Getting The Facts Straight

You may be reading in the papers this week a letter to the editor from a young man named Jacob Odermann.  If you haven’t read it, go here. It’s about the proposed Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment headed for the ballot this fall if all goes right. I don’t know Jacob, but his dad, James, has been a friend of mine in passing for more than 40 years. At different times we held the same job at the Dickinson Press and respected each other’s work.

Now most of my friends know I am not totally sold on the proposed amendment, precisely because it is just that—a constitutional amendment. I wished it had been handled differently, and I don’t like all the details in it, but it is what we’ve got, so I am going to support it. We need to do SOMETHING. I just hope the sponsors know what they are doing. I signed their petition last week.

But back to Jacob’s letter. I was disappointed that he used a bunch of the hyperbole and misinformation that the Petroleum Council and Chamber of Commerce (now there are two good reasons to take a position on this measure, I guess) have been spreading. Since I knew it was bullshit, I decided to write a response. But then I thought about my friendship of all these years with his dad, and decided not to send it. I don’t have a son, but if I did, I would not like someone, especially a friend, publicly humiliating him, even if he deserved it. Still, I had invested some time in it, and I don’t want that to go to waste, so I thought I’d put it here on my blog, which almost no one reads. And maybe someone else who reads this will use the information in it to send a letter refuting Jacob’s letter. It needs to be corrected. And I’m sure it will be, in the ongoing “letters to the editor war.” The proponents of the measure have been doing a good job of responding to inaccurate portrayals of their measure. Maybe I’ll help them later on, after they’ve gotten the signatures and its place on the ballot is insured. Meanwhile, I thought I’d share with my few readers what I wrote, so all of you are armed with correct information if you need to be. I wrote:

Dear Editor,

Young Mr. Odermann should get his facts right. And it wouldn’t hurt for newspaper editors to do a little fact-checking before printing letters like the one Jacob sent to your newspaper. I don’t know this young fellow, but I do know his dad, and his dad was a journalist of high caliber. Maybe Jacob just needs to run his letters by his dad before sending them.

Let’s start at the top. First, Jacob says there will be $300 million per biennium in the new Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks fund. The correct number, from everything I can read is $150 million. That number comes from the North Dakota Office of Management and Budget.

One farmer or rancher? Well, the measure guarantees at least one farmer or rancher, but there could be as many as 7 or 8, depending on who the Governor and the Legislature want to appoint. They are given broad flexibility to appoint farmers or non-farmers, as they please. So blame the Governor and the Legislature if there is only one farmer on the advisory board.

The fund will not be managed by that volunteer board, as Jacob says. The measure clearly states that “There is created a clean water, wildlife and parks commission that shall be comprised of the governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner. The commission shall govern the fund in accord with this section.” The “citizen accountability board” which Jacob speaks of simply provides grant recommendations to the commission. All spending and granting decisions are made by our elected officials, who answer to the voters at the ballot box every 4 years.

Young Jacob is concerned that conservation organizations like Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited will use government money to “compete against a private citizen interested in purchasing land.” Well, I suppose so, but only if the Governor, the Attorney General and the Agriculture Commissioner approve that. They control the money.  Run that up Doug Goehring and Jack Dalrymple’s flagpoles and see how it flies.

And then young Jacob talks about “another commission of 13 bureaucrats in Bismarck.” Well, he’s got all the buzzwords down. Except my dictionary defines bureaucrat as “a person who is one of the people who runs a government or big company . . .” Hardly the definition of a volunteer citizens’ advisory committee. Bureaucrats is a word used to incite animosity, but it is not appropriate here. Deceitful, Jacob.

Jacob concludes with “Why don’t we increase the monetary incentive to landowners to participate in programs like the Conservation Reserve Program or North Dakota’s Private Lands Open To Sportsmen?”

Well, if Jacob had done his homework, he would know that this is exactly what the sponsors of this amendment have in mind, and he would have appeared a little less greedy to get his hands on this government money for himself.  I’m a member of Pheasants Forever, and our organization doesn’t own any land that I know of. We work with farmers to make habitat. Ducks Unlimited, as far as I know, wants to provide nesting habitat for waterfowl. It prefers to work in partnership with landowners, not become one. If this amendment passes, my guess is that much of the money will go to farmers to help them create habitat for wildlife. Not to purchase land. For a conservation organization, owning land to make habitat is a pain in the ass. Paying farmers to make habitat (and provide hunting access) is the best way to make that happen. Everyone wins.

Jacob comes from a journalism family. He should know better than to pass off hyperbole as fact. In the end, it will just prove embarrassing.

Jim Fuglie

Bismarck, ND

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Right Off The Cliff

Okay, History/Current Events/Sports Quiz.

Do you recognize the name Private Frazier? No? Well how about if it was on a list with Sergeant Pryor and Privates Goodrich, Gibson, and Hall?  Aha. Lillian Crook and David Borlaug and Tracy Potter think they know. As do Stephenie Ambrose Tubbs and Clay Jenkinson. Well, then, for the rest of you, what if I add the names Gass, Ordway and York? And Lewis. And Clark. Okay, now we’re all there. All members of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition, which spent the winter of 1804-1805 here in North Dakota, right?

Well, yeah, but that’s history. 200 years ago. There’s a 21st century connection among all those names. You know who knows what that connection is? I bet Lynn Helms does. See, Lynn is the director of the North Dakota Oil and Gas (one s) Division. And those are all names of oil wells in the Bakken. Boom! Gotcha!

Credit Zavanna, LLC, a Colorado oil company which, by the end of this year, will own 100 producing oil wells in the Bakken. Now, I never really paid attention to the fact that oil wells had names, but some creative production manager at Zavanna has forsaken the traditional way of naming oil wells, which generally consists of an operator name, a well number, and a lease name, and has taken to picking colorful names from groups like members of the Corps of Discovery (in addition to the ones above, they also have wells named Sakakawea, Charbonneau, Pompey and Jean Baptiste).

They also have another group of wells, with names like Bunning, Hunter, Martinez, Koufax, Young, Witt, Browning and Larsen. Tracy will probably get that one too. And Tom Gerhardt and Jeff Weispfenning. Clue: They’re all major league baseball pitchers who have thrown perfect games.

Even the name of the company is creative: Zavanna. Where did that come from? Well, according to their website, the word Zavanna came from the word “savanna” and its reference in Bernard DeVoto’s book Across the Wide Missouri. “It was a word of poetry and power. A savanna was of the mind only, of the mind’s edge, of fantasy. It suggested meadows in sunlight, groves beside streams, something lovely and rich and distant.”

Yeah, right. Gag. Somehow, I don’t think old Bernard envisioned the Missouri River, in the heart of the Bakken, as it looks today, all dammed up and surrounded by oil wells. And I’m not sure he’d appreciate being quoted on their website. Before you get all misty-eyed about savannas and expeditions and perfect games, you should know that, as oil companies go, Zavanna is something of a bad actor. Actions speak a whole lot louder than words. Here’s a line from a news story from last week:

“The Big Oxbow Wildlife Management Area is not clean until I say it’s clean.”

Those are the words of Kent Luttschwager, the Williston District Supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. On March 20, Luttschwager discovered that the vegetation on three-quarters of a mile of shoreline on Four Mile Creek, which runs through the Big Oxbow Wildlife Management Area, southwest of Williston, ND, was coated with oil.

The discovery came in the aftermath of one of the stupidest of all oil spills yet recorded in the Bakken Boom (and there have been some doozies). So stupid, so egregious, that somebody ought to go to the pokey. Somebody who works for, or owns, a company called Zavanna. Zavanna’s oil well named Pvt. Frazier 1-34H (as a Lewis and Clark nut myself, it was the name that caught my attention, and sent me looking at Zavanna’s website for all those other well names) sits on a section of land in the flood plain adjacent to the wildlife management area, whose northern boundary is the Missouri River, just below its confluence with the Yellowstone River. As the ice was going out on the two rivers a couple weeks ago, the North Dakota Oil and Gas Division began notifying companies with wells in the flood plain that the potential existed for flooding from ice jams near Williston, and that the companies ought to make sure that everything was secure, in case their well sites got flooded. (Conveniently, the Oil and Gas Division knew who all those companies were, because they had issued more than 50 drilling permits to those companies, allowing them to put those oil wells in the flood plain. Some might argue that was pretty stupid too—another pokey possibility.)

Well, Zavanna (they of the “meadows in sunlight”) didn’t pay much attention. So when the flood waters from the Missouri backed up through the game management area onto their well site, one of their nearly empty oil tanks, parked on the ground with no anchor, went floating away, with a leaking valve trailing a steady stream—at least 1,400 gallons, maybe more—of Bakken Crude. Bakken Crude which found its way into Four Mile Creek, through the game management area, and likely into the Missouri River. Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the ND Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the ND Department of Health are monitoring the spill right now. The FWS employees in their boats are pulling dead critters out of the water and off the shoreline and will check to see how they died. Wanna guess? I expect we’ll be reading a lot more about this one.

It takes a little work, but if you page through the Health Department’s new website on environmental accidents in the Oil Patch, you’ll find Zavanna is a pretty frequent contributor. Just last month, on Feb. 12, Zavanna reported a 12,600 gallon crude oil spill at a well named Neils 32-29 1-H (I can’t find a gimmick for that name, except it is one of a long line of men’s first names Zavanna has assigned to wells), located just north of Lake Sakakawea in Williams County, which flowed onto private property beyond their well lease.  The Health Department’s incident report said “The oil sprayed out as far as 200 yards across the pasture to the west.” This was the second spill at this well in two weeks. An earlier, smaller spill was reported there Jan. 29.

The Feb. 12 spill was actually pretty small, though, compared to one in August of 2012 at a Zavanna well named Nelson 3-10 1H, in the same neighborhood on the north side of Lake Sakakawea, where Zavanna had a blowout on a windy day which sprayed almost 35,000 gallons of oil and saltwater mist over an area stretching more than two miles from north to south. Here are some of the notes from the Health Department’s Incident Report, as reported by Health Department staffer Kris Roberts.

August 16, 2012

Fair amount of issues.

  • Due to wind direction changes and high pressures during the release, what didn’t land on the pad went in two directions – NW and SE. More oil in the mist to the NW, and more water to the SE. 
  • Both mist plumes went ¾ to a mile from the location.
  • Both directions dropped mist across drainages that merge and flow to the E-NE and end up in Long Creek and then the lake (that would be LAKE SAKAKAWEA—emphasis added).
  • Crop land in both directions. Oats and wheat to the SE, and I think hay field(?) to the NW.
  • Misted wheat and oats will likely not be viable for either sale or feed.

August 17, 2012

  • Basic Work Plan in and approved.
  • Absorbent booms set in drainages as precaution against rain washing oil off vegetation/soil and running.
  • Vegetation cutting and collection beginning.
  • Still working on plan for final stabilization of the well (very little risk, as the well is under control).
  • Initial delineation of mist impact area complete, but expansion possible/likely (emphasis added).

August 18, 2012

  • Mist impact delineation expanded (emphasis added) due to wilting/browning of vegetation
  • Transferable oil has been removed from approximately 2.5 miles of fence line.
  • 30 round bales of vegetation have been removed from property south of pad—approximately 30,000-36,000 pounds.
  • 120 bags of vegetation were recovered from hand work.

August 20, 2012

  • Vegetation removal going well. Some areas had sparse vegetation and may need amendments after sampling results come in.
  • Well was formally finally shut in this afternoon after the rods were removed. It was well under control with valving before, but now the rods are out and they can go about repairs and re-working for production.
  • Reporter met me there this pm from the Forum (out of Williston). Photos and story. Hope she was impressed as I am with the speed and willingness to move clean up along fast on the part of Zavana. (emphasis added)

August 21, 2012

  • Some areas yet to cut, due to rocky conditions. They will be using a brush-hog on a skid steer, then a side delivery rake before baling.
  • Although very minimal, wipe sample shows mist extent as far as 1.4 miles to the south. Grain bin there left recognizable, but very faint oil/dust residue on paper wipe. Will not expand vegetation disposal area beyond what they have now, as the fields beyond current area are either pasture or already harvested.
  • Some expansion of vegetation removal to the NW is possible, but waiting to see if vegetation wilts. 
  • Land owner is concerned and watching. Mist to NW was reported as far as 1 mile (oil specks on pickup windshield on first day.

End of Incident Report entries for 2012. Fast forward to next entry on August 7, 2013.

  • 10:30 telephone call with Zavanna and landowner. Gillian (Zavanna employee) reported that she had sent a remediation binder with all information from cleanup to landowner in March, but management had vetoed copy to DoH (emphasis added) unless specifically requested. Request now in, and advised that this type of report is required in the future.
  • Spoke with landowner by phone this date. He is unsatisfied with a couple issues left over from the response work. Apparently absorbent booms were never changed out, and are now overgrown. Soil stockpiles were brought in and placed on his property and are still there. He requested additional soil samples collected from northern portion of impact property and was denied. He requested that he be notified when contractors wanted access to his property and though he was called, they just wanted to go on even when he was not available to accompany them.
  • Gillian is in ND this week, and is willing to meet with both myself and landowner on location. Plan is for Thursday 8/8/13.

August 20, 2013

            On 8/8/13 – 08:30, on location for meeting with adjacent, impacted landowner and his daughter, Gillian and Andrew from Zavanna, and Chris Rodgers from Absorbent and Safety Solutions to address concerns and issues not completed from the blowout impacts. Landowner’s concerns:

  • He wants to be there when anyone is on his property, otherwise he feels it is trespassing.
  • The topsoil brought in last year was; A) not weed free, and B) not spread, but left in belly-dump rows, and C) has large rocks in it.
  • Lath marking sampling locations were not removed from his field.

Negotiated solutions:

  • Absorbent will make appointments to meet landowner anytime they need access.
  • Spray the indicated 4 acre parcel and soil windrows with Roundup to address the weed problem (either Absorbent, or a contractor of landowner’s choice).
  • Spread the windrows out, and 
  • Remove rocks.
  • Re-seed to alfalfa either this fall and spray for weeds next spring, or wait and seed in the spring after a pre-emergent herbicide is put down. Chris Rodgers and landowner’s daughter will work together to determine the best option and get buy-off from landowner. Zavanna and Absorbent will keep DoH informed of progress, and landowner will contact me if he has any further concerns.

That’s the end of the incident reports for that spill. You can draw your own conclusions. I’m guessing this is a pretty typical response to a pretty typical incident. Only God and the Health Department know how many more spills of this magnitude, or greater, are on that website. I’m not going to bother Kris Roberts at the Health Department to see if anything else has taken place. He has enough on his plate right now without being bothered by a blogger. I will check back on the Incident Report from time to time to see if there are any new entries. If you want to look at it yourself, click here.

I can tell you that a cursory look at the website reveals that between March 25, 2013 and March 24, 2014, 365 days, there were 2,002 reported spills, about a fourth of which, 468, were uncontained, meaning oil or salt water ran across the land or into a waterway. Some specific examples, from the Health Department’s Incident Reports:

  • 6,000 gallons of oil and saltwater mist “sprayed across the snow on a cultivated field” in Dunn County on March 14 of this year.
  • On the same day, almost 7,000 gallons of oil leaked from a pump at a well site next to a slough in Divide County. The company has been trying to contain it before it gets into the wetland, likely a nesting site for mallards this spring.
  • On November 25 last year, 714,000 gallons of saltwater leaked from a Denbury Resources pipeline just inside the Montana state line and ran into Big Gumbo Creek in Bowman County, North Dakota. Big Gumbo is a tributary of the Little Missouri River, which is a tributary of the Missouri River. Remediation? Here’s what the Health Department’s incident report said: “. . . the environment is too fragile to do more than flush the drainage/creek with fresh water . . .” Wonderin’ why we don’t have a sage grouse season any more?
  • And of course everyone remembers the 860,000 gallon oil pipeline leak near Tioga last September. They’re still cleaning that one up.

What this all adds up to, I’m afraid, is that we are doing some terrible things to our land and water. I think the Health Department is probably doing what it can—which is not enough. Instead of monitoring clean-ups of spills after they happen, we need to move into a prevention mode. Kind of like what the Highway Patrol does when it puts out its “saturation patrols” on holiday weekends. If people know they’re twice as likely to get busted, they are probably going to be twice as careful not to break the law. At least those with half a brain are. And I can’t believe these people who are in the oil business here are stupid. I think they are either careless or willing to gamble they won’t get caught, or both.

So our Legislature has to give the Health Department fifty, or a hundred, or two hundred, inspectors—however many it takes—who will do constant checking on pipelines and well sites, surprise inspections, to make sure oil companies are doing everything possible, every day, to prevent these environmental disasters. We as North Dakotans who love our state and want to protect it should demand nothing less than that. We’re going to vote this year. Let’s vote for people who will promise to do that. It certainly hasn’t gotten done by those who are in office now.

Meanwhile, back to Zavanna. In keeping with their “savanna” theme, they have a whole group of websites named for big cats:  Lynx, Bobcat, Ocelot, Cougar, Tiger, Lion, Jaguar, Puma, Bengal, Sabertooth, Panther, Leopard and Cheetah. Cute. And then there’s my two favorites that they have chosen for well names: Thelma and Louise. Yep. Appropriate. As they lead us right off the cliff.

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Art Link: “Consider Continuing The Prairie Lifestyle”

While going through some old papers this weekend, I came across a speech given by former Governor Art Link at the 4-H camp near Washburn in the Summer of 1977. Here are some excerpts.

“You, as young people, are the vital and important basis for our state’s future. Your personal growth can certainly have an effect on our state’s future. I hope that each of you will consider remaining in North Dakota, or returning here after completing work or education experiences elsewhere. Many of you in this room will be facing these decisions of future growth in a very short while, if you have not already been involved in such planning.

“You and I share the experiences of a prairie lifestyle. Here in North Dakota our lifestyle has remained relatively simple. The way we live is far less complicated than our big city neighbors. I believe there is more neighborliness here and a greater emphasis on the values which have been important to generations of North Dakotans. You are the future generation of North Dakota and it is now time to begin thinking and talking about the kind of lifestyle which you may want as you enter adult life.

“Here let me make a request of you. You can do much to contribute to North Dakota’s prairie lifestyle. Conversely, what you don’t do can also contribute to our lifestyle. Let me explain.

“I hope that each of you will be responsible stewards of all our state’s and our country’s resources. You have a good start on this through the stewardship emphasized in 4-H. Our nation has unfortunately become one in which bigger always seems to mean better. We use and abuse our resources. Most of us have more than we really need of nearly every commodity, whether it be clothing, food, cars, televisions, or other products. We use the lion’s share of the world’s energy resources.

“As 4-H’ers, I believe you are beginning a firm base of thinking regarding the tools, educationally or otherwise, which can prepare you to contribute to society, rather than setting a list of material goods such as a large house, a large car, and so on.

“Of course we do need some material goods to live comfortably. Good judgment can be utilized in the choices we make about material goods. For example, I would rather see the goal of a young person about to purchase a car, to find the most economical and inexpensive sturdy vehicle suitable to his or her needs, rather than hoping to buy the largest, most gas-consuming, fastest automobile on the road.

“Each of us must become more conscious of the miles of driving we do, for work or pleasure, in the country or in town. We must ask ourselves, is this trip really necessary right now or can this errand or business contact be combined with another and thus save one trip?

“Life will be a continual presentation of choices for each of you. I hope you will make the choices which are most responsible in terms of our global environment. You people must begin thinking in these terms.

“It is important to know that we can take charge, and I underline, take charge, of our own lives.

“It is important to stop and think of the forces working upon us to make decisions. There is the force of advertising, of comparison with our neighbor, and of what other people expect and think of us. However, each of you can take charge of your own life and decide what is best for you.

“By making the correct choices, you can help our state continue to offer a fine quality of life. Each of you can develop standards and self-discipline that will set the patterns for your entire life. Set your goals and standards and stick with them. This is the kind of growth that is positive and can have life-long effects on you. The 4-H organization is providing you with important experiences and information to facilitate positive growth.

“I indicated to you that you are growing with our state. In 12 years, North Dakota will celebrate its 100th birthday.  We are a very young state, not even a century old. Through the North Dakota 100 Program, my administration has been involving citizens of the state, through survey and committee means, in planning for North Dakota’s second century. This kind of citizen input and contribution for our second 100 years is vital.

“You can have a lot to do with what our state will be like for its second century. You and your children will be the beneficiaries of what we plan now.

“Now, on an individual basis, I ask that each of you take charge of your own lives. I urge you to make your decisions based on what is best for you as an individual, and not as a robot molded by the television tube or other people’s tastes.

“I ask that you consider continuing the prairie lifestyle we enjoy in North Dakota by being less consumptive and more supportive of the environment in which we live.”

That was Governor Art Link. Can you imagine any current or recent Governor giving a speech like that?

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The Price of Politics

So, George B. Sinner is running for Congress. Good for him. I wish him well. Remember this: George B. Sinner is the State Senator from Fargo. He’s about 60 years old. His father is George A. Sinner, also from Fargo. He’s the former Governor. He’s about 85. Remember that. A = 85. B = 60.  It’s how I remember to keep them, both longtime friends of mine, straight.

George B. starts out pretty late for a race for a seat in the U.S. Congress. By that I mean that his opponent, incumbent Republican Kevin Cramer (for whom I voted two years ago but will not vote for this time, because, while I always choose friends over politics on election day, George B. has been a friend longer than Kevin, so George B. gets the nod) has already got a three hundred thousand dollar fundraising advantage. In a race where each candidate might be expected to spend a million dollars or so, that’s a significant edge. But not one that can’t be overcome, if he gets to work. Pam Gulleson, who ran against Cramer two years ago, raised just over a million dollars, a significant sum for an unknown from North Dakota. Given George B.’s family roots and his presence in the Fargo banking and business community, you’d have to think his fundraising opportunity would be at least as good as, or better than, Gulleson’s.  But he needs to get after it, fast. I think he’s going to need $1.5 million to win. He has 231 days to raise that. That means he has to raise $6,500 a day between now and November 4. Counting today. If he doesn’t raise $6,500 today, he has to raise $13,000 tomorrow to catch up. And if he doesn’t raise $13,000 tomorrow, well, you get the picture. I don’t care how good a candidate he is, if he doesn’t raise at least $1.5 million, he‘s probably going to lose.

Speaking of money, I thought I might just do a little checking on how the other candidates in this year’s election are doing in that arena. They’ve all had to file end-of-year fundraising reports if they were raising money in 2013. They’re all available, state candidates here, federal candidates here.

Cramer tops the ticket for the Republicans this year, and he tops the fundraising list as well. In 2013, he raised $461,000. Not bad. But he spent $192,000 of it already, much of that on fundraising. One unique thing about Kevin’s FEC report is the payments from his campaign committee to himself and his wife, Kris. Kevin Pays Kris about $1,500 a month to work as his off-season campaign assistant and scheduler, from campaign funds, a little over $16,000 in 2013. I’m not sure, but I think she works out of their home, but maybe she goes to Republican headquarters part of the time. I don’t guess there’s anything wrong with that, it is just unusual for a Congressman to have his wife on the payroll. And Kevin keeps real good track of his own expenses while he’s on the road, mostly back here in North Dakota. He reimbursed himself a little over $16,000 for “per diem” and travel expenses from his campaign fund. That, too, is unusual. I’m not sure if this is a new phenomenon, or if it reflects on Cramer’s personal financial situation. I looked through campaign disclosure reports for “reimbursements” in their campaign committees’ spending for former and current Senators and Congressmen. Neither Byron Dorgan, Kent Conrad, nor Earl Pomeroy generally reimbursed themselves for anything from their campaign accounts during their time in office, although I know Earl had a campaign committee credit card he used to pay some personal expenses while he was on the road. Rick Berg did reimburse himself, about $15,000, but it was all for use of his personal airplane, or perhaps one owned by his company, a corporation, from which he could not take a free ride under Congressional rules. John Hoeven didn’t list any reimbursements for anything from his campaign committee, but he’s rich. Heidi Heitkamp, on the other hand, was reimbursed about nine thousand for unspecified expenses during the past year. Not sure what that’s about. Her disclosure form just says “reimbursement.” Cramer’s is a bit more specific. It lists items such as “mileage reimbursement” and “per diem” numerous times. Not sure what his per diem rate is or where he was at, or what he was doing, when he claimed it. What I know is, Cramer needs the money. He reportedly lives in his Congressional office, sleeping on an air mattress, because he can’t afford to maintain both a Bismarck and a Washington residence. So I guess we can forgive him for tapping into his campaign funds to subsidize his family’s income. As long as he keeps it legal, which I’m guessing he does. He’s pretty careful. Legal, but ethically questionable, I’d say.

But back to matters at hand. Cramer had almost $300,000 in his campaign bank account as of the beginning of the year. And now I’m guessing the fundraising gets serious. George B. better get going.

What about the rest of the ticket? Well, incumbent Republicans standing for election this year have all had some success. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem leads the pack with $211,000 raised in 2013 and about $230,000 in the bank. But Stenehjem’s numbers are misleading. Almost three-fourths of his money came from one source—a $150,000 check from the Republican State Leadership committee. Stenehjem has been criticized for taking these kinds of gifts before. The RSLC is a 527 Committee which accepts corporate funds and spreads them out to candidates across the country. So, although North Dakota law prohibits candidates and political parties from taking corporate donations, once they are “washed” through groups like the RSLC, they apparently become legal. Trust me, Stenehjem knows the law—he’s the Attorney General—but like Cramer’s “reimbursements” and payments to his wife, there is something ethically questionable here. Especially this year. Previous gifts to Stenehjem’s campaigns were $25,000 in each of his 2006 and 2010 campaigns. But the RSLC upped the ante, way, way up, to $150,000 this year. Not sure what’s up with that.

Of note is the fact that Stenehjem might have trouble raising funds from more traditional Republican sources this year (read: The Oil Industry) because of his effort to put some restrictions on how oil wells are drilled in  or near “extraordinary places” in western North Dakota. Stenehjem’s 2013 contributors list contains just a couple small gifts from the oil industry, as opposed to a pretty substantial volume of checks to other Republican officials and candidates last year (more about that in a minute).  And it is a bit ironic that on December 19, 2013, the day he introduced his “extraordinary places” proposal at a North Dakota Industrial commission meeting, his $150,000 check from the RSLC arrived in the mail. I’m not going to go so far as to say he was emboldened to take on the oil industry that day, but hey, a $150,000 insurance policy is a nice thing to have.

On the other hand, Jack Dalrymple, who goes by the title of Governor but who is not running for re-election this year, or maybe ever, continues his cozy relationship with the oil boys. Even though he’s two and a half years away from what would be his re-election effort, the oil industry ponied up more than $30,000 to Dalrymple’s campaign committee this year. Just “staying in touch” with the guy who could (and did) kill the “extraordinary places” proposal.

The third member of the Industrial Commission, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, wasn’t quite as successful as his fellow Commission members. Goehring raised only $20,000, just $3,000 of it from Oil industry PACs, but he did get a $12,500 check from the Republican Agriculture Commissioner’s Committee, a group that brags on its website “Individuals, corporations, PACs and foundations contribute to the RACC. Contribution amounts are unlimited.”  More “washed” corporate money, in spite of North Dakota’s laws banning it. Makes me almost wish the Democrats could figure out how to tap into that kind of money. Maybe they’d win once in a while.

Of the other Republicans on the ballot, Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger raised $134,000 (almost $50,000 of that from the oil industry), Public Service Commisioners Julie Fedorchak and Brian Kalk raised $80,000 and $52,000 respectively, and Al Jaeger, who almost never raises much money, received $7,000, with $5,000 of it coming from the Realtors PAC.

Our U.S. Senators were in the fundraising game as well. John Hoeven, who has almost three years to go before his term ends, raised just over $100,000 last year, but only $5,000 from the oil industry. I guess they know where he stands on things already, and will be there for him in 2016. He does have almost $700,000 in the bank, much of it left over from his first Senate race in 2010.

Heidi Heitkamp has been more active. In her first year in office, she snagged more than half a million dollars for her campaign account. But she spent more than $450,000 of that, leaving her only $175,000 in the bank, counting money she had left from her 2012 campaign. Most of her money came from PACs during a very active Washington, D.C. fundraising year. Oil was good to her though, working to keep her faithful, pumping almost $75,000 into her bank account. I was puzzled about how she could spend so much money in a non-campaign year, so I looked through her campaign expenditures list pretty carefully. Turns out she spent about half her income raising that money. She lists expenditures of $49,000 to Anne Lewis Strategies, $92,000 to Schimanski and Associates and $68,000 to the Southpaw Group, all Democrat fundraising companies. In addition, there are tens of thousands of dollars worth of catering bills in Washington, North Dakota and Minnesota, likely for fundraising receptions. The result is, after raising $513,000 for her campaign account in 2013, she’s left with just $175,000 in the bank. But she has almost five years left in her term, so she’s in no hurry. Still, spending that much money to raise that much money leaves a bad taste in my mouth (not that any of it was my money). I wish she wasn’t doing it that way. Making the fundraising companies rich.

Which reminds me of my old Friend Duane Sand. You’ve read about him here before. He’s been running the greatest political fundraising scam in America for years. In fact if you Google him, you’ll find the top two links are to stories about his fundraising scams on this blog and Rob Port’s Say Anything blog. Suppose old Duane is done now? Nope. His front man in Washington, Scott Mackenzie, filed an FEC report for Duane in January of this year, reporting that he raised almost $18,000 in 2013, and paid it all to his fundraising firm. In other words, the D.C. shop Duane uses is just raising money for itself using Duane’s name. Duane can’t do much about it, because he still owes them $126,000 from his ill-fated 2012 U.S. Senate Primary Election campaign against Rick Berg. So he just lets them keep on sending fundraising pitches to dupeable conservatives who like writing checks in response to fire-breathing fundraising letters purportedly signed by a candidate.

Well, okay, I’ve taken enough of your time and mine on this subject. It’s always good to catch up with our politicians though, to see who’s buying, er, supporting them. I think I started out by telling George B. Sinner he needs to get out and raise money. Hope you got a few ideas here, George. Good luck. The day’s almost over. Did you raise $6,500 today? 

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The Greatest Man I Ever Knew

The United States entered World War II shortly after the bombing at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Just a few months later, in the Spring of 1942, at the close of the Devils Lake Junior College school year, a handful of young men from Devils Lake, the nucleus of the school’s hockey team,  finished their two-year stint at the college, joined the U.S. Navy and headed off to fight the war.

Newspaper clipping from the summer of 1944, shortly before Carlyle was killed. Note the paper referred to Oliver as “Whitey.”

All but one of them—Carlyle James Fuglie, my namesake and my father’s brother, who was killed when a kamikaze pilot struck the deck of his ship—survived the war. Gathering back in Devils Lake at the end of 1945, at the conclusion of the war, they discussed among themselves what to do with their lives. The one thing they were sure of is that they wanted to spend those lives in North Dakota. One of them mentioned that North Dakota had a shortage of eye doctors–optometrists. Small towns, and even medium sized ones like Dickinson, Valley City, and Jamestown, were clamoring for the services of optometrists. So, with their GI Bill of Rights paperwork in hand, they set out for Chicago, where they all enrolled at Northern Illinois College of Optometry.

In Chicago they shared rooms and apartments, found part-time jobs, rode the el or the bus to and from school, and once a year or so rode a real train back to North Dakota to see their families and girlfriends. A few married, to high school sweethearts or girls they had met when they returned home from the war. They all eventually married North Dakota girls. By now these young men were approaching their late 20’s, time to start a family. Working wives supplemented the income from the GI bill and part-time jobs. By the spring of 1950, they arrived back in North Dakota, diplomas in hand, all wearing the title Doctor of Optometry. And they set about deciding where they were going to live, and practice their new profession.

One of them was my dad, by then Dr. O.J. Fuglie. His parents, Ole and Sadie Fuglie, had named him Oliver Joseph, a name he never used once he left home. His mother called him Ollie until the day she died, but she was the only one. Born with a shock of very blonde, almost white, hair, he earned the nickname “Whitey” as a young boy, and it stuck with him his entire life. I never heard my mother call him anything else. A faded newspaper clipping from the 1930’s, describing an act of heroism he performed as a teen-ager, rescuing a young boy from drowning and using his Boy Scout training to perform artificial respiration, saving the boy’s life, called him Whitey Fuglie

Whitey Fuglie arrived back in North Dakota in the spring of 1950 with a wife and two young children. My sister was an infant and I was two and a half years old. He and his Navy/college buddies, all still very close, had been in touch with the North Dakota Optometric Association. They knew which towns in North Dakota were seeking optometrists. They set out exploring, separately now, to see where they might set up a practice.

Whitey borrowed his brother-in-law’s car (he didn’t own one of his own) and he and my mom drove to three towns: Grafton, Ellendale and Hettinger, leaving the grandmas in charge of the kids for a few days. In Hettinger they were greeted by the president of the Chamber of Commerce, a local carpenter named Floyd Peterson. He showed them around town, pointing out that half of Main Street was now paved, and the other half would be before another winter arrived. And once that was done, they would be starting on the rest of the streets in town. Hettinger was bustling in the post-war economy, farming was good, jobs were available, houses were being built. Hettinger had a population of about 1,700, but there were another four or five hundred farm families within a 30 miles radius or so, who did their business in Hettinger. Hettinger had two doctors and two dentists, but no optometrist, and the town was about to begin building what would become Hettinger Community Memorial Hospital, actually paid for, built and owned by the community. That appealed to my mother, who had finished nurse’s training at Mercy Hospital School of Nursing in Devils Lake before she married my dad in 1946.

Hettinger was a thriving town, a tourist town in the summer because of its location on U.S. Highway 12, the most popular route from Minneapolis to Seattle before the construction of the Interstate Highway system. It had seven gas stations, five of them right on the highway within about four blocks of each other, and two drugstores which sold postcards with scenes of the town printed on them.  There were three restaurants, two hotels, five car dealerships, two women’s clothing stores, a men’s store, a shoe store, three hardware stores, a dry cleaners, a two-lane bowling alley, a movie theater, and four grocery stores. It also had a nine-hole, sand green golf course and a lake on the south edge of town, backed up behind a dam built on Flat Creek by the railroad 40 years earlier to provide water for the steam engines. The lake had panfish in it. My dad was both a golfer and a fisherman, so the town had some appeal. But most importantly, Hettinger sat in prime pheasant country, and my dad was a hunter. A pheasant hunter.

Hettinger had a newspaper, and the publisher had prospered a bit, and owned a building on Main Street where his newspaper was located on the ground floor, and there were a couple of offices upstairs. One of the offices was home to a dentist. The other was vacant in that fall of 1950.

“Dr. Fuglie,” said D.J. Shults, the newspaper publisher, “you can use that office, and don’t worry about paying me now—you can pay me when you get going.” Well, that was one problem solved, if Dr. Fuglie was to choose Hettinger. The second problem was, where to live.

“We can help with that too,” said Chamber President Peterson. “Ed Arnold, who has the Oldsmobile dealership, has an apartment in his basement that no one is living in right now. Let’s go see him.” Second problem solved.

“What kind of car are you driving?” Ed asked young Dr. Fuglie as they were standing outside the house, just a block from Arnold’s Garage, where he sold his Oldsmobiles. Dr. Fuglie explained that he had just gotten out of college, and didn’t own a car yet. “Well, we can fix that,” Ed said. “When you get here, you can just use one of mine until you get on your feet.”

An office. An apartment. A car. Just about enough to close the deal. Hettinger desperately wanted an optometrist. An optometrist was just one more family in town, but it would save people a trip to Bowman or Lemmon when they had vision problems, and an optometrist was one more reason for farmers to come to town, and when they came, they would shop. They’d buy groceries, and clothes, and hardware, and yes, Oldsmobiles. This, in 1950, was how economic development was done.

I never learned what the folks in Grafton and Ellendale offered. I can only guess it was something similar. But I know what they did not offer: Pheasants. It was pheasants that closed the deal. Everything else being equal, pheasant hunting won. Young Dr. Fuglie borrowed ten thousand dollars from a relative to set up his optometric practice, loaded what few possessions he and his wife had into his brother-in-law’s pickup truck, moved to Hettinger, hauled his equipment up the steps to his new office above D.J. Shults’ newspaper shop, and planted his wife and two children and a bit of furniture in Ed Arnold’s basement. I remember a picture of him standing beside that new borrowed Oldsmobile, grinning ear to ear. He could afford to buy it six months later.

My dad kept this eye chart hanging on a wall in his examination room with a coat over it. When one of his male patients came in (not the Baptists) he’d uncover it and ask them to read it, as a joke. I still have it hanging in my house.

His business card read “Dr. O.J. Fuglie, Optometrist.” Under his name, he had the printer run his little advertising pitch through the press twice, the second time offsetting it just a tiny bit so the letters appeared fuzzy. It read “If this appears blurred and hard to read, hurry in and have your eyes examined.”  Then, under that, in clear type, it said “We get more darned patients this way.” His new Hettinger friends, or course, wanted to know what O.J. stood for. He said to forget it, just call me Whitey. Later, he became better known as “Doc.” Never O.J. or Ollie or Oliver. Just Doc or Whitey.

The result of all that, of course, is that I got to grow up in southwest North Dakota, where there were pheasants aplenty. I grew up golfing, and hunting, and fishing, and still do. Each fall, some of Dad’s high school/junior college/U.S. Navy/optometry school buddies, having become successful practicing optometrists scattered around the state, showed up to hunt pheasants with their buddy Whitey, who had landed in the best place of all. They maintained their friendships all their lives. Eventually they brought their sons with them, and I had hunting partners of my own age.

Like my dad, who died 30 years ago today, I’m pretty sure they are all gone now. But they all lived good lives, and raised good families, in places they chose to live, thanks to that day in 1945 when they sat down and decided to become optometrists. As professionals, they became community leaders.

My dad repaid the kindness of the town a hundredfold. He was commander of the American Legion Post, first president of the brand new Eagles Lodge in Hettinger, Chamber of Commerce president, a scoutmaster for more than 20 years (he was awarded the Silver Beaver, Scouting’s highest award, late in his life for a lifetime devoted to Boy Scouts), president of the Park Board, a volunteer fireman (I can’t tell you how many suits he ruined, dashing from his office to the fire hall without changing—those were the days I’m sure my mom called him something other than Whitey), and a town constable (there were several volunteer constables to help the police chief when he needed it—I remember the night my dad had to help arrest a friend and deer hunting buddy of his who, in a fit of rage, had shot his wife when he caught her cheating on him, and it was my dad’s presence that allowed the arrest to take place peaceably).  During his tenure on the Park Board, he oversaw the draining and dredging of Mirror Lake and restocking it with fish. He helped design and build the new golf course. He was president of the Rod and Gun Club, the local sportsman’s organization. He was blessed with type O blood, and thus was a universal donor, and was awakened many nights to come to the hospital to give blood to an accident victim or a surgery patient who needed blood, earning a “gallon donor” badge many times over.

Whitey Fuglie was a remarkable man. I will never forget the horror of that morning, March 16, 1984, when my sister called to say he had died in his sleep at just 62 yeas old. And I will never forget the stoicism of my mother, who outlived him by 25 years. Phyllis Fuglie was an independent woman, a Registered Nurse who worked all her life while raising seven children (well, she had a lot of help raising them from her amazing husband) and who carried on after being widowed at 59, ever grateful to that husband who had led her to southwest North Dakota.

He’s been gone 30 years today, and I still think of him often. I talked of him with Jeff this week when we were ice fishing, remembering how much I hated freezing out there on those lakes when I was a kid, because my dad would never leave until the sun went down—he loved winter sunsets (and also that last bite of the day at twilight, I later realized when I came to actually like ice fishing myself). But I can’t forget to this day how he would stand there and look across the frozen tundra as the sun dipped below the hills and say “Isn’t that beautiful, Jim?” and I would say “Brrrrr. Let’s go home, Dad.”

I could tell Doc Fuglie stories ‘til the cows come home. Maybe someday I will. Today, I’m just going to drink a can or two of Old Milwaukee, his favorite beer, and remember the greatest man I ever knew.

 

Footnote: One Doc Fuglie story.

I came home from my own stint in the Navy in the Spring of 1972 to discover that my dad had already signed me up for membership in the American Legion. I was visiting my folks in Hettinger, not long after I arrived back here, and Dad said there was a Legion meeting that night and I should come and meet the fellow Legionnaires. I said sure. The meeting was at the Legion Club, which had two rooms—a large meeting room, and a bar room. As the meeting was winding down, that year’s commander introduced me as Johnson Melary Post 115’s newest member, and asked if I wanted to say a few words. I said sure. This was the spring of 1972. George McGovern was running for President of the United States. He had just issued a call for amnesty for draft dodgers who had gone to Canada to avoid the draft. I rose to my feet and launched into a little speech about why we should bring them back and offer amnesty. Future doctors and lawyers and optometrists and maybe even a future President of the United States. Bring them back and make them productive members of our society. I was pretty passionate. I had just done four years in the Navy, including two tours of Vietnam, and thought I had a platform on which to stand to justify my position. I was wrong.

About two minutes in, I began to hear noises. First feet stamping, then some quiet boos, then louder, then “Sit down and shut up.” Chagrined, I stopped, politely thanked them for their time, and walked out of the meeting room, into the barroom, sat down at the end of the bar, and ordered a beer. Shortly, the meeting ended and Legionnaires, men of my father’s generation, men I had known all my life, my father’s friends, began trickling out of the meeting room into the bar. Every one of them walked by me silently, to the other end of the bar, and began drinking and visiting. Except my dad. He stopped where I was and sat down beside me. We were the only two at that end of the bar, a good gap separating us from the rest of the crowd. He ordered a beer. Then he turned to me, put his arm around my shoulders, and said “Well, son, that was a pretty dumb thing to do.” I said I realized that, and apologized. “Don’t apologize,” my father, a lifelong Democrat (yes, that’s where I got it), said. “You’re right. You just picked the wrong audience.”

We finished our beers, alone, just the two of us, and went home.

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Special Places? It’s All Over Except The Drilling

Is half a loaf better than none? Put another way, does protecting half of Pretty Butte from oil development do any damn good at all?

That’s what happened at the North Dakota Industrial Commission meeting Monday. Passing up a chance to display real leadership in the face of overwhelming pressure from the oil industry to frack every single section of western North Dakota, the Commission caved. Despite Wayne Stenehjem’s best arguments, which fell on the deaf ears of Jack Dalrymple and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, and despite nearly a year’s worth of effort, the Attorney General was forced to accept a pretty significant change to his Extraordinary Places proposal in order to get any movement at all toward protection of some of North Dakota’s most valuable pieces of real estate Monday.

In the end, he really didn’t get much. The Commission voted to restrict itself from considering the value of any privately owned land in or near Stenehjem’s proposed list of 18 Extraordinary Places. Tossing the words “constitutional rights” around as carelessly as a hockey puck in the Ralph Engelstad Arena (you can bet if that site had been on Stenehjem’s list, it would’ve gotten protection), Dalrymple and Goehring chose their phony patriotism (the last refuge of scoundrels—thank you Samuel Johnson) over Stenehjem’s logic (“I think I understand  what constitutional rights are,” the state’s top lawyer offered to his two farmer friends) in tearing the heart out of what might have been our state government’s first real display of leadership since the beginning of the Bakken Boom.

I report this because I’ve followed this issue since the beginning and you need to know what the outcome of it was. I’ll quit after this. Promise.

So the outcome of it is this: The Department of Mineral Resources will review all drilling permit applications, and if they find any in areas that are listed in this policy that aims to offer some protection to a list of 18 “special places” in western North Dakota, the applicant will have to work with state and federal experts to find the best possible location for their wells, which do the least damage to the nearby landscape and the environment and the wildlife and the cultural, historical and recreational resources.

Unless the application is to drill on private land. Like private land on the south half of Pretty Butte.  Or private land adjacent to the Elkhorn Ranch. Or private land in the middle of Little Missouri State Park. Or private land inside the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield State Historic Site. Or private land a hundred yards from the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers, or the Lake Sakakawea shoreline. Or private land right smack on top of White Butte, our state’s highest point. Or private land anywhere on the bank of the river that created our Bad Lands, the Little Missouri, all 275 miles of it. Those places get no protection at all.

All Stenehjem was asking for was that the Commission’s staff take a look at applications that came in for drilling in those places, and try to work with the oil industry and the landowner and the mineral owner to find the best possible location for the well. He was not asking to stop a well from being drilled. He was offering the help of the state’s best experts to the industry and the owners, to find the best place to put a well, causing the least disruption possible—not no disruption at all—to whatever it was that made these places “extraordinary.”

The industry responded with furor, pulling out all the stops, calling in all the chits it had given Dalrymple in the last election, and undoubtedly writing a bunch of new ones for Goehring’s upcoming re-election campaign.

So because the policy only applies to publicly owned lands, it will have little impact, since most of the publicly owned land on this list of extraordinary places is already protected. You can’t drill an oil well in a national park, or on a national wildlife refuge, but as a result of this new policy, you can drill that well ten feet outside the boundary. Stenehjem’s proposal would have helped to find a place to put that well behind a hill, or around a bend in a creek, out of sight. Or wildlife experts would have helped find the best side of a woody draw, that the deer like to use for romantic activities or winter refuge, on which to place a well.

Nuh uh. Not going to happen. In fact, because they are mostly on private land, some of Stenehjem’s 18 places are going to actually come off the list completely. And that’s unfortunate, because, as the Attorney General pointed out, 8 out of 10 landowners in the oil patch don’t own the minerals under their land, and they will have no protection from greedy out of state mineral owners and oil companies who are going to put their wells any place they damn well please. It’s that “constitutional right” that the two farmers on the Industrial Commission voted to protect. Not the right of North Dakota’s farmers who want to be good neighbors and work with the Attorney general to  protect these “special places.”              Here’s the list Stenehjem proposed. And here’s how each will be affected by what happened today. You decide if you got your money’s worth out of the North Dakota Industrial Commission’s wages today.

  • Black Butte: About half the butte is owned by the Forest Service, but the rest, including much of the surface of the top, and most of the land around it, which would have been in the two-mile buffer zone, is privately owned. That part gets no protection.
  • Bullion Butte: Almost all of Bullion Butte, the state’s most majestic butte, is owned by the Forest Service and is in an area already designated as roadless, so the policy will have no effect on it.
  • Camel’s Hump Butte: It is all privately owned, so it gets no protection.
  • Sentinel Butte: All privately owned.
  • Pretty Butte: Half privately owned, half Forest Service, same for the buffer zone.
  • White Butte: Privately owned, including the buffer, except for a school section on the south face.
  • West Twin Butte: Privately owned, including the buffer, except for a section of Forest Service land a mile to the east.
  • The Columnar Junipers/Burning Coal Vein area, aka the Old Dakota National Forest: This is the Ponderosa Pine area of the Little Missouri River, south of Bullion Butte, and with the exception of the actual Burning Coal Vein site itself, it is mostly privately owned.
  • The Missouri-Yellowstone River Confluence: This is all privately owned except for the actual shoreline.
  • The Elkhorn Ranch: This is a national park so it is already protected from development. The two-mile buffer around it is about half private, but the owner does not own the minerals, so there could be additional wells alongside the site with no restrictions.
  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park: Already protected because it is a national park, but there is much private ownership on its boundaries, in the proposed buffer zone around both units.
  • Forest Service back country recreation areas: Already protected because of roadless designation by the Forest Service.
  • Little Missouri State Park: Most of the park itself is privately owned and leased to the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department, and its minerals are already heavily leased for oil development. The only protection offered by this policy is the on shoreline of Lake Sakakawea inside the park, up to normal lake level, 1854 feet above sea level.
  • The Little Missouri River: Most of the river valley is privately owned, making this the biggest loser as a result of Monday’s changes to the policy which excludes private land. Ironically, most of the ranchers do not own the minerals under their privately owned acres, so they will have no say in well placement.
  • Lake Sakakawea: Because of the changes to the policy made by Dalrymple Monday, only the shoreline of the lake will be protected. Stenehjem’s proposal would have put a half-mile buffer zone around it. That buffer zone land is either privately owned or tribally owned. But most of the landowners do not own the minerals under their land, so they will have no say in well placement.
  • Killdeer Mountain Battlefield State Historic Site: Privately owned.
  • Tracy Mountain: About half privately owned, half Forest Service, including the buffer zone
  • Wildlife Management Areas: All the state game management areas, federal waterfowl production areas and national wildlife refuges contained in this category already have some protection, although there are privately owned mineral acres under many of them, which could trump public ownership. Most of these are tiny islands of land which would have benefited greatly from the buffer zones around them, since wildlife generally don’t stop and read the boundary signs very often. In most cases, those buffer zones are privately owned.
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The Democratization of Conservation

We have much to worry about in western North Dakota these days. I try to limit my worrying to the dangers posed by unbridled oil development to the countryside and its residents, both domestic and wild in the part of the state in which I grew up and have lived most of my life.

Many are worried about it. Tomorrow, the state’s top leaders will let us know if they are worried as well, when the Industrial Commission   decides at least the near-term the fate of a whole bunch of “extraordinary places.”

            No one believes the Bad Lands, or Bullion Butte, or the Little Missouri River, are going to go away. Many believe that unless we pay more careful attention to them, though, they are going to be irreversibly harmed. One of those men is Shane Mahoney.

            Shane Mahoney has never been to North Dakota, although I have invited him here, and he promises if his travels take him this way, he will stop.  Mr. Mahoney is the Founder and Executive Director of the Institute for Biodiversity, Ecosystem Science and Sustainability at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, headquartered in St. John’s Newfoundland. He is also the Founder and Executive Director of the Institute of Biodiversity, Ecosystem Science and Sustainability there. He is widely recognized as a leading authority on North American conservation history and policy and has been in the forefront of debates on issues of sustainable use within both the United States and Canada. He lectures widely to conservation organizations in the U.S. You can learn more about him here.

            I recently came across part 1 of an essay he has written recently on the “democratization of conservation.” Mr. Mahoney has given me permission to share it with you, and also part 2 when it is published. I’m sharing part 1 right now because his message is timely here, and because we can all relate to the man who, he says, truly democratized conservation: Theodore Roosevelt.

By Shane Mahoney

Wild nature staggers today before the onslaught of human population growth and the loss of habitat. Never in the geologic history of planet earth has the wondrous fabric of life been so torn and diminished. We live in the tidal swirl of disappearance, diminishment and extinction, racing beneath wild seas, across expansive savannahs and amid deep forests—indeed throughout all landforms and ecological systems. The patterns are evident in countries of wealth and of poverty; of nations powerful and weak; of cultures old and new; of societies learned and those yet striving for literacy—indeed all of mankind—white, black, yellow and red. Nature’s recession is a lesson in democratic decline. Nature’s recovery will be realized by democratic resurgence, the commitment of the many, and the engagement of the citizen-leader.

On September 6, 1901, anarchist Leon Czolgosz shot President William McKinley who was attending the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, New York. The president died of his wounds a week later, and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as the nation’s 26th president. Through these tragic events, the course of American history changed.  For North American conservation, it was changed irrevocably. Beyond question in the area of natural history, Theodore Roosevelt was the most learned of American presidents (with the possible exception of Thomas Jefferson), and with respect to enacting policies for the protection of wildlife and their habitats, he remains indisputably the greatest. His tenure marked a crucial turning point for wildlife in North America. It emerged from its era of wanton destruction into one of conservation and restoration—a philosophical and practical overture remarkable for its power and longstanding authority.

Hunter, naturalist and scholar, Theodore Roosevelt made concern for wild nature a respectable study for political elites and for political agendas. This, beyond any other, was his greatest achievement. While it is common for writers and historians to emphasize his policies and legislation for wildlife, it was the cultural change he made in the political mindset toward conservation that has the limitless power for improvement and progression. Because of this, the already emerging public concern for wildlife, spearheaded by hunters and anglers throughout both the United States and Canada, could now find acceptance in legislatures and political meetings, forging a chain of action that linked local grassroots and everyday concerns for nature with corridors of power. Thus did the democratization of conservation occur. Hunters drove the debate at their community levels, and America’s most prominent citizen-hunter, President Roosevelt, made it a national and international priority. Seldom had the potential of democracy to befit all citizens been so concretely defined.

Like all aspects of democracy, however, the common good is attained by the individual effort, and in his individual striving for wildlife conservation, Roosevelt set an example for us all, hunter and non-hunter alike. During his presidency (1901-1909), the national forests were expanded by some 150 million acres—five national parks (including Sully’s Hill National Park in North Dakota, which later became Sully’s Hill National Game Preserve, located just south of Devils Lake) and 18 national monuments were established, 51 federal bird reserves were created, along with four game preserves. But even these incredible endowments—and inheritance of inestimable wealth proclaimed for the citizenry of the time and for generations unborn—do not complete Theodore Roosevelt’s achievements in conservation. In 1887 he was instrumental in founding the long influential Boone and Crockett Club, and in 1908, organized the first ever Conference on Conservation, bringing together the governors of states and the leadership of organizations and societies concerned with wildlife’s welfare. For the first time in the history of the New World, a national gathering was called to advance the idea of resource conservation, rather than exploitation. Determined from that meeting was a “Conservation Pledge,” a short hymn for the wild beauty and abundance of the American landscape and a call for citizen action to protect it. This doctrine was eventually disseminated to schools and agencies throughout the United States.

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Weekenders

Well, I haven’t done this for a while, but I have a few things on my mind, and it is a weekend, so I thought I’d just share them with you today.

NOBODY LOSES

Okay, so the paper says today that Warren Buffett’s BNSF Railway is going to upgrade its oil tanker fleet to make it safer. 5,000 new, safer tank cars. Now here’s a deal in which there are no losers.

First of all, the public wins because there are going to be safer cars on the railroad tracks.

Second, Buffett wins, because this is an all-Buffett deal. Here’s how it will work.

Berkshire Hathaway, which owns BNSF, is Buffett’s company. At first blush, this might not look like such a good deal for BNSF or Buffett, because building those new tank cars is going to be expensive. BNSF says it is going to call for bids on the new cars. They’re going to cost a lot of money.

Well, maybe, but I bet you I can tell you who is going to get the bid: a company called the Union Tank Car Company. See, the Union Tank Car Company builds tank cars—it’s their specialty—and it’s a subsidiary of another company called The Marmon Group. And—surprise—Berkshire Hathaway owns a controlling interest in The Marmon Group. So Buffett is going to be buying cars from himself—just moving BNSF money through Marmon to Union Tank Car.

But BNSF is not really in the business of managing a fleet of tank cars. Their specialty is locomotives and tracks. So they’re going to need someone to manage that fleet of 5,000 tankers, and keep them in good repair. Wanta bet that a company called Procor gets that work? Because Procor is North America’s largest tank car leasing and maintenance company. The oil companies who lease tanker cars now, those tankers that are pulled across the country by BNSF trains, are, for the most part, leasing them from Procor. And who do you suppose owns Procor? Well—surprise—Union Tank Car Company, which is owned by The Marmon Group, whch is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, which is owned by Warren Buffett.

So once the Union Tank Car Company builds those cars, Buffett is going to use some more BNSF money to lease them and have them managed by Procor.

See what I mean about no losers? In the end, Warren Buffet gets all the money. Except for the oil companies, of course, who, while paying Buffett to haul their product, get to sell it at the other end of the line. Oil companies like Exxon Mobil and Conoco Phillips. Whoops, wait a minute. Warren is going to get a chunk of that too. Because last November, Buffett bought 40 million shares of Exxon Mobil stock for three and a half billion dollars, making him the sixth largest shareholder in the world’s largest publicly traded oil company.

And, Buffett also owns 13.5 million shares of stock in Conoco Phillips, another one of the world’s largest oil companies. Conoco Phillips and Exxon Mobil are two of the big players in the Bakken. And in the Alberta tar sands oil field. So every time a barrel of oil comes out of the ground in North Dakota or Alberta, old Warren grins a little wider.

Well, that’s where the money trail ends. The oil companies sell the oil to a refiner, take the money and run. Warren takes his share of the oil company profits. And that’s that. Well, not quite. Because, you see, Warren not only owns a bunch of Conoco Phillips stock, but he also owns 27 million shares of Phillips 66, which just happens to be the nation’s largest independent gasoline refiner. I suppose a penny or two of that $3.30 a gallon gas you’re buying today goes to Warren.

Bottom line: Next time you fill up your car with gas, you know who wins—the man who has his fingers on that gasoline every step of the way, all the way back to sucking his oil from the ground, building his tanker, which is pulled by his locomotive on his tracks that’s hauling his oil from the Alberta Tar Sands or the Bakken to his east coast refineries, where they make his gas. Warren Buffett gets a piece of the action every step of the way. Wow.

If anyone wonders why Warren Buffett is the third richest man in the world, now you know. Because it looks to me like he’s the first smartest.

GOOD-BYE TO A FRIEND

Speaking of smart businessmen, I am sad this weekend about the passing of one of North Dakota’s great entrepreneurs, Harold Newman. I’ve been a fan of Harold’s for 30 years or so, because I am always in awe of people who are really good at what they do. And Harold was really good at what he did. He paid attention to the smallest details that could possibly affect his business, especially government, because when you’re in the sign business you deal with government at every level, every day.

I used to love it at the beginning of every legislative session when Harold would send Dean Anderson, his general manager and “chief lobbyist,” and a few of his salesmen over to the Capitol to check out the territory, to see if there were any bills around which might threaten his company’s ability to do business. Ever since the days of Lady Bird Johnson’s Highway Beautification Act, which put real brakes on the billboard industry, Harold paid attention to the Legislature, and stayed in touch with the Congressional delegation over possible new federal regulations on his industry. And then, if things got touchy in Bismarck, like they did during the Logo Signs debate in the 1980’s and 1990’s, Harold himself would show up and call his loyal Jamestown legislators together, Republican and Democrats alike, because Newman Signs was a big employer in Jamestown, and they’d plot strategy, and by the end of the session, things would turn out all right.

More than that, though, he was fun to be around. He and I did a piece of business once, having to do with some goofy billboards around the state (Mountain Removal Project Complete) and it was about the most fun I ever had during my nearly 8 years in government. He once introduced me to some friends of his as “the most creative man in North Dakota,” and that was high praise, because Harold pretty much defined creativity in the North Dakota business world.

I’ve got a brother-in-law who worked for Harold for more than 20 years, who called Harold “the best employer I ever had.” Now retired, my brother-in-law said “The pay was average—about the same as other places—but we had more fun. It was a great place to work.”

He’s pretty much singlehandedly responsible for our state’s first roadside icon, the giant buffalo beside I-94 in Jamestown, and was the biggest supporter of our state’s tourism industry I can think of. I’m gonna honk my horn and give Harold a shout out every time I pass that buffalo from now on.

He reminded me often of the other great, creative, North Dakota entrepreneur and businessman named Harold, and I’ll bet that Harold cracked open a new bottle of Scotch the other night when this Harold, his old friend, arrived, and I bet they’re having a jolly old time.

ALTERNATIVES TO INCARCERATION

The story on the front page of the Bismarck Tribune Wednesday said the state Commission on Alternatives to Incarceration, made up of legislators, judges, lawyers and policemen, is looking for ways to free up limited  space in the state’s pokies without compromising public safety. Well, here’s one suggestion for the commission: Quit locking up people for possession of firecrackers!

Did you see either one of the stories? Never mind the first one. It’s the second one that’s just plain goofy. A couple of local rowdies got pulled over for speeding in Bismarck the other night. Dude driving was drunk. He got hauled away to the pokey to sober up. Next day was Sunday, so they just kept him there over the weekend, and on Tuesday he went to court and pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of drunk driving and got a $500 fine and 10 days suspended jail time.

But the policeman spotted some Black Cat firecrackers (man, I’ve fired off a few thousand of those over the years) in the car, which belonged to his girlfriend, who owned the car and was a passenger, and they hauled her in to jail on a misdemeanor charge of “possession of fireworks.” She spent three nights there, and in court on Tuesday she was sentenced to three days in jail with credit for time served, and released.

Huh? You serious? You can go to jail for possessing firecrackers in Bismarck? Well, I looked it up. Chapter 4-07-06 of the Bismarck City Code, Section 3301.1.3, reads

Fireworks. The possession, manufacture, storage, sale, handling, and use of fireworks are prohibited.

Um, okay. But has anyone ever gone to jail for that before? The police department spokesman said it is “very unusual” for someone to be jailed on a fireworks charge. Well, I should hope so.

Because for the last few days of June and the first few days of July every year, the city is ringed with fireworks stands. Because of our ordinance, they’re not allowed to be sold in town, but you can usually buy them on every major road leading into town, right on the fringe of the city limits. And thousands of Bismarckers stock up and then take them home, and then take them to the lake or down to the river on Independence Day and shoot them.

But now we know that the moment they cross the line back into the city limits from that fireworks stand, they’re looking at three days hard time. I’d say our jail is going to get pretty crowded the first week of July. And I’d say the fireworks dealers better get in and have a little talk with the City Commission about enforcement. Or it could be a pretty dreary Fourth of July around here.

Oh, and I came across another goofy ordinance while I was looking up this one. Section 6-05-05 of the Bismarck City Code:

Throwing of Missiles. It is unlawful for any person to throw or discharge any stone, snowball or any similar object or other missile, including fireworks, upon, in or at any vehicle, building or upon or at any person

“Okay, you kids over there, yeah, you, having the snowball fight: Up against the Wall! Now!”

MADE ME THINK OF EARL

In the 1981 Legislature, Republicans controlled the North Dakota House 73-27, and the Senate 40-10–supermajorities in both houses. In a real show of arrogance one day midway through the session, House Majority Leader Earl Strinden told a newspaper reporter “The bills I want to pass will pass.” Democrats used that arrogance against him in the 1982 campaign, and amazingly captured a majority in the House.

I was reminded of that the other day when I read a story about the North Dakota Farm Bureau in the paper in which Farm Bureau lobbyist Jeff Missling was talking about a bill in the 2013 Legislature dealing with animal cruelty, which passed in spite of Farm Bureau opposition. Missling denied lobbying against the bill, and said “If we wanted to kill that bill, we could have.” Gee, when did the Farm Bureau start voting on bills?

C’MON BILL, LIGHTEN UP

Okay, goldarn it, Bill Bowman is a half-assed friend of mine, and I kind of like him, and he kind of likes me. We’re from the same part of the state, and he’s been the state senator from my old home district for many years. It’s a real Republican district and often nobody even bothers to run against him, although after his tantrum the other day, I hope somebody does this year.

At a Farm  Bureau meeting out in Dickinson the other night, Bill went on a rant about Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s “Extraordinary Places” proposal:

This an insult to landowners,” Bowman said. “The biggest part of the area they are looking at is in my district. I can say this: If they ram this down our throats, we’ll shut down everything in western North Dakota. I’ll get a group of landowners together and shut down hunting on a huge area of private land. You can call me a radical, but that might be the last alternative we have.”

Okay, Bill, I’ll bite. You’re a radical. Now we’ll just wait and see if they indeed “ram it down your throat” and if you make good at shutting down hunting in western North Dakota. I’ll be checkin’ in with you to see how that’s going in a few months.

Finally, because we’re heading into a weekend, and because I’m going on a little vacation for a week or so, let me lighten up your day with a little story about Bill.

My dear departed mother was a resident of Hettinger, in Bill’s district, almost all of her life. My mother took her politics seriously, but she didn’t vote party line until late in her life, when she became a pretty tough Democrat. She mostly voted for people she liked, and people she thought would do a good job. One of those she liked was her State Senator, Rick Maixner of New England. Rick was involved in the same veterans’ organizations as my dad, and they became fast friends, and when my dad died, Rick came and spent a good bit of time with Mom. Rick gets the credit for making her a really strong Democrat. Mom even held a fundraiser for Rick at her home one year. And then, in 1990, Rick either moved away or lost the election to Bill Bowman, I don’t remember which, but Bill became Senator, and Mom was heartbroken.

Oh, Bill treated her well, was respectful, and came to the door campaigning from time to time, but Rick had been her Senator, and she just couldn’t get over that.

So, fast forward to about 2006, and Mom had moved to the nursing home in Hettinger, and was no longer ambulatory, so the nice folks at the nursing home helped her fill out an absentee ballot application, and got the ballot, and brought it to her in the nursing home. And one October morning she sat down at the table in the dining room to fill out her ballot, like she had done so many times in her 80-plus years. And it was one of those years when nobody filed to run against Bill Bowman for Senator, so when she got to that spot on the ballot, her only choice for Senator was Bill Bowman. I was working at my desk in Bismarck when my cell phone rang, and I looked down at the caller ID and saw it was my mom’s cell phone number calling me. I answered and we had some small talk, and then I said “What’s up?”

“Well,” she said “I’ve got my absentee ballot here, and the only name on the ballot for State Senator is Bill Bowman. Do I HAVE to vote for him?”

I laughed and said “No, Mom, you can just leave it blank if you don’t want to vote for him.”

“Oh, good,” she said. “I was afraid they would throw my ballot out if I didn’t vote. Thank you!”

“Bye Mom.”

I told Bill that story a few years ago, and he laughed too.

Note to Bill: My mom married a hunter, and raised a lot of sons and grandsons to be hunters, and she wouldn’t like that kind of talk from you at the Farm Bureau meeting the other night.

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A New Look At A Couple Of Old Problems

SURFACE OWNER PROTECTION

Okay, I know I said I was done writing about this “Special Places” thing Wayne Stenehjem has going, but people keep bringing it up to me and there always seem to be some new ideas floating around, so I’m going to take one more whack at it. Not that I really think it will help, but every idea should at least be looked at.

So here’s a suggestion for Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, who maintains that Stenehjem’s search for a common sense solution to stop the oil industry from just putting oil wells, and the roads that lead up to them, and the infrastructure it takes to service them, any damn place they want to put them, is trampling on private property rights: You might want to consider Stenehjem’s proposal in a different light, Doug. If it is really farmers and ranchers you are worried about, you might want to consider Stenehjem’s ideas as surface owners’ protection.

Because it’s a pretty well-known fact that most landowners don’t own the minerals under their land. And that leaves them vulnerable to the absentee mineral owners who don’t give a shit about our farmers and ranchers, who don’t care if an oil well is going to get plunked down in the middle of their winter pasture, or if the road being built to accommodate a thousand fracking trucks is going to run right past their feedlot.

I’ve read that only 25 per cent of landowners in North Dakota actually own the minerals under their land. And in North Dakota, mineral ownership trumps surface ownership. So if you’ve inherited the minerals under a section of land that grandpa left to you when he quit farming and sold the land to someone else, you can go get your oil no matter what the guy who’s now farming the land says.

But under Stenehjem’s proposal, if you’re a rancher and you own land that is near one of the 18 places he’s picked out for special consideration in the siting of an oil well, or a road, or a tank battery, you’re going to get some help from the Game and Fish Department or the State Historical Society in deciding where the oil well is going to be located, and where the road is going to be built. I’d think the state’s Agriculture Commissioner would be pretty happy about that. Because under Stenehjem’s proposal, no one is going to be told that they can’t go get their oil. But they are going to be told where experts think the best location for that oil well is. And it’s a darned good bet that those experts are going to consult the rancher who is going to have to live with that well before they sign off on a drilling permit application. The oil company and the absentee mineral owner may or may not do that, but you can bet the biologists for the state’s wildlife agency are going to ask the rancher if there is some critical wildlife habitat on their land that they’d like protected.

So this bullshit Goehring is arguing about, taking the protection of private land out of Stenehjem’s proposal, is just plain goofy. What makes a rancher’s private land less valuable than the public land next door? The rancher is likely grazing cattle on both of those parcels. Why shouldn’t they be afforded equal protection? Doesn’t it just stand to reason that if the Oil and Gas Division is going to offer some protection to a parcel of public land but not to the private land next to it, that the oil companies are just going to plunk down that well and build that road on the private land, maybe exactly where the rancher doesn’t want it, but is powerless to stop it? And then the rancher is going to blame the government for protecting the public land, but not his land.

And as long as we’re talking about surface owner protection, do we need to re-examine all our surface owner protection laws to make sure that the state is doing all it can to help our farmers and ranchers who don’t own the minerals under their land? Right now, an oil company has to notify the farmer or rancher that they want to put a well on his property, but if the rancher doesn’t want the well there, he has no recourse except to go to court to try to stop it. Uh huh. Do you know how many lawyers those oil companies have? And how much they get paid? Good luck with that.

But if the Industrial Commission had a policy like the one Stenehjem is proposing for special places, dealing with ALL drilling permits, protecting ALL private land, wouldn’t the rancher have a little bigger hammer when dealing with the oil companies? And didn’t Goehring say recently that “all of North Dakota is special?” Well, then, let’s treat it all the same. Let’s give our farmers and ranchers who actually DO live here all the tools we can to deal with the people who own the minerals under their land but DON’T live here.

So it seems to me Goehring’s got it backwards. Seems to me he’s out to please the oil companies at the expense of his real constituents. Or just spouting the right wing drivel we’re all getting really, really tired of.

And maybe Stenehjem ought to consider renaming his idea the Surface Owners Protection Policy.

JUST MAKES SENSE

Oh, and before I go, I want to pass along a suggestion from someone who really is concerned about our Agriculture Commissioner. After reading the other day that Doug Goehring was forced to take one of his young female staff members up to his motel room to walk on his back when he was away with some staff on a business trip, a friend of mine suggested that really shouldn’t have been necessary. If the Agriculture Commissioner was having that kind of back pain, and the back-walking thing was what cured it, my friend says that he should have been able to get professional help for that and not have to rely on an inexperienced young staffer to help him. My friend says that it looks like poor old Doug fell through a crack in the health care system, and maybe there ought to be a provision in Obamacare for just such a thing, and that insurance companies should be required to pay for that. And that way Doug could have gotten the relief he needs, provided by a professional, and covered by insurance. I don’t know if there really are professional back-walkers, but if not, it could lead to a whole new cottage industry—Obamacare could take credit for creating a whole bunch of new jobs. I think my friend is on to something.

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“Hey, Sailor . . .”

Well, okay, if you have been following my attention to Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s effort to designate a bunch of places as “extraordinary” and to be careful when permitting oil wells around them, you know that I’ve kind of hoped that we had arrived at a policy that could be signed off on by all three members of the Industrial Commission. Well, forget that shit. The oil industry has been hammering pretty hard on Jack Dalrymple, and we’re not likely to get his support for anything more than some window dressing around our federal parks and wildlife areas, which are already pretty much protected from drilling. More seriously, the third member of the Commission, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, is being threatened with the loss of his job if backs even that much. His own friends in his strongest constituency, the North Dakota Farm Bureau, have turned on him, and have brought forth their own candidate for Agriculture Commissioner to challenge his re-election efforts.

That sent Goehring scrambling to his computer, where he sent an e-mail to his Farm Bureau friends that said “I have always been a strong advocate for private property rights, which is the fundamental belief of landowners. The North Dakota Industrial Commission has been reviewing a proposal regarding protection from oil and gas exploration and recovery on areas in North Dakota deemed ‘extraordinary places.’ I believe this is an effort to significantly curtail oil activity on both public and private lands. I support a policy that excludes private lands from public comment. It is paramount that we protect private property rights of landowners.” (emphasis added)

The Say Anything Blog had an extensive report on Goehring yesterday, which included that e-mail and a whole bunch more interesting things about him. You can read it all by going here.

Probably the most damning thing in that and all the news reports today are the allegations of impropriety around female members of his staff.

There have been rumblings since late fall around Bismarck about Goehring having a “Leo Reinbold problem.” Reinbold, you’ll recall, was the Republican Public Service Commissioner who resigned in disgrace a few years ago amid charges of sexual harassment. His Lotharian efforts were well known around the Capitol, so when rumors started to surface about Goehring, folks assumed they were discussing similar goings-on. Turns out the scale was somewhat different, but having a female member of your staff walk on your back in a hotel room far from home still goes beyond the pale. In fact, when I read about that, I had to giggle, flashing back about 45 years to my shore leave days in the U.S. Navy in the South Pacific, when those tantalizing young Asian girls on the street corners and in the doorways of the bars would curl a finger and beckon me toward them while cooing, temptingly, “Hey, sailor . . .” I heard it was a very pleasurable experience. End of that story.

Let’s see. Where was I? Oh, yeah, special places. Nah, never mind. That deal is pretty much dead. Oh, Dalrymple and Stenehjem (you know, one of the best things to come out of this whole effort by the Attorney General is that I can finally type Dalrymple and Stenehjem without stumbling–although my computer still draws a red line under them) are going to pass something, but it will not be meaningful. I mean, the next to the last paragraph in their proposed policy, as it is written now, reads “All comments (by the public and state agencies) shall be reviewed by the Industrial Commission executive director’s designee who shall summarize any comments received for the director of the Division of Mineral Resources. However, the Mineral Resources director is not bound to act upon any comments. (emphasis added) Now there’s a policy with a lot of teeth!

Good thing they added that line, though, because at the same time Karlene Fine, the executive director of the Industrial Commission, was typing that, Lynn Helms, the director of the Division of Mineral Resources was typing an e-mail to Matt Sagsveen, Stenehjem’s lead attorney in developing this policy, that said “I just don’t see much value in public comment.” I can think of a few Governors who would have been out looking for a new division director after an arrogant, asinine comment like that. With that attitude, Helms is going to get along fine with the new candidate for Agriculture Commissioner, Judy Estenson, who said in her announcement speech yesterday, in typical Tea Party fashion, that her policy will be to “keep government at bay.” (There, I finally got back to what I really wanted to talk about today–politics.)

I read that and kind of wondered how she feels about a farm bill. According to the Environmental Working Group’s farm subsidy database, Judy Estenson and her husband Hal, who farm near Warwick in Benson County, have received nearly $200,000 in government subsidies since 1995. Keeping government at bay?

The Estensons are real pikers, though, compared to their chief cheerleader, North Dakota Farm Bureau President Doyle Johannes. His take from the government since 1995, in the form of subsidies to his farm, is $1,143,330. Johannes leads the farm group whose mission statement says it is organized to “advocate for agriculture and enhance the economic opportunities of our membership while promoting individual freedoms and self reliance.” Uh huh. Self reliance.

But back to politics. Does Estenson have a shot at knocking off Goehring at a convention or a primary? Well, it would be unlikely, but it happens. In 1988, the Republican Party, at its state convention, rejected incumbent Agriculture Commissioner H. Kent Jones in favor of Red River Valley farmer Keith Bjerke. Instead of running in the June Primary Election, where he probably could have beaten Bjerke because of much greater name identification, Jones chose instead to run as a third party candidate in the fall. As a result, he and Bjerke split the Republican vote, and voters chose Democrat Sarah Vogel to be Agriculture Commissioner. Vogel ran a great campaign, beating Bjerke by almost 20,000 votes, but if Jones’ total had been added to Bjerke’s, she’d have lost. Democrats controlled the office for 20 years after that.

Vogel served two terms, and halfway through her administration, she hired Roger Johnson, a Turtle Lake farmer, to run her farm mediation program, and Johnson proved to be immensely popular with the agriculture community. The result was that he succeeded Vogel in 1996 and served 12 years in the post before resigning to take a position as President of the National Farmers Union. Upon his resignation in 2009, Governor John Hoeven appointed Goehring, whom Johnson had beaten twice, to the post. Goehring was elected to serve a full term in 2010, a term which is now coming to an end. We’ll see if he can survive Estenson’s challenge, and if so, a challenge from a Democratic-NPL candidate. I can imagine Democrats might be hoping for a repeat of 1988, with two Republicans splitting the vote in November.

So far, no Democrats have come forward, but the current controversy could draw a crowd. Or, some speculate it could draw a candidate no other Democrat is likely to challenge: the 2012 Democratic-NPL candidate for Governor, Ryan Taylor, who remains immensely popular in his party. My guess is, if he wants the nomination, it is his for the asking. And he could win, returning the post back to the Democrats, who have held it all but 13 of the past 40 years (8 years for Jones, 5 for Goehring), since then-Governor Art Link appointed a relatively unknown state senator from LaMoure County, Myron Just, following the death of Arne Dahl in office in 1974. Just served six years and then went back to his farm. Just won election to his only complete term in 1976 by almost 80,000 votes, at the time, and still, one of the largest winning margins by a candidate ever for a state constitutional office.

It remains to be seen what happens to Goehring. Will the party decide he’s an embarrassment for the “back-walking” incident and for calling female members of his staff his “harem?” Will the fact that, after his indiscretions, his announced opponent is a woman, have any effect on that? Does the Farm Bureau, widely acknowledged to be in the Republican camp already, have the muscle to sway a state convention? Does Goehring, a former Farm Bureau state vice president, have friends outside the top tier of today’s organization who won’t be eager to dump one of their own? Can the Farm Bureau leaders who are behind Estenson’s move salt the Republican district conventions with enough rank and file members to grab the state convention delegate slots? The state convention is two full months away. District conventions start soon, and both Goehring and Estenson will have to travel to all 47 of them trying to convince delegates to support them. Throws a real screw into any winter plans Goehring might have had. I asked a Republican friend of mine last night in an e-mail “Is Goehring toast?” The response: “No, but he’s in the toaster.”

One last benefit of all this: I can now also type Goehring without stumbling. Why can’t these Republicans have easy names to spell like Guy, or Link, or Sinner? Sheesh.

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