It’s almost here. 2024, an election year. I get the feeling that most North Dakotans, like their fellow Americans, shudder at the thought. That’s OK. Politics in America, which I used to call “my favorite spectator sport,” has taken a sad turn away from what used to be the path to the most successful democracy in the world.
Outside of wars in Europe and the Middle East, stories about our elections and our government and our leaders and former leaders (don’t make me start naming names here — like names that rhyme with grump and nachos and Bacardi) on the 6 o’clock news are the ugliest stories of the day.
Here in North Dakota, we’re not immune. The explosion inside the Republican Party (implosion?) is going to give us political pundits plenty to babble about. (I mean when the state’s second-highest ranking elected official walks the plank so his wife can lead a bunch of crazies … well, you get it.) It’s the end of the year. I’ll start. I haven’t written much about politics this year, so I’ll try to get us caught up.
Let’s start with Doug Burgum. You know, that fellow who would be president — in his own mind. Using his own money. Somewhere in the neighborhood, I think, of $20 million. That’s $20,000,000. A lot of zeros. Some of that was a “loan” to his own campaign. Some came from a “Super PAC,” something he’s familiar with, having used one he started and funded here in North Dakota to run campaigns to defeat members of his own political party.
Bottom line: Burgum contributed $12 million to his own campaign, and my guess is that he also contributed much of the $19 million his Super PAC, Best Of America PAC, spent on his behalf before he withdrew from the presidential sweepstakes as the end of the year approached. Although the list, I read somewhere, included Fargo’s Steve Scheel, the genius behind Scheel’s Sports, which has become a nationwide sporting goods company — maybe even bigger than Great Plains Software ever was — who contributed a million dollars. Remember that next time you need a new pair of sneakers or some shotgun shells.
One of the newspaper stories I read said Forbes magazine, whose publisher is North Dakotan Rich Karlgaard, says Burgums’s net work is about $100 million, although he likes it when people call him a billionaire. I don’t find much difference between those two figures. At some point, it’s all just play money. So, he spent about 20 per cent of what he had on a grand adventure, playing with the big boys and girls. I guess he’s OK if he still has $80 million left.
So now what for Burgum? Does he want to be governor of North Dakota for another four years? (As noted above, he could aford to retire.) There’s a tangled web ahead.
Donald Trump has one idea. Trump appeared on Scott Hennen’s “What’s Left Of Your Mind” radio show this past week, a real coup for Scott, I thought. (And no, I didn’t listen — there was some paint drying in my garage that needed my attention.) But Scott also writes a column for the Forum Communications papers’ editorial pages, where he reported on what Trump told him on the radio in response to a question about Burgum’s future. Trump’s response, he said, was:
“… you know, we have a thing called a Cabinet, and there are a lot of great positions in that cabinet. It’s bigger than anything you have in the private sector, in the true sense. You know, when you look at the size of some of the agencies compared to other places that get run in this country and you multiply it out, it’s important, and they have to be well-run. I’ve got a lot of respect for Doug. Always have had a lot of respect for Doug.”
Multiply it out? Well, that was a little tangled, as Trump often gets with his grammar, but did Trump just promise Doug Burgum a Cabinet post? Huh.
The interview didn’t end there. When asked if he might campaign in North Dakota in the future, Trump said, “Yes.”
But then he went on to say, “It’s not necessarily a state that I have to be in, but a lot of times, you really should do that. You should reward Alabama and North Dakota …”
Well, I guess that puts us in our place. Alabama. North Dakota. States like that.
But back to Burgum. What’s he do now? I don’t know, but I think I can tell you who does know, Kelly Armstrong. As Mike McFeeley reported in The Forum the other day, “Armstrong has long made it known his preferred political office is to be governor of North Dakota. That’s no secret. It’s also been said he dislikes D.C., dislikes the dysfunction of Congress and is tired of the MAGA wing of the Republican Party mucking up things in the House.”
But as Burgum announced he was pulling out of the presidential race Dec. 4, that same day, Kelly announced he was running for re-election to Congress. That wasn’t a decision he made after breakfast that morning. He had made up his mind to do that before Burgum’s announcement. So either he had talked to Doug, and knew he was pulling out, or he just surmised that Burgum would not make the final cut for president and would run for re-election too.
And that was a big news day because that’s the same day Trump offered Burgum a Cabinet post. So here’s where this all gets tangled up.
First, assume Trump gets elected president … eewww. But maybe. And Burgum has run for a third term and won. Likely, if he runs, he wins. And then his phone rings. Trump, making good on his promise for a Cabinet post.
In North Dakota, governors take office on Dec. 15, unlike presidents, who have to wait until Jan. 20. So Burgum is sworn in on Dec. 15 and resigns on Jan. 20. And Tammy Miller becomes governor. Burgum picked her to succeed Brent Sanford after Brent fell on his sword for his wife, hoping she would be the first female governor of North Dakota, after he was done being governor.
But wait. Kelly Armstrong really wants to be governor, not congressman. Sorry, Dude, there’s no way. Burgum can’t appoint him because as long as he is governor, there is no vacancy, and when the vacancy happens, he’s no longer governor. Dang! I suppose he could make a deal with the state’s first female governor to vacate the office for Kelly at some time. He could try anyway. She could quit and appoint Kelly, even at the end of Kelly’s two-year term in Congress.
If it happened midterm, Kelly could appoint his own successor to Congress. How’s that for a bonus! Maybe Tammy Miller could be North Dakota’s first female member of Congress! Not all that bad of a trade.
OK, OK, OK, I get it. First Trump has to get elected president. I don’t think he will. So everybody gets to keep their own jobs — for now. Unless the Democrats get their shit together, and one of them sneaks in somewhere. But just think of that. Three leading North Dakotans whose entire future careers depend on Donald Trump.