JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Of Lieutenant Governors And Knit Dresses


OK, the story below about state Sen. Nicole Poolman is funny, but according to her husband, it is not quite true. Almost, but not quite. The real story is even funnier.

Way at the very end of this blog, I repeated a story that’s been making the rounds in political circles these days. A story about state Sen. Nicole Poolman going shopping.

According to her husband Jim, Nicole Poolman did not go to a very expensive store to buy new clothes for a race for North Dakota lieutenant governor. Jim, himself, went there to buy her a new dress, for her birthday, I think he said, and may have mentioned to a clerk that his wife might be wearing it to the North Dakota Republican Convention. He thinks someone overheard that and made the leap to the lieutenant governor connection. Someone who is pretty politically astute, and had heard that Nicole was “in the mix” for the lieutenant governor’s nomination and would have enough knowledge of the political process to make that leap. But he says it did not come from him.

Jim’s a good husband — and a brave man. Not many husbands are brave enough to buy their wives expensive dresses. I don’t anyway. He feels terrible about the whole thing. He probably won’t do that again.

“I tried to do something nice for my wife and just messed things up.” (That quote is not quite accurate, either. He didn’t say “messed.”)

For the record, though, the story has indeed been making the rounds in political circles in North Dakota, just like the Drew Wrigley story did. It’s a small state. We’re all kind of like family here. We all know too many people. We all share our stories.

So, I’m going to leave the story on my blog site. Because it’s kind of funny, and all the stuff about the governor’s race and the lieutenant governors is accurate. As for Jim and Nicole, well, you decide.

I wish her well at the convention.


I suppose St. John Knits of Scottsdale, Ariz., might be able to put together a wardrobe for a campaign for lieutenant governor of North Dakota. More about that in a minute. First, a bit about lieutenant governors.

I think ― in both of North Dakota’s political parties ― the practice of choosing a lieutenant governor candidate typically works like this:

A candidate for governor sits down with his or her closest advisers a few months before the state convention and runs through a list of names of potential running mates. Among them they settle on the top candidate, and someone, either the candidate or someone close to the candidate, makes contact and finds out if the potential running mate is interested.

This is tricky if the nomination for governor is going to be contested at the convention because the candidate for governor doesn’t want to seem presumptuous, and if the potential running mate secretly supports a different candidate, word can leak that the process is going on, and that can be bad for the governor candidate.

Lieutenant governor candidates are chosen at the parties’ state conventions, often with a lot of overnight backroom meetings. Generally, but not always, the governor candidate gets to pick and the party’s convention delegates then offer their endorsement. On rare occasions, someone will announce before the convention they are running for lieutenant governor, no matter who the candidate for governor is.

Sometimes, word leaks out about who a particular governor candidate wants as his or her running mate, and that can affect the outcome of the governor’s race in a contested convention. And sometimes, it’s a closely kept secret with a lot of speculation on the convention floor. It’s almost always the last order of business at a convention, and adds a bit of intrigue to the convention process. It is fun.

In North Dakota, the governor and lieutenant governor are elected as a team. So candidates for governor want someone they can trust and rely on, someone who might have strengths where the governor has weaknesses (legislative experience, for example) and often they also consider the lieutenant governor to be next in line for the governorship.

But in North Dakota, rarely does a lieutenant governor become governor. It’s only happened once in our modern political era, which began in 1960. Jack Dalrymple is the only lieutenant governor to ascend to the throne since the Nonpartisan League merged with the Democratic Party to create North Dakota’s modern two-party system.

A few lieutenant governors have tried to become governor. Richard Larsen, who served four years as William L. Guy’s lieutenant governor, tried to get elected governor in 1972 and was beaten by Art Link.

Wayne Sanstead served as Link’s lieutenant governor, but never sought the office himself after he and Link were defeated by Al Olson and Ernie Sands in 1980. Sanstead subsequently served a term in  the North Dakota House of Representatives in 1983 and then in 1984 was elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction, where he served 24 years.

Olson and Sands, meanwhile, lost to George Sinner and Ruth Meiers in 1984 and Sands was never heard from again. Meiers died in office and was replaced by Lloyd Omdahl. He and Sinner quit in 1992, but Omdahl made a run for governor in 1996, losing the party’s endorsement to a state legislator, Lee Kaldor. Ed Schafer’s lieutenant governor was Rose Marie Myrdal. She retired when Schafer did in 2000.

Then came John Hoeven in 2000. With no legislative experience, for his first run for governor he picked state Rep. Jack Dalrymple, well-known and well-liked by legislators of both parties.

The rest is history. Hoeven ran for the U.S. Senate in the middle of his third term, won that office, Dalrymple ascended to governor, and chose a young Fargo lawyer named Drew Wrigley, who had paid his dues to the party and was Dalrymple’s heir apparent until his overactive sex life put an end to his political career.

So who in the world would really like to be lieutenant governor of North Dakota In the last 55 years, the office of lieutenant governor has not been much of a career booster, except for Dalrymple.

Well, people do.

I remember longtime Democratic-NPL Rep. Richard Backes in 1984. He was not yet 60 years old at the time and could have succeeded Sinner after eight years. He was the anointed one, supported quietly by Sinner, until the women of the Democratic-NPL Party rose up at the state convention and grabbed the nomination for one of Backes’ colleagues and best friends, Rep. Ruth Meiers, the first-ever female lieutenant governor of North Dakota. Backes, incidentally, got a much better job — highway commissioner.

So what’s going on this year? Well, Democrats finally have a credible candidate for governor, State Rep. Marvin Nelson of Rolette County. He’s smart, he’s well-spoken, and he’s respected.  He has a running mate who should announce pretty soon. She’s a state senator ― also a very credible legislator. So the Democrats picked a good team. But they’re Democrats, so they’re not going to be governor and lieutenant governor.

Republicans, as you know, have three candidates. One of them is going to be governor. Rick Becker is a nice guy, good looking, a good businessman and very, very conservative. But it is not his time. In another year, he might be the candidate for governor. I won’t be surprised to see his name on the ballot some day. Doug Burgum says he is going to leave the Republican State Convention with petitions in hand to run against his other convention opponent, Wayne Stenehjem, in the June primary election.

Well, he can do that if he wants to, but in my opinion, it means he will have a very short political career. Because he can’t beat Stenehjem in a primary.

For Burgum, the path to the governor’s office does not lead through the 2016 Republican primary election. We’ve all seen the poll numbers, and I don’t have any problem believing those numbers in the poll taken by my old friend, Dean Mitchell, which with three months to go before the June 14 primary, Stenehjem leads Burgum by almost 50 points among likely Republican primary voters, 59 percent to 10 percent.

I reported here last month that one of my Republican friends said Burgum can’t even beat Stenehjem in his hometown of Fargo. He was right. Republicans in Grand Forks and Fargo give Stenehjem a 57 percent to 14 percent lead. Dean’s been polling North Dakota for a dozen years. He knows the state. His numbers are solid.

Still, Burgum has some magic about him. Nobody ever made any money betting against him in anything he’s done. His best chance of being elected governor is to run as an independent candidate in the November election. Jesse Ventura did it across the Red River in Minnesota not so long ago, and he did it by beating a popular attorney general named Skip Humphrey and a little known St. Paul mayor, Norm Coleman.

Like Burgum, Ventura was popular and successful outside of government and ran as an outsider against two “politicians.” If Burgum declared as an Independent, and committed about $10 million of his personal fortune to run a really good campaign, he could win in November. If he really wants to be governor ― and he says he does ― that’s the path he will have to take. I kind of think he should do that.

I’m a Democrat and would really like to see a Democrat back in the governor’s office, but I just don’t think  they can marshal the resources to get that done. Burgum’s my next best choice.

Unlike North Dakotans, Minnesotans aren’t afraid to elect lawyers as their governors, but like North Dakotans, they don’t send attorneys general to the governor’s office very often. I went back to 1930 and couldn’t find an example of a Minnesota attorney general walking across the hall to the governor’s office. In our state, it’s only happened once, to Al Olson in 1980.

The parallels are pretty interesting. But if Wayne Stenehjem does become only the second-ever attorney general to ascend to the governor’s office, we better hope he does a better job of governing than Al Olson, who took over in the waning days of the last oil boom here. Another interesting parallel.

But wait a minute, this is a column about lieutenant governor candidates. Something we’re a little shy of right now. None of the three Republican candidates for governor has announced a running mate choice.  Burgum, knowing he’s not going to win the convention’s endorsement, is keeping his powder dry. Becker’s not going to win the convention either, so it’s not likely anyone who is going to want to be the candidate is going to sign on with him. That leaves Stenehjem, probably the next governor of North Dakota. You’d think they’d be standing in line to get on that ticket. Well, sort of, but it’s a pretty short line.

Back in August, when I hinted at Drew Wrigley’s problem in my blog, people were saying, “It must have been Jim Poolman who told you about Wrigley, so his wife, Sen. Nicole Poolman, could be lieutenant governor.”

Well, it wasn’t. Even though Poolman is the vice chairman of the Republican Party, he and I have been friends for many years, and I can assure you that he and I never had a conversation about Wrigley. Besides, it was such common knowledge on the street that there’s no one person who can claim credit for “leaking” that to me.

But the rest of the story … well, that’s where St. John Knits comes in.

St. John Knits inaugural gown: $2,395.
St. John Knits inaugural gown: $2,395.

St. John Knits is one of Scottsdale, Arizona’s high end women’s clothing stores. Really high-end. Dresses start at $1,195. Inaugural gowns at $2,395.

The store’s website says, “St. John is an American luxury house that was founded in 1962. … A fascinating coming together of craft and couture based on the premise of a simple yet elegant knit dress … unique American design with a core in signature innovative knits and an undisputed reputation for luxury and quality.” Most North Dakota women don’t shop there.

Nicole Poolman does. And she needs to be a little more cautious if she’s going to be running for lieutenant governor of North Dakota. She shouldn’t be saying to clerks, “I need to update my wardrobe because I’m going to be running for North Dakota lieutenant governor.” Because a lot of people from North Dakota spend time in Arizona in the winter, and you never know when there’s going to be someone else from North Dakota in the store.

But then again, maybe she’s got the greatest scam in the world going on her husband. “Honey, I’m pretty sure Wayne’s going to pick me. OK if I zip down to Scottsdale and buy some new clothes?”

If that’s the case, I hope she saved the receipts.

2 thoughts on “JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Of Lieutenant Governors And Knit Dresses”

  • Dave Vorland March 16, 2016 at 11:57 am

    Wow. One of your best, Jim.dav

  • Larry Gauper March 16, 2016 at 9:51 pm

    EXCELLENT, Jim! Great history to keep on hand for reference. Thanks for writing this!


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