JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — The End of the Drew Wrigley Story … For Now

“Then there’s the strange case of Drew Wrigley, the lieutenant governor and, many thought, heir apparent to the office. Wrigley has gotten himself tangled up in a messy personal situation that probably precludes his nomination …”

That’s what I wrote a month ago today, on a quiet Tuesday morning, in an article ostensibly about Jack Dalrymple’s performance as governor (you can read it here) and about who might succeed him. It was an afterthought, added to a column I had written earlier but had not yet posted on my blog. It was the same morning Mike Jacobs, in  his  Onlooker column in the Grand Forks Herald, analyzing the upcoming race for North Dakota Governor, wrote this:

“Stenehjem, a Republican, is the state attorney general. His emergence as the front runner follows unusually strong blowback against the idea that Drew Wrigley, the lieutenant governor, should step up.

“This has come from Republicans with money and influence. Some are legislators. So it’s serious.

“Whether Stenehjem is behind the blowback or not, or whether he knows about it or not, or whether he will use it or not, really doesn’t matter. 

“The point is, it leaves Stenehjem the guy to get around on the way to the nomination.” 

Well, that sent me scrambling to my dictionary for a definition of “blowback.” I read in Dictionary.com, the online, quick, cheater’s source, “The escape to the rear of gases formed during the firing of a weapon.” 


Merriam-Webster, a usually more reliable source, said “An unforeseen and unwanted effect, result or set of repercussions.”

Well, that seemed to make more sense, but both seemed plausible to me in this situation. By “this situation,” I mean the fact that both Jacobs and I had been hearing rumors about Wrigley having an extramarital affair, and we were both trying to decide if it was true, and if so, if it was a story, something we had communicated in an e-mail a couple of days earlier.

I think we had both kind of decided that the fact Wrigley was having an affair, and that the story of that affair was being pushed on journalists across the state in the wake of Jack Dalrymple’s announcement that he would not seek re-election (I later counted at least six different sources, some with more information, some with less), was probably not, in and of itself, a news story. But the fact that rumors of it substantially changed the dynamic of the upcoming governor’s race WAS a story, and we were both trying to figure out how to approach it. I can tell you that both good Catholic-raised boys were trying to figure out how to use a biblical allusion to the Sixth and Ninth commandments (Catholic version), but neither of us was comfortable going that far. Dang.

When I read Mike’s Tuesday morning column in the paper, I thought his choice of “blowback” was pretty good, and sent  him an e-mail saying so, although I told him I thought maybe a better definition than what I had found in the dictionary might be something like, what you might get in return for a “blow-(you know what).”

My blog set in motion, apparently, a series of things that have resulted in an announcement this week that Wrigley will not be a candidate for election to the office of governor of North Dakota.

My blog was posted sometime around 9 a.m. the morning of Sept. 1. I posted a link to it on Facebook. A lot of people must either check my blog in the morning, or read my Facebook page, including some reporters and some people in the governor’s office, apparently. One or more reporters went up to the governor’s office that morning and asked to speak to Wrigley. They were told he was not available. He was apparently already on the phone with Rob Port, editor of SayAnythingBlog, who had been investigating this story for about a week, including calling the husband of Wrigley’s mistress for comment four days earlier. It was time for Port, a friendly conservative blogger, to begin to help Wrigley with damage control.

Port began his report, filed on his blog later that day, like this: “Tonight I can report that Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley, a Republican who is among those considering a 2016 run for governor, has acknowledged having an extra-marital affair with a Bismarck woman.”

His story was that Wrigley was having an affair. The fact that it might have an effect on the governor’s race got little mention — one sentence in the sixth paragraph of the story. It was the story Wrigley and his media advisers wanted out there. Port complied. In the big leagues, that’s how these things are handled.

The other reporters got calls back from GOP media advisor Pat Finken saying Wrigley wanted to sit down for an interview. Two of them did it — Associated Press correspondent James MacPherson went to Wrigley’s home and interviewed Wrigley and his wife,Kathleen, and as he was leaving the house, he bumped into Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki, coming in.

Both were told by Wrigley that he had had an affair and it was over and he had told his wife and his boss about it “months and months ago.” Even though they had gotten a confession from Wrigley, both reporters named me in their stories as the reason they were now reporting the affair, which I thought was pretty disingenuous. My name appeared in all the Forum newspapers. It was kind of like “Well, Fuglie said it, so now we can, too.” Except I never said it. Drew Wrigley said it. But never mind. That is not important.

I got a lot of phone calls in the days following the story, including from both reporters who used my name, and from spouses of two people whose names have been mentioned as possible candidates for higher office. Both spouses were a little panicky, telling me they were being blamed for “leaking” news of Wrigley’s affair to me. I reassured them that they certainly had never talked to me about this, although, short of calling a press conference to announce that they were innocent, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do about it.

A lot of people have questioned me about it. Or commented to me about it, including one retired lobbyist who confronted me in a grocery store aisle with, “It was friends of Wayne Stenehjem who told you, wasn’t it!?!?” Well, I replied, Wayne has a lot of friends, and some of the half-dozen or so people who talked to me about this might have been friends of his, although I didn’t ask.

Well, Dalrymple’s announcement was the official beginning of the 2016 campaign, and a lot has been written since, and every story written about the governor’s race mentions Wrigley’s affair. That was more than he could deal with in a race for governor. He pulled out this week.

The best article of all was written by John Strand, editor and publisher of the High Plains Reader. To summarize, Strand wrote that Wrigley probably should not have told all — he simply should have kept his mouth shut to spare his family from having to read about it on an ongoing basis in the papers, and just simply announced that he was not running for governor. Without a confession, there would have been no newspaper or radio or television stories. The rumors would have still been out there, but would have been meaningless with him out of the political picture and would have died. You should read Strand’s whole article if you have not already. The headline is “Family Values Candidate Bets Family on Political Future.” Strand is absolutely right about this. Especially since, in the end, after exposing his wife and kids to all that public embarrassment, Drew decided not to run anyway.

But Wrigley listened to his media advisers, bared his soul, begged forgiveness and “got out ahead of the rumors.”

I am reminded of the old story about the cruise ship that goes down in the remote Pacific Ocean, and a fellow named Bill ends up on a deserted island, lying on the beach alongside, of all people, Miley Cyrus (insert generational strumpet here). After a couple of months go by, and no rescue in sight, they decide they might as well live “as man and wife.”  Pretty good deal for Bill. A few more months go by, and Bill wakes up one morning and says to Miley, “Today is my birthday. Could I ask you for a favor?”

“Sure,” she says. “What is it?”

“Would you mind if I took a piece of charcoal from the fire pit over there and painted a mustache on you?”

“Well, I suppose that would be OK.”

So Bill draws a little black mustache on Miley’s upper lip, and then says “One more thing: Would you mind if, just for today, I called you Fred?”

“Well, I suppose that would be OK, too.”

With that, Bill puts his arm around her shoulder and says “Fred, you’re not gonna believe who I’ve been sleeping with the last three months.”

You see, men just have to TELL. They can’t help themselves. Do not underestimate that need, and the deeply hidden satisfaction derived from it. Even among politicians. Maybe especially among politicians.

I don’t have any doubt that, on that day a month ago, Wrigley was thinking he might still be able to salvage the governor’s race. Ask forgiveness. Get forgiven. And like other politicians before him, move on and be successful, become important.

And that’s what John Strand was bemoaning when he wrote “Wrigley’s wife, children, siblings and family members have been dragged into the unseemly turn of events, and not only bear unnecessary public scrutiny but must also participate in re-aiming his political ship at the governor’s office. Coming clean in one’s heart is one thing. Unduly burdening the ones you love most is another. By doing so, it’s conceivable Wrigley misstepped not once, but twice.” 

Well, Drew Wrigley’s very short near-campaign for governor is over. So, apparently, is the marriage of his colorful mistress.

I’m told her husband has filed for divorce, and the house they lived in, just a nine-iron away from Wrigley’s back door, has a “For Sale” sign in the front yard. Now Drew just has to hope Wayne Stenehjem gets elected governor, and appoints Drew to replace him as attorney general. And the blowback will be gone. And the piety will have paid off.

And that’s all I have to say about Drew Wrigley. Except this: Wrigley has gotten himself tangled up in a messy personal situation that probably precludes his nomination …”

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