 27, 2013 – First guilty plea

Nov. 29, 2014 – Purdon calls in the feds

Oct. 7, 2015 – 28-page indictment, 13 charges

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Citizens + United = Oxymoron

When the U.S. Supreme Court, on a 5-4 decision, ruled to basically eliminate caps on political spending through its decision on Citizens United — We the People lost.

My comments apply to our political system and what has been happening in recent years, regardless of your political persuasion.

Money has come to dominate our elections. Here are just a few examples of candidates who’ve bought political power, with the unplanned help of the electorate.

  • The newly elected governor of the state of North Dakota is a self-made millionaire. With absolutely no political experience (“experience” being the key word), he made promises to get rid of the good old boys club and bring change. So far, his idea of change is to retain most, if not all, of the outgoing administration’s picks. Apparently, he thinks keeping the same people equals change.

The sad fact is that many, including me, bought into that BS. And the result was to leave Wayne Stenehjem, the current attorney general and former candidate for governor, on the losing side of the contest.

Stenehjem is one of the most honest, caring and capable politicians ever to hold public office in North Dakota. The GOP deserted him. The loss is to the people of the state.

Wayne is a political expert. Burgum has no experience, but worse his failure to promote the agenda he ran on and his support of his mentor Trump show the error of our ways.

  • The president-elect purchased his way into office over many qualified Republican opponents. He can claim he “has a great program” now because he has changed his promises so often that he can truly claim that every possible position on an issue is one he has espoused.

It’s the first time we have ever had a president-elect who openly admires Vladimir Putin of Russia and everything he stands for … a president-elect who maintains that he himself is his own best source of information … says he knows more than our military generals and denigrates our intelligence agencies — all of them … all this without attending the intelligence briefings.

Yes, some people may say he was a better candidate than Hillary Clinton. But those same people know there were many, many Republican candidates more qualified than Trump. And yet they opted for the most dangerous man ever to be elected to the most powerful office in the world.

Having lost the general election by nearly 3 million votes, what is Trump’s first tweet of the New Year? “Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!”

In my world, those who do not support me are “opponents.” In Trump’s world, they are “enemies.” That’s just scary. The president of the United States is supposed to represent ALL the American people, not just his supporters.

From one standpoint, the 2016 election seems like “Citizens United” in reverse. Clinton had the cash and lost. But that’s not the issue here. Instead, it’s what the Republicans could have done for this country.

  • Anyone remember Marsy’s Law? It was the bad initiated measure proposed by a California millionaire, who bought and paid for his very own amendment to the North Dakota Constitution. So many millions were injected into the campaign to purchase advertising, and thus media exposure, that the fact that most of the state’s judges, defense attorneys, prosecuting attorneys and victim advocates opposed it was lost on the public.

It was unfortunate that Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney and Burleigh County Sheriff Pat Heinert were so prominently featured in ads supporting the amendment. They should have known better. Since they didn’t, perhaps you should call them and ask why. Don’t call the measure’s opponents; it’s too late for that.

Once again, money talked … very loudly. Now the criminal justice system is left to figure out how to deal with this change in our constitution.

Because this is the United States of America, we will survive a President Trump, a Gov. Burgum and Marsy’s Law. With good advice, common sense and open minds, our rookie leaders can — and must — learn on the job. They might represent us well, and, after all, that is what everyone wants, regardless of political beliefs.

Burgum has disclosed his financial records. Trump has not. The president-elect promised on many occasions that he would eventually release his tax returns. He has not done so. The president-elect also says he will divest himself of his assets to avoid the appearance of impropriety. He has not done so.

State government will keep Gov. Burgum honest. The jury is out on whether Congress will do the same for the president-elect.

I’m hopeful that the Democrats in the U.S. Senate do not follow the cowardly and destructive path set by Sen. Mitch McConnell. Supreme Court candidates and vacancies in the federal system should be acted upon quickly and given up or down votes. The court system has been suffering under the do-nothing GOP-controlled Senate; the Democratic minority should not follow suit.

We elect senators and representatives who do not put in a full week’s work and set records for time off. Here in the local environment, workers or employees who did that would be fired. Yet in our federal system, those who have been elected are rewarded. This does not make sense to me. It never will.

So, enough with this week’s thoughts. To all my friends who care: This has been a great year for me. Now I’m off to make my second million dollars — I gave up trying to make the first a good long time ago. Amen.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Death By A Thousand Cuts

Pipelines leak.

If North Dakota didn’t have such an awful reputation for not enforcing its environmental regulations in the Oil Patch, maybe we wouldn’t have a few thousand people camped out along the Cannonball River protesting the mother of all North Dakota pipelines, Dakota Access.

Pipelines have been leaking oil and dangerous fracking saltwater all over western North Dakota for about 10 years now. And while our state’s own environmental protection agency, the North Dakota Department of Health, has a pretty incredible rapid response team ready to go out and monitor spills and subsequent cleanup efforts, it is hampered by superiors in higher pay grades who let the on-the-ground enforcers do little, if anything to punish the polluters who are despoiling our landscape.

It is the policy of North Dakota state government, under orders from the state’s highest elected officials — the governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner who make up the North Dakota Industrial Commission — to slap oil companies on the hands rather than take a board to their backsides when they make their messes in western North Dakota.

It’s pretty easy, and also pretty accurate, to paint the Industrial Commission with a broad brush, as tools of the oil industry, so eager for the campaign contributions they provide and the economic riches they’ve brought to the state that they forego environmental enforcement. So today, I’m going to cite some specific examples of why I and others more concerned about our land, water, air and wildlife than about dollar signs are so upset with Jack Dalrymple, Wayne Stenehjem and Douglas Goehring.

I’m going to talk about just one of the hundreds of oilfield companies at work here, even today, in the second year of the Great Bakken Bust.

Denbury Onshore. You won’t remember, but I wrote about them almost three years ago. The headline on that story was “Time To Send Denbury Packing?”  That was shortly after the company had spilled almost three-quarters of a million gallons of saltwater into Big Gumbo Creek on the North Dakota-Montana border. Big Gumbo creek runs into the Little Missouri River, the life blood of the North Dakota Bad Lands.

This was not Danbury Onshore’s first pipeline leak — it was one of many — and I suggested that our governor tell them to “pack their bags and get the hell out of North Dakota.” Yeah, right.

Well, a month or so ago, as we were approaching the three-year anniversary of this spill, I went into the Health Department database to see what had come of that incident. I learned that there has been some monitoring of Big Gumbo Creek and the Little Missouri River by the Health Department during that time period. Samples were taken as recently as June of this year at several locations, including at Big Gumbo’s confluence with the Little Missouri River.

On Sept. 23 — just three weeks ago, and almost three years since the spill — Health Department inspector Martin Russell wrote this: “Received results for samples taken in June. Results show elevated levels of production (brine) water indicators still present in the water, (my emphasis) despite apparent recovery of vegetation in that area. More followup required next growing season to continue monitoring vegetation.”

Damn! Almost three years after the spill, there’s still saltwater in Big Gumbo Creek from that spill, and it may be flowing into the Little Missouri River. Double damn!

Well, then I asked the Oil and Gas Division (that’s Lynn Helms’ department — the agency that regulates oil and gas development in North Dakota) — and the North Dakota Health Department what action, if any, had been taken against Denbury for that incident.

Alison Ritter, spokesperson for the Oil and Gas Division, responded “Not under the jurisdiction of OGD as this occurred in Montana. However, DoH may have some jurisdiction due to water impacts.”

Bill Suess, an investigator for the Department of Health, responded “A Notice of Violation is pending.”

So now, three years after one of the worst saltwater spills in our state’s history, not only did Denbury not “pack up its bags and get the hell out of here,” but it hasn’t even been fined or cited for it.

Well, it’s too bad for us that Denbury didn’t go away because here’s what they’ve done since. It’s a list of similar incidents I’ve been able to find in the Health Department database. In each case, I have asked both the Oil and Gas Division and the Department of Health if any action has been taken against the company. Their responses follow.


Nov. 27, 2013 — A leaky valve on a water injection well owned by Denbury Onshore spilled 2,000 gallons of oil and 12,000 gallons of saltwater at an oil well site near Maxbass, in Bottineau County.

OGD: No violation. Reported on time. Cause was a mechanical failure.

DoH: The site has been remediated however NOV (Notice of Violation) is pending.

Jan. 7, 2014 — 2,000 gallons of saltwater leaked from a pipeline at a well site owned by Denbury Onshore in Bowman County. The water flowed into Kid Creek.

OGD: No violation. Reported on time. Cleanup concluded.

DoH: Stayed on E & P pad, NDIC retained jurisdiction.

Oct. 29, 2014 — About 17,000 gallons of water leaked from a Denbury Onshore pipeline in Bowman County and flowed into a drainage of the Little Missouri River.

OGD: No violation, reported on time. Under DoH jurisdiction.

DoH: Release was source water and site has been remediated.

Dece. 4, 2015 — 9,000 gallons of saltwater flowed from a pipeline connection leak at a Denbury Onshore well site near Marmarth in Bowman County.

OGD: No violation. Reported on time. Site has been remediated.

DoH: The site has been remediated however NOV is pending.

Feb. 8, 2016 — A Denbury Onshore pipeline in Bowman County leaked 8,400 gallons of water into a stock dam.

OGD: No violation (under current rule) reported on time. Due to water impacts, cleanup would be under DoH.

DoH: The spill occurred Feb. 6 and was source water and not produced water.

May 18, 2016 — Multiple tanks at a Denbury Onshore well site overflowed, spilling 105,000 gallons of saltwater and 16,800 gallons of oil onto nearby land.

OGD: No violation, cause due to an electrical outage. Reported on time and responded with appropriate cleanup.

DoH: No waters of the state were impacted. Remediation has been completed and site is being monitored for proper re-vegetation.

July 18, 2016 — Denbury  Onshore reported 84 gallons of oil leaked from a pipeline in Billings County. Health Department investigators later reported that the leak was actually 21,000 gallons of oil and 5,000 gallons of saltwater from an underground pipeline. A massive cleanup effort is under way. And a Health Department follow-up report on Aug. 18, a month after the incident, said “To date, 818.75 total bbl (34,387 gallons) of fluid (both water and oil) have been removed from the site.”

OGD: No violation. Cause was a ruptured flowline. OGD is working with DoH to continue to monitor cleanup. Company reported immediately and remediation is on-going.

DoH: Incident is much larger than reported. Remediation and investigation are ongoing.

Aug. 9, 2016 — A break in a pipeline owned by Denbury Onshore in Bowman County resulted in 168,000 gallons of saltwater flowing into a nearby creek.

OGD: No violation. Current pipeline rules only require a company to submit location information about a pipeline installed after Aug. 1, 2011. Proposed pipeline rules do give the division some latitude on enforcement should a leak occur on a pipeline. Since this spill impacted a creek, the cleanup would be under the supervision of DoH.

DOH: The spill did impact a creek bed. Remediation and investigation are ongoing.

Aug. 10, 2016 — 16,800 gallons of saltwater leaked from an oil well site operated by Denbury Onshore in Stark County.

OGD: No violation. Tank fitting failure. Remediation ongoing.

DoH: Stayed on E & P pad, NDIC retained jurisdiction.

Aug. 29, 2016 — 10,700 gallons of an oil and water mixture was spilled at a Denbury Onshore well site near Fryburg in Billings County.

OGD: No violation, cause was a lighting strike. Some fluid did leave site and is still being remediated.

DoH: No impacts to Waters of the State.  The site is under USFS jurisdiction.

OK, that’s 10 of what the Department of Health on its website calls “Environmental Incidents” by Denbury since the big spill three years ago. And so far, not a single Notice of Violation has been issued against the company for any of those events. Not a single dollar of fines has been levied against the company. Operative words: “No Violation” and “NOV Pending.”

Keep in mind, it is the policy of the Industrial Commission — Dalrymple, Stenehjem and Goehring — that when they do issue fines, they only collect 10 or 20 percent, forgiving the rest of the fine, with the warning that “If you do it again, you’re going to have to pay the whole fine.”

Well, I guess if they don’t issue any fine at all, there’s no warning not to do it again. In Denbury’s case, they just keep on dumping and spilling. “Notice of Violation Pending” seems to be the standard practice. And pending, and pending, and pending …

And it’s not just this one company, Denbury. The Bismarck Tribune story quoted the Health Department’s Bill Seuss in a story earlier this year saying “Denbury’s track record is no worse than other companies. The department recorded 1,600 spills last year.”

And last year was a pretty lean year. Here are the number of spills reported to the Health Department year by year, since the boom began.

  • 2009: 456.
  • 2010: 602.
  • 2011: 1,124.
  • 2012: 1,261.
  • 2013: 1,803.
  • 2014: 2,184.
  • 2015: 1,648.

That 2014 figure comes to an average of six spills every single day of the year, and each of them needs to be monitored by state agencies to be sure they are cleaning them up, a massive effort. More, likely, than the agencies can handle. We just have to hope the companies are doing their job.

(By the way, if you want to see the correlation between the number of oilfield spills in North Dakota and the price of oil, there’s an interesting chart on this website that tracks pretty closely with the list of spills above.)

The Bakken Bust began in 2015, and you can see the resulting drop off in spills because of the drop off in activity in the Bakken. Want some good news? So far this year, as of Oct. 15, we’ve had just 912 spills (only about three a day, instead of six), and at this pace, in 2016 we could drop back below 2011 levels.

There’s no way I could go back and try to find out how many fines have been issued. I know there are some. I’m looking at the records for a company called Oasis Petroleum right now. When I get done looking at them, I’ll report back.

The number in the list above comes to more than 9,000 spills — we’ll go over 10,000 this year. I can’t even begin to imagine the impact those spills are having on our land, our water, our air and our wildlife. It’s death by a thousand cuts. 10,000 cuts. Damn!

Now do we understand why there’s a few thousand people camped out beside the Cannonball River? Because the Dakota Access pipeline is going to cross the Missouri River in North Dakota, and no one trusts North Dakota any more.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Bottom Line: In Your Face

There was a discussion at my table Saturday night about whether Indians in North Dakota have gained or lost respect as a result of the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy. There was no consensus. But what I do know is that important voices are rising in support of Tribal actions (although not so much in support of Tribal agitators), and there is much criticism of North Dakota elected officials by some of those same voices.

I have tried to read every story written about the Dakota Access Pipeline since the day (Aug. 12) I was at the site of the proposed access to Lake Oahe, the day after the protest turned real — the day after the first arrests were made. Lauren Donovan of the Bismarck Tribune and The Forum’s Amy Dalrymple are reporting the day-to-day news, so it’s pretty easy to keep up with court actions and daily activities.

More important, though, I think, are the thoughtful voices interpreting the daily news in a way we are not accustomed to. Three of them, all contributing to the website www.unheralded.fish, all three non-Indians, seem to be looking through Indian lenses as they share their thoughts on the events alongside the Cannonball River. They are Clay Jenkinson, Tony Bender and Tom Davies.

Davies, on Tribal Respect, on Sept. 14: “I think it is absolute nonsense that none of the hearings relating to Native lands was held on reservation land. That would, of course, have required that the Public Service Commission and its representatives get out of their office and address these people as equals — as they truly are. I listen to all of the harping and Native bashing saying that the tribes should have gone to the Public Service Commission meetings over the past couple of years. That sounds so nice to the white complainers, bashers and the racists among them. But talk about a simple solution to a complex issue: Would the current problems exist if the PSC and any other governmental agency had simply held one or more hearings on the reservations? Is that too much to ask of them? Would it have been so difficult for our governor or his representatives to meet with their Native American equals on Native lands?”

Jenkinson, on Tribal Sovereignty, on Sept. 24: “Non-Indians have a very hard time understanding and recognizing the concept of tribal sovereignty … White people generally regard Indian sovereignty the way they do monopoly money — they don’t think of the Crow or the Choctaw or the Navajo as foreign nations within the boundaries of the United States, but they are willing to pretend such a state exists so long as it doesn’t affect anything non-Indians really want or need in Indian country. When Indians actually assert their sovereignty in ways that hold up the “progress of white civilization,” non-Indians become enraged, and their true contempt for Indian lives, tribes, laws and traditions bursts through their usual indifference … If the Dakota Access Pipeline Co. or the state of North Dakota or the North Dakota Industrial Commission or the North Dakota Public Service Commission actually respected the tribal sovereignty of the Standing Rock Sioux, they would not have determined to place an oil pipeline just north of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, any more than they would have placed the pipeline a mile south of the U.S.-Canadian border through the Red River of the North, which flows south to north into Manitoba.”

And Bender, Saturday, on the purchase of the Cannonball Ranch, by the Dakota Access people: “The purchase of the Cannonball Ranch by Dakota Access Pipeline exposes more of billionaire Kelcy Warren’s Machiavellian relentlessness. He ordered a sacred burial site bulldozed, brought in attack dogs to defend the destruction, and now he thinks he can buy his way out of it. Not so fast. North Dakota has a corporate farming law, supported by 75 percent of North Dakotans who slapped down the state Legislature in a vote last June. Former State Ag Commissioner Sarah Vogel says the purchase violates the law, which is still under attack by the North Dakota Farm Bureau and corporate interests.”

All three of those dispatches are worth some Sunday evening reading. It won’t take long. You can do it by going here, and here, and here.

I want to follow up on Bender’s calling our attention to the corporation farming law. I visited briefly yesterday with Sarah Vogel, the attorney and former North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner, who was quoted in the Bismarck Tribune about the company’s seeming violation of the anti-corporation farming law. Sarah’s got her plate full right now and won’t be involved in an action against the company. But she doesn’t have to be. Because that’s Wayne Stenehjem’s job.

Here’s what the North Dakota Century Code’s Chapter 10-06.1-02 says:

Farming or ranching by corporations and limited liability companies prohibited.

All corporations and limited liability companies, except as otherwise provided in this chapter, are prohibited from owning or leasing land used for farming or ranching and from engaging in the business of farming or ranching.

That “except as otherwise provided” phrase means only family-owned corporations can own farmland. The company building the pipeline is a publicly traded company.

Further down in that chapter it says that the county recorder has 30 days after the title to the land is recorded to send a notice to the attorney general that the company is likely in violation of state law, and that “The attorney general shall commence an action in the district court of the county in which the substantial portion of farmland or ranchland used in violation of this chapter is situated if the attorney general has reason to believe that any person is violating this chapter.”

Well, the attorney general certainly has reason to believe there’s a violation. It’s been in all the papers. But when a reporter asked the attorney general’s spokesperson if Stenehjem is going to do anything about it, she said the paperwork had not arrived yet. Good grief.

Somebody in the attorney general’s office needs to get off their ass Monday morning and drive a couple of miles across the river to the Morton County courthouse and get the paper and slap the law all over Kelcy Warren’s face. “Commence an action.”

I swear, these Dakota Access people are the most in-your-face people I have ever seen in North Dakota. Real assholes. What they pulled earlier this month, moving their machinery in on Labor Day weekend and digging up an area identified as having burial sites was one indication of what kind of people they are. And when that didn’t work, they just went and waved a check for what I suspect was $7 million or $8 million, maybe even $10 million, and bought the whole damn ranch.

Of course, they knew it was against the law. Their slick lawyer told them that. But he also told them that once Stenehjem gets through with them, the law gives them a year to get rid of it. By then, they’ll have their pipeline built and won’t need it anymore. How cynical is that? Or Machiavellian, in Bender’s words.

Well, the ball is now in the attorney general’s court. Let’s see how long he dribbles it around before he decides to shoot. My guess is it’ll be a pretty long game.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — What The Hell Just Happened?


Nobody — not me, not you, not Doug Burgum — could have predicted that outcome. Some predicted a Burgum win. Not me, although I had this nagging feeling every time I saw Ed Schafer on TV that maybe, just maybe, it could happen. But too many times I have predicted an election outcome because I wanted that outcome, not because I really believed it could happen.

So I cast my vote, and finally, I voted for a winning candidate in a governor’s race. And I had to vote for a Republican to make that happen. Although that is not new. The last two times I voted for a winning candidate in a governor’s race were in 1996 and 1992. Both for a Republican — Ed Schafer.

Name change

I heard a rumor Doug was at the Cass County Courthouse this morning, filing papers to change his first name from “Conservative” back to “Doug.” I’m guessing you won’t hear that tag any more this year.

Whither the Democrats?

More than 113,000 voters cast ballots in the Republican governor’s race Tuesday, a new record, as far as I can tell. When Kevin Cramer beat Brian Kalk for Congress in the 2012 primary, a shade over 100,000 ballots were cast.  Generally, somewhere between 40,000 and 60,000 Republicans vote in primary elections in North Dakota.

Fewer than 18,000 voters cast ballots in the Democratic-NPL column Tuesday, a difference between Republicans and Democrats of almost 100,000. Wow. I’ve been around for a lot of elections, and I’ve never seen a disparity like that.

In the last three presidential year primaries, Democrats got 57,000 votes in 2012, 43,000 in 2008 and 40,000 in 2004. This year, it was less than 20,000. Not that primary election numbers translate into much in the fall. In 2006, Democrats actually got more votes than Republicans in the primary, even without any contested races on the ballot, but didn’t pick up a single statewide office in the fall, their only win being the re-election of Roger Johnson as Agriculture commissioner.

So, what happened to all the Democrats this year? Go back and read the first paragraph of this section.


Democrats did not win the election for Doug Burgum. They just made the margin bigger. Burgum worked harder and spent more money. Stenehjem may have been a little lackadaisical. He may also have some medical issues he’s not talking about. He came off as old and lethargic on TV, as opposed to the natural Energizer Bunny personality of Burgum.

A good closer wins games

And then, like any good baseball team, Team Burgum brought in a powerful closer, the best closer in North Dakota, Ed Schafer, the only public figure who actually has even more energy than Doug Burgum.

Bottom line is this: Burgum won by 20 percent. I think the combination of Democrats voting in the Republican column and Schafer’s endorsement on TV accounted for half of that difference. Take away those two things, taking away 10 percent from Burgum and giving it to Stenehjem, and you have a dead heat.


Still, Stenehjem should not have even been in a dead heat. My wife hit upon the real reason for Burgum’s win — he picked up on the Donald Trump theme of throwing out the establishment. And it worked. Like it or not, there’s a mood out there, even in the Democratic Party. Bernie Sanders used it as well, although Sanders did not have an Ed Schafer to close his campaign. So the guy who’s never been a politician turned out to be the best politician.

Lawyers should stick to lawyering

And so, like so the two attorneys general who preceded him, Wayne Stenehjem has failed in his attempt to make the walk across the Great Hall to the governor’s office. Nick Spaeth tried it in 1992. Heidi Heitkamp in 2000. I wrote here last fall that North Dakotans just don’t like lawyers as their governors, and if anyone wants to know why a whole bunch of Democrats voted in the Republican column for Doug Burgum, read that blog — there are indeed a lot of people upset with some of the things he’s done as attorney general. They weren’t really voting for Doug Burgum — they were voting against Wayne Stenehjem.

Harms’ revenge

Credit also Robert Harms. From what I could tell, Harms was Burgum’s key political adviser. He brought a lot of savvy to the race, having served as Schafer’s consigliere for eight years, and the two of them, along with Kevin Cramer, built a political machine much like the Democrats had for most of 30 years before they came along. Harms got unceremoniously bounced from his job as state Republican Party chairman last year. This was sweet revenge.


What’s clear right now is there is chaos in the North Dakota Republican Party. A lot of lines were crossed in this campaign that haven’t been crossed before. Burgum was openly critical of the entire party leadership and its elected officials, both the legislative and executive branches. It was what he had to do to win. The party retaliated, even to the point of running ads on the radio paid for by the party itself, featuring the party chairman, Kelly Armstrong. That’s probably unprecedented — the Party running ads against one of its own, especially one who has given tens of thousands of dollars to that party. There’s gonna be some hard healing to do.

Another WTF?

One of the things that made me giggle a bit is the fact that all those Republican voters decided to support keeping North Dakota’s anti-corporation farm laws intact. What’s up with that?

Wayne’s Future

I pointed out the other day that now that Burgum is the nominee for governor, Stenehjem is still attorney general, and they’ll have to serve together. Burgum said some pretty mean stuff about Stenehjem — as mean as I’ve seen in a North Dakota campaign. And now, they have to work together. Don’t be surprised if Stenehjem finds himself a friendly Republican law firm and puts an end to his 40-year career in government, rather than have to work with the man who discredited him to the tune of a couple million dollars of negative television.

Final advice

We never will know how much Burgum’s win cost him, but even $2 million or $3 million is still pocket change for him. What we learned this week is that when Doug Burgum sets out to do something, get out of his way. He’s going to do it. He has the smarts, the skills, the drive and energy and the money to get stuff done.  Never bet against Doug Burgum. And never, ever, bet against Ed Schafer. I’m kind of eager to see what role Ed Schafer plays from here on out, and what the two of them get done.