“He Is Already An American”

Note: I posted this on my blog more than five years ago, in August of 2010, when immigration was in the news every day. It seems appropriate to repeat it now.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who, from all I can tell, is generally not a wacko, has joined forces, or actually taken leadership of, a group of wackos who want to repeal parts of the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution, specifically Section 1, which grants automatic citizenship to anyone born in the United States. Specifically, that section says, simply, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

Graham is apparently trying to regain some conservative credibility after getting too cozy with Senator Byron Dorgan and other moderate Democrats, but he’s in bad company on this one, with the likes of Senator John Kyl, former Rep. Tom Tancredo, Rep. John Boehner, and Senate candidate Rand Paul.

This is a mean-spirited effort to gain political points in an election year by highlighting the illegal immigration issue once again. Repeal of the 14th amendment would deny citizenship to children born of illegal immigrants. And also those children born of legal immigrants. It’s been in the news lately and you’re going to hear more about it. This is the amendment given to us by President Abraham Lincoln and a Republican Congress to guarantee everyone equal protection under the law. This was one of the reconstruction amendments which abolished slavery and then prevented states from passing their own laws regarding slavery and equal protection. These people, Republicans all, do not deserve to be part of the Party of Lincoln.

I wish these people had known my mother. And two friends of hers, Adolf Schmidt and his wife Leni.

Adolf and Leni (pronounced Laney) emigrated from Germany to Hettinger, North Dakota, in the years after World War II. Adolf had a cousin who ran a café in Hettinger, and they came here, with their pre-school age daughter, Elke, to work in that café. Adolf was a trained chef, and he cooked while Leni waited on tables. Through hard work and good fortune, they were able to buy that restaurant from Adolf’s cousin. They worked 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, and in their little spare time they learned English and studied for their U.S. citizenship test.

After a few years, Leni became pregnant. She worked right up until it was time to have her baby, and then was whisked off to the brand new Hettinger Community Memorial Hospital, the finest medical facility she had ever seen. She gave birth to a son, which she and Adolf had agreed to name Kent. Adolf stayed behind at the café that day, and at closing time, he trotted up the hill to that hospital as fast as his short, fat little German legs would take him.

He found Leni propped up in her hospital bed. She looked up at him and said, in her still-broken English “Adolf, we have a son. His name is Kent.” And then, her face beaming in joy and wonderment, she said “And guess what? He is already an American.”

My mother was the o.b. nurse on duty at the hospital that night, and she was standing at Leni’s bedside when Adolf came in. She loved to tell that story. She called it “the miracle of America.” She said that, as important as that son was to Leni and Adolf, equally important was the fact that their son was a United States citizen. By birth. Adolf and Leni could imagine nothing more wonderful, more important, than being a United States citizen. And they could only marvel that despite the fact they were not yet United States citizens, because of that wonderful document called the United States Constitution, their son was. Their son was an American.

My mother had many fond memories of her 40-plus years in nursing, but none more wonderful than that one.

Adolf and Leni and Elke eventually became naturalized citizens. Adolf and Leni ran the café until they sold it and retired. Kent was a citizen from the moment he took his first breath. He moved away when he grew up. I hope he lives in a state whose Senators and Congressman will oppose this effort. If not, I hope he calls them and tells them his story.

“He is already an American.” Surely some of the best words ever spoken in North Dakota.

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The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All The Lawyers

You might remember that memorable line, uttered by Dick the butcher, from perhaps the least memorable of Shakespeare’s plays, Henry VI. I thought of it today because I was thinking about lawyers. And Governors.

It’s been 30 years since North Dakota had a lawyer in the Governor’s chair. That’s about to end. Because it looks like the race for Governor in 2016 could well come down to a pair of lawyers with long histories of public service—former Agriculture Commissioner Sarah Vogel and current Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

North Dakotans don’t often elect lawyers to the Governor’s office. Only 6 of our 31 Governors have been lawyers, serving just 30 of our state’s 125 years. The last was Allen Olson, who was serving as Attorney General when he was elected, and who’s generally been viewed as a failure. A couple of popular Attorneys General have tried since then—Democrats Nick Spaeth and Heidi Heitkamp—but their popularity in their other jobs did not translate into support in their Governors’ races. In fact, Allen Olson was the first and only North Dakota Attorney General to move across the Great Hall of the North Dakota Capitol to the Governor’s office.

Lawyers in North Dakota don’t suffer the same bad rap—deserved or not—as in many other states, but North Dakotans just don’t seem to think their Governors should be lawyers. Farmers and businessmen—viewed more as CEO’s or managers—make up the bulk of our Governors over our 125 years of statehood, with teachers mostly filling in the gaps. Part of it is, I think, that we like our shopkeepers and our farm neighbors, folks we see on a daily basis, but most of us hardly ever require the services of a lawyer, so we really don’t know a lot about what lawyers really do on a day-to-day basis. Our perception is that they sue people. And we’re not inclined to go around suing people.

Well, Wayne Stenehjem is one of the suingest. Especially when it comes to suing the United States government. And that may be his biggest liability, if Sarah Vogel is able to make a case for it.

You see, by his own count, Stenehjem has sued the United States government at least a dozen times. And you know what makes people angry about that? We have to pay the lawyer bill. Both sides. Because when there’s a lawsuit by a state against the federal government, tax dollars, supplied by you and me, pay the lawyers on both sides. No matter who wins, we lose. That’s got to be one of the biggest North Dakota taxpayer ripoffs ever. And Wayne Stenehjem is responsible.

Stenejhem is lawsuit-happy, way more lawsuit-happy than most other lawyers, because he gets to send the bill to someone who will always pay it—the taxpayers—no matter if he wins or loses. He doesn’t take cases on a “contingency” basis, where he doesn’t get paid if he loses. He, and his legal staff in the Attorney General’s office, and  a score of private lawyers, friends of his, I assume, who he appoints as “Special Assistant Attorneys General” because they have more time or expertise available, get paid, no matter what. Paid well, too, although I think a lot of the lawyers in his office in the Capitol are probably underpaid, compared to what they could make in the private sector, if they were good lawyers. That’s the thing about government, at least in North Dakota. Once you get down a pay grade or two below the boss, pay starts falling rapidly.

But back to Wayne’s lawsuits. Just lately, he sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, his favorite whipping boy, over its new rule requiring cuts in carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. He says the EPA is overstepping its authority by attempting to restructure the state’s electrical power system. And at the same time, he announced he would sue again over the regulations on new power plants. What’s the basis for his lawsuits? Same as every other lawsuit he files—state sovereignty. He says the EPA infringes on the state’s authority to regulate its own electrical systems under the United States Constitution and federal law.

If it’s any consolation, he didn’t catch the EPA off guard. Because two weeks before he filed his latest lawsuit, he announced he would “sue the federal government to block stricter pollution standards for coal-fired power plants as soon as they are published.” Yep, he didn’t even wait to see them. He just said he would sue anyway. Without looking. Some things just can’t wait. Like headlines. When you’re running for Governor.

In case you’ve forgotten, it wasn’t long ago Stenehjem sued the EPA over the Waters of the United States rule. Yeah, it’s been a busy fall. He’s not only against clean air, he’s against clean water too. Remember when state officials used to try to stop people from polluting the air and the water? Well, that was then.

Oh, and the ground too. Stenehjem started the summer by suing the Bureau of Land Management, another federal agency, to stop them from implementing rules regulating fracking. The BLM said the rule aims to ensure that oil wells are properly built to protect water supplies and that fluids flowing back to the surface during fracking are handled properly, and to provide public disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking fluids. Wayne said “No” to that too.

Oh, and it’s not just the federal government he sues to make sure that North Dakota is allowed to keep polluting.  It was just a few years ago he sued our neighbors in Minnesota who said they were having trouble justifying buying electricity from those coal-fired power plants out in western North Dakota. Minnesota passed a law, called the Next Generation Energy Act, telling Minnesota power companies they couldn’t buy electricity from new coal-fired power plants in North Dakota—they need to get their electricity from clean power sources. It was touted as an effort to cut carbon dioxide pollution and combat global warming. You see, Minnesotans are willing to pay a little bit more for electricity if it makes the air a little cleaner (it’s only coincidental, I’m sure, that the air they want to clean up is upwind from the Twin Cities, but still, well intentioned legislation).

“What? We’ll sue ‘em!” Stenehjem declared. And he did.

There’s one more of these lawsuits that really pisses me off. That’s the one against the U.S. Forest Service to open up the section lines in our roadless areas of the Little Missouri National Grasslands. We’ve got a few thousand acres out in western North Dakota—about 50,000 of them out of our 1,000,000 acres of federal land, which is just 5 per cent of the National Grasslands—that are pristine and closed to driving traffic so critters can live there without being disturbed, and people who like those critters, both those who like to hunt them and those who like to just watch them and take pictures of them, can go there and enjoy their time in the “wilderness” without being disturbed by traffic.

But county commissioners in four western counties, in a mean, despicable act, with Stenehjem’s support, sued the federal government to open those areas up to roads. You can read more about that lawsuit by going here. Roads, of course, bring vehicles—like oil trucks. Stenehjem jumped right into that lawsuit, signing the State of North Dakota on as a partner in suing the federal government to allow roads through those protected areas, even though all five of those areas he wants to open up are the same ones he put on his “Extraordinary Places” list last year.

In what turned out to be a farce of a policy, Stenehjem announced with great fanfare that there are places in the Oil Patch that just must be protected. Industrial Commission meetings were moved to large rooms and hearings on his policy were held. Television cameras and radio microphones and newspaper reporters showed up. Headlines blared Attorney General Wants to Protect Extraordinary Places. But all five of the areas Stenehjem’s lawsuit seeks to open up are on that list of “Extraordinary Places.” That is sheer hypocrisy on the part of the Attorney General.

When I asked him about the obvious conflict one day, he said it’s about “state sovereignty.” Turns out special places are not as important as “sovereignty.” Also turns out Stenehjem was not too serious about passing the policy. He caved to the Governor and Agriculture Commissioner and the oil industry, gutted the policy and passed a meaningless motion which is doing almost nothing to protect “Extraordinary Places.” And will do absolutely nothing if his lawsuit is successful.

Pat Springer wrote a story about Stenehjem filing this lawsuit in the Forum. Stenehjem didn’t like it, and refused to comment in the story. But Jan Swenson, executive director of the Badlands Conservation Alliance, did. Here’s what she said:

“The state appears more interested in helping petroleum companies to develop every possible area than in preserving the few small pieces that remain eligible for wilderness protection. One can’t but believe that it goes back to what Mr. Helms (head of the state’s Oil and Gas Division) has said – that they want to drill and hydraulically fracture every square mile out there.”

I mentioned earlier that Stenehjem has sued the federal government at least 12 times. I learned that from reading the minutes of the Industrial Commission (yeah, I know, I need to get a life). Here’s an excerpt from the minutes of the October 28, 2011, meeting, which discusses the cost of these lawsuits plus the reference to how many Stenehjem has filed:

In response to a question regarding how costly that would be, Attorney General Stenehjem stated it could be very costly. The model we have is the funding for other EPA lawsuits that we are involved in- one was $1 million – the lawsuit against Minnesota was $500,000 up to $1.5 million for that. He suggested first to see if they do something and if they do we will look to see if it is possible to do it in house. That is not likely because we already have eight lawsuits against the EPA and we wouldn’t have time to do it. Secondly, he would visit with his other colleagues, other attorney generals similarly situated like Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Texas, etc. to see if that is something we could do as a group – then it may not cost as much. Barring that, we need to look at the possibility of hiring outside counsel like we have done on the regional haze lawsuit. He would suggest we do the same as we did with the EPA litigation – $1 million which they appropriated a contingent $500,000 with authority to borrow $500,000 from BND and come back for a deficiency appropriation. First, we would try to get all the states to ban together and hire a law firm and pay a portioned share. We need to be ready. If EPA regulates fracturing, they will stop fracturing and that will stop oil development. It was moved by Commissioner Goehring and seconded by Attorney General Stenehjem that the Industrial Commission request an appropriation during the 2011 special session for the purpose of defraying expenses associated with possible litigation and other administrative proceedings to oppose, if necessary, federal actions to regulate hydraulic fracturing.

“We already have eight lawsuits against the EPA.” That was in 2011. There are at least four more since then. And they cost up to a million dollars each. I asked the Attorney General’s office for a list of those 8 lawsuits, but Liz Brocker, Wayne’s spokesperson responded by e-mail “I don’t have exactly what you are looking for . . . ” but she sent me a 12-page PDF, single spaced, written in lawyer language, titled “Energy Generation: Lawsuits, Amicus Briefs and Comments Filed.” I could pick out 4 lawsuits filed before October of 2011 in there, but the other four Wayne mentioned at the meeting remain a mystery to me. Maybe I need a lawyer to help me interpret the document.Or maybe Wayne was exaggerating a bit.

What we know for sure is, it has become standard procedure in the North Dakota Legislature that at the end of each session, a special appropriation is passed to fund the Attorney General’s lawsuits against the government—usually in the million range, sometimes higher. Our tax dollars at work.

I’ll finish this rant by saying that none of those lawsuits ever seem to get resolved. They all just seem to linger through the court system, because if they get resolved, the lawyers quit getting paid. Lawyers we pay with our tax dollars—lawyers on both sides of those lawsuits (except for the Minnesota one—their taxpayers are paying for that).

Is it any wonder North Dakotans are reluctant to elect lawyers as their Governor?

Well, next year, we’re going to. I just hope it is the right one. Because there’s a whale of a difference between the two of them, Sarah Vogel and Wayne Stenehjem. I’ll talk about that on another day. It will be a whole lot easier, and a whole lot less discouraging, to write about Sarah Vogel. Because like in any profession, there are good lawyers and bad lawyers. And Sarah Vogel is one of the good ones.

Footnote: I’ve been a little hard on lawyers here. I have–or had–a lot of lawyer friends. Please, lawyer friends, including David(s), Monte, Joel, Larry, Malcolm, Christine, Bill, Tim, Tom, Earl, Craig, Robin and the rest of you, know it wasn’t you I was talking about, or thinking  bad things about. If any of you want to be Governor, give me a call. I’m here to help.

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Boone, Crockett, Roosevelt, and a New National Monument for North Dakota

“Any discussion of proposed actions on the Elkhorn Ranchlands should harken back to a conversation held over pizza in the small community of Medora, ND, in 2000. Ranchers Ken and Norma Eberts carried a vision of theirs to then-Theodore Roosevelt National Park Superintendent Noel Poe for what is now the Elkhorn Ranchlands. That meeting pivoted on expanded protection for the Elkhorn Ranch Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt—in North Dakota, for the nation, and into the wider world. It is only by the work of many and diverse supporters over more years than we care to remember that the dream survived and grew, culminating in the 2007 acquisition by the U.S. Forest Service. All proposed actions should honor the memory of that original meeting. The Forest Service is by circumstance the caretaker of the work and dreams of many.”

Indeed. Those are the words of Jan Swenson, Executive Director of the Badlands Conservation Alliance, in one of her many letters to the U.S. Forest Service.

The Elkhorn Ranch in the North Dakota Bad Lands is a tiny remote spot in one of North America’s most remote landscapes, a land of wide skies and sweeping vistas. It has escaped development and remained in its natural state for the entire 125 years since Theodore Roosevelt lived and ranched here.

I know, I know, I have written about it several times, but the threats to the ranch continue unabated, and it is such an important place because, as we need to continually remind ourselves, it has been called “the Cradle of Conservation” in the United States. It is the home ranch of President Theodore Roosevelt, where he lived and ranched in the 1880s. It is where, in the solitude of this wild place, he developed his conservation ethic, and it was from there he went on to become our nation’s greatest conservation president. He said many times that he would never have become President if it were not for his time on his ranch in the North Dakota Bad Lands.

On one of his return trips to New York, after spending time on his ranch in Dakota, he met with noted naturalist George Bird Grinnell and together the two of them, in the fall of 1887, founded the Boone and Crockett Club, an organization of sportsmen concerned that we might someday lose our hunting privileges and the wildlife populations for future generations.

The Boone and Crockett Club is more than just a repository of big game records. The Club and its members have been responsible for a long list of activities to create and preserve outdoor recreation opportunities. The club’s website lists these among other accomplishments:

  • The Club’s Fair Chase statement was the cornerstone of the establishment of hunting seasons, bag limits, and the abolishment of market hunting practices.
  • Club members helped to create the Lacey Act prohibiting the interstate shipment of illegally taken game.
  • Club members helped to establish the federal duck stamp program.
  • The National Forest Service, the National Park Service, and National Wildlife Refuge systems exist today in large part because of the extensive efforts of the Club and its members.
  • Club members helped establish the Pittman-Robertson Act, which dedicated the monies from an excise tax on the sale of firearms and ammunition to go toward wildlife and habitat conservation.
  • The Club has also been responsible for the support and continued success of numerous conservation programs and projects across North America.

One such conservation effort was the acquisition of the Elkhorn Ranchlands, a 5,000 acre ranch directly across the Little Missouri River from the National Park Service’s Elkhorn Ranch site. Led by Boone and Crockett’s Lowell Baier, more than two dozen private conservation groups raised the funds to purchase the former Eberts Ranch, as Jan Swenson pointed out above, and donate it to the U.S. Forest Service, hoping it would one day become a prairie preserve and buffer against development for the Elkhorn Ranch site.

That goal is so close.

But the threat of a gravel mine less than a mile from Roosevelt’s cabin site could be just days away from becoming a reality. Because of that, more conservation groups have joined the battle to protect Roosevelt’s ranch, and there are new developments on that front almost daily as well.

The Gravel Miner

A private mineral owner named Roger Lothspeich is ready to build the road to the 25 acres already permitted for gravel extraction.  Meetings are scheduled between Lothspeich’s engineers and the Forest Service to hammer out details of the access road. Then construction can start. Once the road is built, gravel mining can begin, as early as next spring.

Conservation Efforts

Last January, the Forest Service completed a required Environmental Assessment of the project, found “no significant impact” from the gravel mining operation, and issued a mining permit. But the road needed to be built first, and that hasn’t happened. So mining has not begun. Meanwhile, the National Parks Conservation Association, at the end of September, filed a federal lawsuit against the Forest Service, alleging that the Environmental Assessment was incomplete. So the project is in the hands of a judge, and that judge could decide that the mining should not start until the case is settled, which could take a year. That’s what the conservation group and its allies, including the Boone and Crockett Club, are hoping.

A New National Monument

But the Boone and Crockett Club is not known for sitting around for a year and waiting for things to happen. These boys like action. So they are working with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and members of the Roosevelt family to make the place a National Monument, with the protections National Monument status would bring to the ranch.

There are two ways a National Monument can be created. First is designation by Congress. To that end, the two groups are meeting with our Congressional Delegation, asking them to introduce the legislation required to grant National Monument status to the ranch. We’re waiting now to hear the outcome of those meetings and the delegation’s reaction. Certainly, if you’d like to help, a phone call, e-mail or letter to Senators Heitkamp and Hoeven and Congressman Cramer would be helpful. They need to know the project has support back home.

The second way a National Monument can be created is through the use of the 1906 Antiquities Act, created, ironically, by President Theodore Roosevelt. Under that act, the President can, all by himself, create a National Monument. Indeed, Roosevelt himself created 18 National Monuments, including the Grand Canyon and Devils Tower, in the two years remaining in his term after the Act took effect. Many presidents have used it since. Almost 130 National Monuments have been designated by 15 presidents over the years. Most recently, President Jimmy Carter designated 15, President Bill Clinton designated 19, President George W. Bush designated 6 and President Barack Obama 17 (so far). Since the passage of the Antiquities Act, Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush are the only Presidents who have not created National Monuments.

National Monument status for the Elkhorn Ranchlands would likely be accompanied by either an appropriation to purchase the privately owned surface minerals—gravel and scoria–stopping the gravel mine from happening, or negotiations to swap the minerals for minerals of equal value somewhere else, away from the Elkhorn.

But it would bring additional long-term benefits. Hunters, hikers, photographers, birders and others who enjoy the outdoors and the Badlands would gain access to undisturbed areas for seasonal enjoyment. All of those activities can be allowed, and even encouraged, in a National Monument. Cattle grazing could continue. And, the peace and quiet of the “Cradle of Conservation” across the river would remain uninterrupted for visitors to that nearly-sacred site.

Tweed Roosevelt stands on the hilltop overlooking the Elkhorn Ranch, once the home of his great grandfather.

Tweed Roosevelt stands on the hilltop overlooking the Elkhorn Ranch, once the home of his great grandfather.

I visited the Elkhorn Ranch a week ago with Tweed Roosevelt, great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt. We forded the Little Missouri River in my trusty Jeep and drove up the steep hill to the gravel mine site on a two-track trail. We stood where surely TR once stood, probably many times, overlooking the ranch site across the river.  That two-track trail, I pointed out, is about to become a road big and wide enough for huge gravel trucks to haul away the hillside in a cacophony of dust, grinding gears and jake-brakes. “We’ve got to stop that from happening,” he said, and he left for home two days later with a renewed commitment to work with North Dakotans, other Roosevelt family members, and the conservation organizations seeking national monument status.

North Dakota always seems to be at war with the federal government and its agencies. And “big, out-of-state conservation organizations” seem to be bogeymen, for their efforts to help our state preserve its land and its legacy. Here’s a case where partnerships with federal agencies, and support for those conservation organizations, can bring huge benefits to the people of our state. For that I say Good Luck, God Bless, and God Speed, to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the Boone and Crockett Club.

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A Collaborative Approach To Regulating The Oil Industry. Yeah, Right.

In North Dakota, if you’re an oil field company and you violate laws or regulations, you sometimes get fined for your misdeeds. Sometimes the fines are as much as $200,000. Sometimes they’re only $50,000, or $10,000. No matter. No one ever pays them. Because the philosophy of the North Dakota Industrial Commission, and its chairman, Jack Dalrymple, our state’s Governor, is “let them off with a warning.” So if a fine is ever actually levied (often they are completely suspended), the violating company only pays ten per cent of the amount fined. The other 90 per cent is that “warning.”

In the words of Dalrymple’s chief “enforcer,” Lynn Helms, director of the Industrial Commission’s Oil and Gas Division, “We can hold a large suspended penalty over their heads for one to five years and they agree to pay immediately with no court process if they violate again. We don’t see much recidivism this way.”

Indeed, a reporter for the Center for Effective Government wrote last year “It turns out that it is a common practice for state regulators to collect only 10 percent of the original fine, suspending the remaining 90 percent for a year. If the company does not commit the same violation during that time, the remaining fine is forgiven. Lynn Helms, Director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, told The New York Times that this is part of a “collaborative approach” to regulating drilling. He believes it provides an incentive for industries to improve their practices and fosters a trusting relationship between industry and regulators.”

Maybe a little too “collaborative.” Maye a little too “trusting.” Helms says if you violate again you’ll face the consequences. Except no one ever does. Face the consequences, that is. Take Oasis Petroleum, for example. Please. Take them. Far away.

They’ve been all over the news this week. Oasis Petroleum has “killed” an oil well which blew out last week, spreading an oily mist over the White Earth River, which runs into Lake Sakakawea. The blowout released more than 100,000 gallons of oil and more than 75,000 gallons of poisonous saltwater brine before it was brought under control. Oasis spill photoState Health Department officials are on the scene this week assessing the damage to surrounding land, the river and aquatic species, and watching carefully to see if any of the brine or oil reaches Lake Sakakawea, from which much of western North Dakota draws its drinking water. According to a Reuters news story, a light sheen of oil was spotted on the White Earth River, and at least 16 absorbent booms had been installed in an attempt to keep the oil from moving downstream toward the lake.

That’s the news today. Let’s talk about that “recidivism” Helms mentioned earlier. Here’s the news for the last year or so.

September, 2014:   The North Dakota Health Department reported an oil and frac water spill at an Oasis Petroleum well site 11 miles northeast of White Earth in Mountrail County (about 25 miles from the incident reported this week). 125 gallons of oil and 15,000 gallons of frac water were released due to a tank overflow.  Here’s the North Dakota Health Department’s Environmental Incident Report.

October 2014:  A well site owned by Oasis Petroleum in western North Dakota released 31,000 gallons of brine, according to the North Dakota Department of Health. The spill occurred 11 miles northwest of Arnegard, in McKenzie County. Oasis said the leak was the result of a corroded pipe connection. Release of production water ran off location and down a grassed ravine to a tributary of Timber Creek, which runs into Lake Sakakawea, from which much of western North Dakota draws its drinking water. The Health Department determined that groundwater was significantly impacted by the salt brine as well. Here’s the North Dakota Health Department’s Environmental Incident Report.

December 2014:  The North Dakota Health Department reported a spill at a saltwater disposal well owned by Oasis Petroleum north of Powers Lake in Burke Count. Almost 4,000 gallons of oil and more than 20,000 gallons of saltwater were released as the result of an equipment malfunction. According to the Health Department, the oil and brine were sucked up, and contaminated soil disposed at solid waste disposal. Here’s the North Dakota Health Department’s Environmental Incident Report.

January 2015:  The North Dakota Department of Health reported that more than 20,000 gallons of oil and nearly 15,000 gallons of brine were released from a well owned by Oasis Petroleum in western Williams County as a result of a tank overflow. The Department reported that spray was visible to the southeast onto a tilled field, extending  a distance of more than 500 feet. The Department said in its incident report “Area reported (by Oasis) as impacted appears to be underestimated.” Wow, that’s a surprise. Who woulda suspected that? Here’s the North Dakota Health Department’s Environmental Incident Report.

March 2015: The North Dakota Department of Health reported more than 15,000 gallons of brine leaked from a pipeline owned by Oasis Petroleum in Burke County. There’s a very sketchy Environmental Incident Report which says the brine reached a nearby slough and the oil company was pumping the slough dry to get rid of the brine.

May 2015:  The North Dakota Department of Health reported more than 45,000 gallons of saltwater leaked from a pipeline owned by Oasis Petroleum in northwest North Dakota near Powers Lake, and that some of it reached Schmisek Lake via a tributary. A Health Department investigator visiting the site a few days after the leak occurred reported that crews were working throughout the Smishek Lake tributary with vacuum trucks on location “dewatering the creek.” Uffda. Fish samples were taken from Schmisek Lake to determine if there were any impacts to fish. The lake is a well-known local fishery for walleyes, perch and pike. The Department reported 15 fish samples were taken–5 northern pike, 5 Yellow Perch, 2 Bluegill and 3 Walleye. The samples were frozen and shipped to a qualified lab. There are no results from the lab tests on the Health Department’s website. I’ve asked the North Dakota Game and Fish Department if there has been any follow-up, but have not heard back from them yet. Here’s the North Dakota Health Department’s Environmental Incident Report. This one actually made national news, contributing to North Dakota’s national reputation. Here’s a story from the Seattle Times. Y’know if we’re not careful, some big television stars are gonna start taking after us.

And then there‘s this:

January 2015: Two employees of Riverside Welding, based in Williston, were badly burned at an Oasis Petroleum well site near Ross in Mountrail County. The men, Kyle Stipcich, 27, and Jonathan Henderson, 30, were working inside an oil treater when it caught fire. Jenni Dale of the Mountrail Sheriff’s Department said in a statement, “Henderson was reported to have jumped into a snow bank to extinguish the flames, and Stipcich was put out by three individuals that were nearby.” Stipcich was burned on the lower half of his body and Henderson was extensively burned on his upper body, including his face and head. Both men were wearing flame-resistant clothing at the time. Henderson was admitted to Trinity Hospital in Minot and Stipcich was flown to the Regions Hospital burn unit in St. Paul, Minnesota. I don’t have any information on their conditions today. I hope they are recovering.

So, Jack, and Lynn, how’s that “recidivism” thing working out? That “collaborative approach?” I didn’t go back any further than last September in the Health Department’s records, but anybody want to bet that the Oasis record for the previous year was just as bad? And the one before that? One thing I did learn is that on the Health Department’s website, under the category “Oilfield incidents that occurred within the last 12 months which were not contained,” Oasis was responsible for every single incident in which the amount spilled was more than 500 barrels. Every major spill was an Oasis spill. And I can’t find any evidence that Oasis ever paid a fine. Ever. Maybe I just don’t know where to look.

Oasis is a bad actor, but they’re just one of many bad actors in the oil field. Do you think, maybe, a little enforcement might help?

Footnote: I did a little Google search as part of my research for this story, and I found some interesting websites you might want to take a look at.

  • A website called Bakken.com actually maintains an Oasis Petroleum Archives page. And it’s got a lot of stories about Oasis spills.
  • There’s a website called Oil Spill Daily which reports on—you guessed it—Oil Spills. Daily. North Dakota makes the front page pretty frequently.
  • And one of my favorites, a site called “No Fracking Way,” which keeps a list of what it calls “Frackastrophes.”

Somebody out there is watching. It‘s just not the North Dakota state regulators, or the North Dakota news media.

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What Color Is A Pheasant?

Tomorrow, I’ll join about 90,000 or so of my best friends on one of North Dakota’s favorite days, hunting pheasants on the opening day of Pheasant Season. pheasantI thought I might share here, for those of you who don’t read a magazine called Dakota Country, an article I wrote for them earlier this fall. If you’re a regular reader you’re familiar with the poetry of Paul Southworth Bliss, my favorite North Dakota poet. I’ve shared his poetry here a couple of times.

Paul Southworth Bliss was no outdoorsman. Born in Wisconsin in 1889, educated at Harvard, a World War I veteran, where he rose to the rank of Colonel in the U.S. Army, Bliss began his professional career as a newspaper reporter and music critic. But sometime in the mid-1930s he found himself driving the back roads of North Dakota during the darkest days of the Great Depression, as front man for President Roosevelt’s New Deal WPA relief program.

He traveled the state with with pen and paper in hand, and he used his gift as a poet to describe what he saw and felt on those long, dusty, sometimes freezing cold, sometimes sweltering hot, roads. From those North Dakota travels came three of his seven published books of poetry, three volumes full of poems about places in North Dakota. And what makes Bliss’ poetry so enjoyable is that he identifies the time and place where each poem happened to him, and in many cases you can say “Yeah, I’ve been there,” but generally, Bliss throws a whole new light on those places.

Bliss has been dead 75 years now, but I’m still a fan of his poetry and short essays. He spent as much time in the Badlands as possible, and loved what he saw there, and in his unique style, found ways to describe the countryside that I have never seen before. For example, this line from a poem called Blue Heaven:

Under the torture of 47 degrees below.

The air of McKenzie County

Is pure as the soul of Christ.

Bliss comes to mind as October—Pheasant Month at my house from the time I was old enough to jump into the back of Dad’s station wagon—begins calling me from my warm bed on those first few cold mornings of late fall. His seasonal poetry is some of his best, and it’s clean and clear and shows an obvious love for his adopted state. Two of my favorite Bliss poems—one about pheasants, the other about dogs—are the reason I’m thinking about him right now.

But now, for me, in retirement, October is much more diversified.

When I was a student and then when working for a living, hunting and fishing were done pretty much on weekends, and so choices had to be made, and in October I most often chose pheasants. But now it is not unusual for me to be sitting in a duck slough or a goose blind or a fishing boat on a Wednesday in October, sometimes more than one of them in a day, because in retirement, every day is Saturday, and there’s time to do everything.

What I don’t do much of in October is read, especially poetry. Now my reading is pretty much left to those winter days when the wind is blowing too hard to go ice fishing, or summer days when it is too hot to sit in a boat. But on those days, I often turn to Bliss to remind myself what a great place we live in.

You can probably find Bliss’ books in your local public library, or buy them online at Amazon.com, or your favorite used book website, or you can just Google Paul Southworth Bliss poetry, and you’ll find a place to buy his books. They’re all out of print now, so they might be a little pricey, but if you shop around a bit, you can probably find one in your price range.

Without further ado, let me share a couple of his best poems with you. Both are from a volume titled The Rye Is The Sea, printed right here in Bismarck, North Dakota in 1936, using recycled farmers’ burlap bags for the covers. In the introduction to this book, Bliss writes “Attention is invited to the physical appearance of this book. “The Rye is the Sea” could be produced from a farm village. The burlap binding is the gunny sack of agriculture. The bag of which this binding is a part has held in its time wheat and corn. The paper used is ordinary wrapping paper.”  The book is about 7 ½” by 10” and is so intricately printed and bound it is a joy to hold in your hand.

The first poem is titled Pheasant Cry.  I love it because Bliss tells us what color pheasants are, like no one ever has before. My friend Dan Nelson says, every October, “Let’s go get some of those big red birds.” And we usually do. But Bliss adds a few more colors to his description.



Shine on me—

Make me glorious!”


Thus spoke

The pheasant,

Walking the rowed wheat

In the morning.


North of the way,

A cottonwood;

South of the way,

A willow;

The sun shone upon them all.


Said the pheasant:


Shine on me—

Make me glorious!”


It was afternoon:

A crag

Of white cumulus

Lay in the north;


Hung in the east;

The south

Was pearl–

The sun shone upon them.


The pheasant cried:


Shine on me—

Make me glorious!”


All day

The pheasant called



And at evening

The sun

Hearkened to his cry;

And the sun

Bestowed upon him

All his colors:

Pink, violet,

Honey, salmon,


Persian rose,







Lapis blue,




Old gold,






Sea green,




Wild aster,



Lavin red,




And white.


And the sun said:

“From the early


When you walked

The rowed wheat,

You have asked



You shall

Be glorious—


A little bit


May 17, 1936

Minnesota-North Dakota border, south of Wahpeton-Breckenridge

Now you know what color a pheasant is. Then read this one, and see if you don’t recognize you and your dog.



Just another old dog with sorrowful eyes,

Peering at me from the rug where he lies;

Watching me always, calm as a sphinx,

With two aging eyes, neither one of which blinks.


Knows I’m no company—not for a dog

Dreaming of meadowland, forest and bog;

Dreaming of pheasant, partridge and quail,

And curious things by the aspen-leaved trail.


Wond’ring why men stay so long in one place,

Chained to a desk—when there’s plenty of space.

Just a run out of town and the fun might begin—

I know that he reckons such sitting is sin.


A law would be passed if dogs had their way–

That men must go out in the open each day—

Out to trees, brushland or prairie remote:

Ah, that would win every honest dog’s vote!

Old fellow, stop looking so sadly at me;

If only you knew it, we agree to a “T.”


Come, we’ll just chuck it! These papers are trash—

Let’s go where clean, cool forest streams splash!

There, you old rascal with sorrowful eyes,

That far-a-way look was a crafty disguise.


Now you jump up, wiggle tail, wriggle ears,

Shedding like water a half-dozen years.

You’ve waited so long, but you knew you would win;

You scoundrel, I see that you’re hiding a grin!


So off we go, leaving no trail, and no track—

I hope they don’t miss us; let’s never come back!

May 19, 1935

Williston, N.D.

To a venerable red-eyed springer spaniel, 11 years old, who keeps faithful and friendly watch.

             How many times have you seen an old dog jump up and “shed a half-dozen years?” Yeah, me too. Isn’t that a marvelous line?

After traveling the back roads of North Dakota for a couple years, Bliss was convinced by his new North Dakota friends that he must take up hunting as a sport. And so he did, and he recounts some of the adventures of that first year in a short essay titled “Hunting Begins at 40” in the back of The Rye is the Sea. Interestingly, the account is kind of what you might have read in an old issue of Field and Stream or Outdoor Life of the same period. Yeah, me and Joe did this and this and this. But at the very end, Bliss recounts for us how much money he spent on hunting that year (something I’ve always considered too dangerous to undertake—there are some things you just don’t want to know). Here’s his tally. Check out his note at the end.


Hunting License No. 28634 N.D.                                 $1.50

Federal Duck Stamp                                                          1.00



Take-down Repeating Shotgun                                   26.95

Gun Case                                                                           4.95

Box of Shells                                                                     .98
Additional Shells, 3 boxes at 98c                               2.94

Ramrod Set                                                                      .39

Oil Can                                                                              .25

Khaki Hunter’s Coat                                                    3.50

Wading Boots                                                              4.50

Decoy Ducks                                                                2.25

Duck Call                                                                        .65



Oil and Gas                                                              $10.00

Broken Auto Window                                                2.50



Visits and Office Treatments                             $18.00

Medicines                                                                   2.85



Films, Developing, Extra Prints                         $5.00

GRAND TOTAL                                             $88.21

            Author’s Note:  From this you will see that it cost me $88.21 for one sharp-tailed grouse, one partridge and one duck. Rather expensive—but I will never forget how yellow the cord grass was on the duck pass, how the reeds waved their plumes and how the dawn turned the ice into pink sherbet.

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Who’s Looking Out For North Dakota? Surprise, It’s The United States Government. Good For Them. Good For Us.

We return now to an old, familiar story, a story of some really bad guys doing some really bad things to the North Dakota environment (or enviornment, as the Bismarck Tribune spells it in really big headlines on the front page today—have you ever seen a worse newspaper?), getting caught by state “regulators,” then given a slap on the hands and told not to do it again. It’s happened so many times we don’t even pay attention any more. But this time, the story is going to have a different ending, thanks to a guy who really cares about his state.

This is the seventh article in a series I  started here more than two years ago, when the North Dakota Industrial Commission announced it was fining a company named Halek Operating $1.5 million—“The Largest Fine Ever Handed Out By The State Of North Dakota” Jack Dalrymple bragged in giant headlines all across the state. The fine was the result of a civil suit, not a criminal suit, filed by the State of North Dakota against Halek for dumping 800,000 gallons of saltwater down an abandoned oil well south of Dickinson. You can read all the details of this story by going to this old blog post of mine.

Well, surprise, surprise, the $1.5 million was never collected, because the company was bankrupt and its owner, Jason Halek, didn’t have any money. All the state got was a $40,000 bond. The Industrial Commission still has $1,460,000 coming. Which they will never collect. But boy, those headlines looked good at the time, and a lot of buttons were popping off the shirts of Dalrymple, and his fellow Industrial Commission members, Wayne Stenehjem and Douglas Goehring.

Halek was never charged with a crime in state court because he claimed he had sold the well to a fellow named Nathan Garber, who actually did the dumping. Garber WAS charged, and received a suspended sentence and a $2,500 fine. About three tenths of a penny per gallon. Whoopee.

But watching this sham by the state was our United States Attorney at the time, Tim Purdon. I didn’t see him do it, but I can imagine him sitting at his desk shaking his head in disappointment. Purdon, like most North Dakotans, actually cares about the environment. He did something about it. He called in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s crack investigative team and put them to work. What they found, and what they did about it, is truly amazing.

The EPA investigative team found numerous instances where laws had been broken. They took their findings to Purdon, and about a year ago he filed 11 felony charges against Garber. Garber and his lawyer took one look at the EPA report and promptly pleaded guilty. Now, a year later, a presentence investigation has been completed and Garber, who remains free on bond, will likely be sentenced pretty soon to a few years in a federal prison.

How long, I suspect, depends on how much he is willing to say in court at the trial of Jason Halek. Because a few weeks ago, a federal grand jury—once again 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 contains 13 felony charges, including one charge for conspiring with Garber to dump the water. But the other 12 are more interesting.

As might be expected, there are four counts of violating the United States 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.

There are also four counts of obstructing grand jury proceedings—essentially lying to the grand jury or hiding evidence from them.

But the last four are the most damning of all: providing false statements to the North Dakota Industrial Commission.

That’s right, the EPA and Purdon did what the North Dakota Industrial Commission and our own Attorney General would not do: they pored through Industrial Commission (read: North Dakota Oil and Gas Division, headed up by Lynn Helms) documents and interviewed staff and found out what Helms, Dalrymple, Stenehjem and Goehring didn’t want us to know: that Jason Halek had indeed committed crimes against the State of North Dakota (well, okay, he hasn’t been convicted yet, but he likely will be) for which he will stand trial. In a federal courtroom. Not a North Dakota courtroom.

It took a federal investigation to charge Halek with crimes against the State of North Dakota, because the State of North Dakota wouldn’t act on its own behalf. That is a sad, sad commentary on our state’s leadership, especially its Attorney General, Wayne Stenehjem, who was quoted in newspapers two years ago as saying “the case will be pursued vigorously in court.”

“It should never be cheaper to cut corners than to abide by the rules,” Stenehjem said, adding that “word gets around in the oil patch” and companies are now on notice that they will be punished for violating state oil and gas drilling laws.

Right. That from the man who’s probably going to announce in the next few weeks that he wants to be our next Governor. Let’s be real careful about giving him THAT job.

Jason Halek was scheduled to stand trial in U.S. District Court in Bismarck in just a few weeks, on October 27, but his trial has been postponed until at least the middle of next year. The Assistant U.S. Attorney who will be prosecuting the case, Christopher Constantini, made a motion, accepted by the court, on September 15 to postpone the trial because “The United States anticipates the case will involve dozens of witnesses and hundreds of exhibits, including the presentation of specialized and technical/regulatory evidence,” according to court documents on file here. In addition, the documents say, “Several witnesses are from outside North Dakota, including Texas, Colorado, California and Montana. It is anticipated that over 200 exhibits will be offered by the United States, though that number may increase . . . the discovery in this matter is voluminous. The United States’ investigative database has over 12,000 documents.”

These boys don’t mess around. Their job is to protect the environment of the United States (including North Dakota), and when someone does something as bad and as blatant as it appears Halek has done here, they leave no stone unturned. Good for them. Because our state government is not going to do it.

As I mentioned earlier, Garber cut a deal and pleaded guilty. Probably the reason he hasn’t been sentenced yet is because the judge is waiting to see if he will testify against Halek. He remains free on bond. As does Halek, as of now, and no one knows if Halek will do the same. His charges are pretty serious, and he’s a pretty slick character.

Jason Halek's self-portrait from his website

Jason Halek’s self-portrait from his website

Right now he’s listed in a Dallas newspaper story as a used-car salesman (uffda, he’s giving used car salesmen a bad name), and he has a weird little website on which he calls himself “a philanthropist,” with a primary life goal  “to make an extreme and positive impact and difference in the world.”

“I am in relentless and constant pursuit of absolute truth,” he says on the website. “It is my deepest desire to play a major part in enlightening the world and helping others by exposing the deception often perpetrated by government, organized religion, and the world at large.”

Uh huh.

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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 extra-marital 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 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 6th and 9th 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 September 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. Governor 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—AP 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 okay.”

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 okay 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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For Wayne Stenehjem, It’s Campaign Decision Time

The first decision of Wayne Stenehjem’s soon-to-be-officially-announced campaign for North Dakota Governor comes tomorrow (Thursday), when the three-person Industrial Commission, of which he is a member, decides whether to give the Oil Industry a big wet kiss on the lips or a tiny slap on the hands.

At issue is whether the Commission will stick to its guns and enforce its policy of restricting the amount of natural gas which can be flared at the wellhead, or whether they will give the Industry a reprieve and let them flare as much as they want.

Stenehjem’s vote on the matter may well determine whether he has Industry support in his expected 2016 Governor’s race. Translated, that means campaign cash from oil executives and Industry PACs, something he‘s seen little of in past campaigns. Translated further, it may well mean the difference between being elected Governor or not.

Because the Oil Industry wants a Governor of its own. That was clear in the last Governor’s race, when the Oil Boys ponied up more than $600,000 for Jack Dalrymple, which was more than the total of all contributions raised by Dalrymple’s opponent, Ryan Taylor.

Taken further, Stenehjem’s vote could decide whether the powerful Industry, which holds much sway in the Republican Party, will go looking for a candidate of its own to challenge Stenehjem at a state convention or primary election.

Here’s the problem. In its haste to pull every drop of oil it can reach out of the ground, hence collecting every dollar it can from that oil, the Industry began flaring off the natural gas that comes up with the oil instead of capturing it and selling it as a byproduct of oil production. They did that because oil was worth so much, and the gas worth so little, they could make more money by just burning the gas instead of finding a market for it. They were burning so much gas that it actually got to be an embarrassment for even our swooning North Dakota regulators, with pictures taken by satellites appearing all over the world showing North Dakota’s night sky lit up like downtown Chicago.

The flaring created several problems beyond a public relations nightmare. First, studies began to show that the noise and light pollution was affecting the wildlife population. Nocturnal critters couldn’t find darkness any more, and they couldn’t hear each other over the roar of the fire. Second, mineral owners were getting screwed out of the royalties they should have been collecting from the sale of the gas, so it wasn’t just oil company money going up in smoke, it was farmers, ranchers, and the state and federal governments who were losing money. Third, it was polluting the air. And fourth, it was wasting a valuable source of energy—the flaring was burning enough gas to heat millions of American homes.

So finally, last year, in response to public pressure, the Industrial Commission and the Oil Industry came up with a set of goals to reduce flaring. They were meeting them, too, until the price of oil tanked and the construction of processing and distribution facilities ground to a near halt. With no place to put the gas, the oil boys just kept  on flaring, and now they are not going to  be able to meet the goals they agreed to just a year ago.

So they’re asking Dalrymple, Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Douglas Goehring to extend the deadline for meeting those goals by two years. That’s what tomorrow’s vote is all about.

If the goals were onerous, a delay might be worth considering. But they’re not. The deadline for getting flaring down to 15 per cent of the gas produced by Jan. 1 of next year is still pretty generous, considering that the national average for percentage of gas flared is just 1 per cent.

The 15 per cent goal is not hard to meet. All that has to happen is something that should have happened five years ago:  Don’t bring any new wells online until the goal is met. If that means a moratorium on new drilling permits, so be it. If it means completed wells cannot become operational, then that’s what should happen.

So Stenehjem faces his first critical decision of the 2016 campaign for Governor of North Dakota. Does he want the support, accompanied by campaign cash, of the Oil Industry, or does he want to appeal to North Dakotans who have applauded the state’s efforts to begin reducing flaring, and who might vote for him for Governor if he votes to hold the industry to their own suggested deadline.

As I mentioned earlier, he’s not been a big recipient of Oil Industry money. That’s  partly because he pissed off the Oil Industry last year with his proposal to put certain “extraordinary places” off limits to drilling, and partly because he hasn’t needed it. In his 2014 re-election race, his campaign was funded mostly by the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) and a lot of political action committees with loose ties to North Dakota. The RSLC wrote the biggest check ever given to a North Dakota politician–$150,000.

The RSLC is a national Republican fundraising organization which collects corporate dollars, washes them through its PAC, and hands them out to state candidates like Stenehjem, whose state specifically prohibits corporate contributions to political campaigns. In the past, Stenehjem has claimed that he’s only getting funds from the non-corporate donors to the funds, but the RSLC makes no visible effort to actually isolate non-corporate dollars for candidates in states which prohibit corporate contributions. In fact, most states prohibit corporate contributions, so even though the bulk of the $35 million the RSLC raised in 2014 was from corporations, almost all the candidates claimed to receive their funds from that small percentage of non-corporate funds.  Kind of a “loaves and fishes” miracle, it appears to me.

Be that as it may, Thursday’s vote may mean more than just oil industry financial support. It might also mean the difference between a cakewalk to the GOP nomination or a drawn-out battle against a candidate the industry prefers. Like State Senator and current Republican Party Chairman Kelly Armstrong, whose father Mike is one of western North Dakota’s richest men (oil) and a huge Republican donor.

Lastly, there’s the Doug Burgum problem. Given the results of a recent poll that showed North Dakotans, even Republicans, could be convinced to vote for the right kind of independent candidate, Burgum’s been making noises like a candidate. If Stenehjem is indeed the anointed Republican, and if Burgum gets in as an independent, Stenehjem is going to need a lot of money. A lot.

All those things factor into Thursday’s vote. We’ll be watching.

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Henrikson Murder Trial Set For Oct. 5; Meanwhile, Search For Body Continues

The noose around James Henrikson’s neck got a little tighter this week—figuratively speaking, since prosecutors have decided not to seek the death penalty for Henrikson for allegedly masterminding the murder-for-hire that included the killing of a young North Dakota oilfield worker.

Henrikson sat in a Spokane courtroom this past Wednesday and watched three men who carried out the killings plead guilty to multiple charges, including murder. One of them, Timothy Suckow, the man who has confessed to killing Spokane businessman Doug Carlile and North Dakotan Kristopher “K.C.” Clark, promised to testify that he was hired by Henrikson to carry out the two killings. In a strange outburst after the judge accepted his guilty his plea, Suckow told the judge “The truth must be told.” (You can get some more background on this story and read more about Suckow and other defendants in the case here.)

Henrikson is now back in the Spokane jail after spending the last month in a Yakima County jail, following what looked like a failed escape attempt in August, when Spokane jail officials found a 100-foot long rope made of torn bedsheets hanging from his cell window. Initial reports were that Henrikson was trying to escape, but the window was only 5 inches wide, so the latest speculation is that he was trying to have someone tie something to the end of the rope that Henrikson could then lift up and use in an escape attempt.

It was the second failed escape attempt for the convicted felon, who set up shop in North Dakota’s oil patch a few years ago, and then began getting rid of  people who crossed his path and the path of his oilfield trucking company in ways he didn’t like. Two people ended up dead, but the indictment filed against him says he tried to hire killers to get rid of at least six other people, including former North Dakota Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Tex Hall.

Earlier this summer, according to court documents and media reports, while in the Spokane jail, Henrikson approached a fellow inmate who was about to be released from the jail and tried to get him to work with a team outside the jail to help Henrikson escape from a van in which he was going to be transported to a court hearing. Shortly after that conversation, the inmate was released, and court documents say he was approached by two men, after he got out, who wanted to know if Henrikson wanted them to attack the transport van and try to spring him. The inmate apparently told authorities about the plan after he told the men he was not interested in being involved in any such attempt.

Meanwhile, in a Spokane courtroom this week, Suckow and two others pleaded guilty in return for what is expected to be somewhat reduced sentences, although for Suckow, who is 51, his 30 year sentence will make him a very old man before he is released. Apparently he’s hoping for parole at some point, and is also wanting to make sure his employer gets put away for a long time as a result of his testimony.

Henrikson’s trial is scheduled to begin in just a couple weeks, on October 5, and it has been moved out of Spokane down the road to Richland, a hundred or so miles away, because of extensive pre-trial publicity. The story of Suckow’s murder of Douglas Carlile in a Spokane suburb, which Suckow now admits to, and says was done at Henrikson’s behest, has gotten widespread publicity in the Spokane area.

The story has also spread across the country, with each story referring to “murder for hire in the North Dakota Oil Patch.”  Great publicity for North Dakota. A reporter for the New York Daily News covered the story of Henrikson’s bedsheet escape attempt, starting his story with this line: “This jailbird was simply sheet outta luck.”

Henrikson’s attorneys have asked that the trial be delayed into next year, instead of starting on October 5. That’s a good possibility, although the presiding judge in the case has not yet ruled on the request. That should happen this week.

Meanwhile, I spoke this weekend with a lady named Lissa Yellowbird-Chase, who was standing on a high hill in the Bad Lands near the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park Sunday afternoon, leading a search party looking for K.C. Clarke’s body. Lissa, who had no previous connection to K.C., first read about his disappearance on a Facebook page posted by his mother, and has been involved in the search ever since.

“I just said ‘somebody has to do this,’ and I’ve been at it ever since,” she told me.

Sunday there were 7 people with her, conducting a ground search based on an anonymous tip. They’d had no luck as of late Sunday afternoon, but Lissa, who lives in Fargo, is not discouraged. Tired, but not discouraged. She’s vowed to keep looking. She’d like help. “It should not be just me out here,” she said. “It should be all of North Dakota.”

Anyone who wants to help can call her at 701-893-6841. Or contact her via her Facebook page. Lissa lives in Fargo, but drives west as often as she can to continue her search. She’s been doing it for three years. Besides giving closure to K.C.’s family, she feels that it is important that a body be found before Henrikson goes to trial. Here’s what she put on her Facebook page Saturday night:

“Been out here searching for KC since yesterday. Beat down and tired as hell. Does nobody but me realize that if KC is not found before the trial that there is a chance that James could prove a shadow of doubt? Why not just tell us where he is? We would like to have some closure here! You would think that some people by now would understand that my word is good. And remember… there is a large cash reward for info…. we have 1 weekend left and it’s game over! God willing, please bring us to KC! Going to bed… hopefully something is more fruitful tomorrow. ~Keeping the FAITH!”

She says she’ll be back out again next weekend. Contact her if you want to help.

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President Clinton. Governor Stenehjem.

Two comments on the state of politics today:

  1. John Hoeven lied.
  2. Start practicing now, so you are ready, in 2017, to say “Governor Stenehjem” and “President Clinton.”

First John Hoeven. I am glad that it took me a few days to get around to writing this, because last week I was walking through a dusty parking lot in the Bad Lands and the Senator, who I actually like a lot, came barreling up to me in a black pickup, and then stopped, with his window down, and asked “Did you think I was going to run you down?” We laughed and visited for a  minute. Given another opportunity, after he reads this . . .

What he lied about was, upon learning that Jack Dalrymple is not going to run for Governor again, he said that Dalrymple “has earned the appreciation and respect of all North Dakotans.”

That’s a bunch of B.S. Not mine. I neither respect nor appreciate Jack Dalrymple and what he has done. Neither do thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of others who have struggled with the dramatic effects of the oil boom that could have been avoided if we had had a Governor who really cared about the state and its people, and not just about the almighty dollar.

Jack Dalrymple sold out our state to the oil industry, and polluted the State Capitol with regulators who were told to clear a path for the wholesale destruction of western North Dakota. And he got the job done.

Environmentally, Jack Dalrymple will go down in history as the worst North Dakota Governor ever. Despite an industry slowdown in the face of low oil prices, the State Health Department reports there were almost 1,500 spills of oil and saltwater in western North Dakota since September 1 of 2014. About four, somewhere in the oil patch, every day, some big, some small, but all requiring that gooey oil or poisonous brine or both have to be cleaned up from North Dakota’s earth and water. Wetlands, home to fish and birds and four-footed critters, have been polluted, fish are dying, poison and raw sewage from the city of Williston are going into the reaches of the Missouri River.

Sociologically, the damage is worse. Lack of teachers and day care workers, because they cannot afford the rent on $2,500 a month apartments. Spouse abuse and child abuse reports in the paper every day. Rapes, robberies, murders and traffic fatalities in numbers we’ve never seen before. If Donald Trump wants to build a wall to keep out rapists, he should build it around North Dakota. Cities and counties can’t build jails fast enough to keep up with the incoming traffic from the courtrooms. And they’re building them at local taxpayers’ expense, taxpayers who had no say in how an industry full of bad guys was going to take over their communities and endanger their lives.

Highways and other infrastructure are so stressed that the Legislature had to literally throw a billion dollars into the air over western North Dakota for cities, counties and the state DOT to scramble for, to try to fix things to accommodate as many as a hundred thousand new people in just a few short years’ time.

If I had to pick just one word to define Jack Dalrymple’s time as Governor, it would be chaos. Unregulated and unrestricted chaos.

And much of it could have been avoided if Dalrymple had said, like Art Link did before him, “We welcome this new industry to our state, and we’re going to let grow at a pace we can deal with.”

Instead, oil industry contributions now approaching a million dollars into Dalrymple’s campaign coffers bought all the permits necessary to create the most chaotic scene our state has ever faced. He was still raising money from the industry in 2014, two years after his last election and two years before his next, and I’m betting when he files a campaign disclosure report next January we’ll see that those checks kept coming in right through this year.

No, sir, Senator Hoeven, count me among those who have no respect and no appreciation for this Governor.

Well, enough of that. Jack’s not running. Who is? My friend Jeff and I were out in the boat the other day when Jack’s announcement came, so we started talking about it. What we decided was, it would be easier to compile a list of people who SHOULD NOT run for Governor. We both shouted “Dwight Kiefert” at the same time. Remember him, the Republican legislator from Valley City who refused to let a Muslim lead a prayer in the North Dakota House of Representatives, and then, when the Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage is the law of the land, wrote on his Facebook page  “Yea, gay marriage is legal in all 50 states. Great victory for the METALLY (sic) ILL!!!!!” Okay, so he’s out. Who else?

Well, probably Margaret Sitte and Betty Grande, two former Legislators who could only find one issue—abortion—to deal with in their last terms in the Legislature two years ago. They won’t be back anywhere, anytime soon. If the party is looking for someone to create a daily flashpoint, they’d choose House Majority Leader Al Carlson, but I don‘t think they want that, so Al probably shouldn’t run. Is Leon Mallberg dead? If not, he probably shouldn’t run.

Ryan Rauschenberger and Kirsten Baesler have been to one too many parties, and they’re going to have to fight to just  retain the jobs they have now, so count them out.

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 by a party looking always for candidates with high moral standards. The story of Wrigley’s indiscretions has spread across the state like wildfire in the days since Dalrymple’s announcement, and it’s being spread by people with titles in the party’s hierarchy, so it seems to have legs. It will be interesting to see how it plays out in the days and weeks to come, but it has to come as a big disappointment to Dalrymple and many party leaders.

It was Dalrymple who plucked Wrigley from his job as a lawyer for Blue Cross Blue Shield, following a stint as the state’s U.S. Attorney, and seemingly anointed him as the future of the party. He’s young (50), handsome, articulate and well-met, and would seemingly have a bright future with Dalrymple’s departure. But rumors and whisper campaigns can take a toll among convention delegates, especially if they are true, and it appears that prospective delegates will have to settle for a proven winner of a bit older rank, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, whose age has the first number 6.

But Stenehjem, who seemingly would have a lock on the nomination if he wants it, may not be the favorite of the conservative wing of the party, or of the oil industry, both of which wield strong influence in North Dakota’s Republican Party. Stenehjem angered the oil boys with his “Extraordinary Places” proposal last year, an attempt to set aside some areas of the state as oil well-free zones. It was just that—an attempt—and it has failed miserably, from what I can see. Still, it may have been viewed by the industry as a sign Stenehjem has a bit of a green streak, and they don’t want any of that in the man who hires regulators and issues permits.

Conservatives could be looking for an alternative to Stenehjem, confident in the fact that even if they bypass a proven vote-getter, the Democratic-NPL Party is in such a shambles that they could win the office even without their best vote-getter on the ticket. Senators David Hogue and Oley Larson from Minot and Representatives Jim Kasper from Fargo and Mike Nathe of Bismarck come to mind.

And the wild card is Fargo’s Doug Burgum, who sold his software company to Microsoft for many millions and has been doing good works with his family foundation and real estate company. He’s already a member of the Roughrider Hall of Fame, the state’s highest honor, and is a favorite of both parties. But he’s no conservative, and has never really been interested in elective office. Indeed he told me one time, years ago, he keeps his hair a bit on the long side to keep the Republicans from his door. But times change, he’s a restless soul, and he’s hinted he might be interested.

A race between he and Stenehjem would be fun to watch, but Stenehjem is no sure bet to make the race either, from what I can tell, although he’s probably more likely with Wrigley out of the way. He’s got the best job in the state for a lawyer. He makes more money than the Governor, so he’d have to take a pay cut. And being Governor is a lot more work than being Attorney General. AG’s usually get to go home at night. Not always so with so Governors.

His friends tell me that his wife Beth is probably not keen on being in the spotlight as First Lady, but her involvement in a number of charitable causes could benefit from the bully pulpit of being First Lady.

Still, the smart money at this point would be Governor Stenehjem.

I’ll talk about the Democrats one of these days. At this point, I’ll just stick with former Senator Hillary Clinton as our next president. I learned long ago never to bet against a Clinton. She’s getting her own personal damaging issues out of the way early—Benghazi and e-mail servers will be distant memories a year from now—and she’ll choose a vice president candidate to shore up any shortcomings in her ability to govern. And the Republicans will have self-destructed by mid-March, is my guess, so her victory will be easier than we expect right now.

So start practicing: President Clinton. Governor Stenehjem. President Clinton. Governor Stenehjem. Say them over and over. Get used to them.

FOOTNOTE: One of my friends said the other day, when Dalrymple announced his decision, “Good, maybe we’ll get a Governor whose name we can spell.” Sorry. It’s Stenehjem. Practice spelling that for a while.

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