The End of the Drew Wrigley Story . . . For Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

I think we had both kind of decided that the fact Wrigley was having an affair, and that the story of that affair was being pushed on journalists across the state in the wake of Jack Dalrymple’s announcement that he would not seek re-election (I later counted at least six different sources, some with more information, some with less), was probably not, in and of itself, a news story. But the fact that rumors of it substantially changed the dynamic of the upcoming Governor’s race WAS a story, and we were both trying to figure out how to approach it. I can tell you that both good Catholic-raised boys were trying to figure out how to use a biblical allusion to the 6th and 9th commandments (Catholic version), but neither of us was comfortable going that far. Dang.

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

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

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

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

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

The other reporters got calls back from GOP media advisor Pat Finken saying Wrigley wanted to sit down for an interview. Two of them did it—AP correspondent James MacPherson went to Wrigley’s home and interviewed Wrigley and his wife Kathleen, and as he was leaving the house, he bumped into Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki, coming in. Both were told by Wrigley that he had had an affair and it was over and he had told his wife and his boss about it “months and months ago.” Even though they had gotten a confession from Wrigley, both reporters named me in their stories as the reason they were now reporting the affair, which I thought was pretty disingenuous. My name appeared in all the Forum newspapers. It was kind of like “Well, Fuglie said it, so now we can too.” Except I never said it. Drew Wrigley said it. But never mind. That is not important.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure,” she says. “What is it?”

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

“Well, I suppose that would be okay.”

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

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

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

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

I don’t have any doubt that, on that day a month ago, Wrigley was thinking he might still be able to salvage the Governor’s race. Ask forgiveness. Get forgiven. And like other politicians before him, move on and be successful, become important. And that’s what John Strand was bemoaning when he wrote “Wrigley’s wife, children, siblings and family members have been dragged into the unseemly turn of events, and not only bear unnecessary public scrutiny but must also participate in re-aiming his political ship at the governor’s office. Coming clean in one’s heart is one thing. Unduly burdening the ones you love most is another. By doing so, it’s conceivable Wrigley misstepped not once, but twice.”

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

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

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

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For Wayne Stenehjem, It’s Campaign Decision Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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President Clinton. Governor Stenehjem.

Two comments on the state of politics today:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then there’s the strange case of Drew Wrigley, the Lieutenant Governor and, many thought, heir apparent to the office. Wrigley has gotten himself tangled up in a messy personal situation that probably precludes his nomination by a party looking always for candidates with high moral standards. The story of Wrigley’s indiscretions has spread across the state like wildfire in the days since Dalrymple’s announcement, and it’s being spread by people with titles in the party’s hierarchy, so it seems to have legs. It will be interesting to see how it plays out in the days and weeks to come, but it has to come as a big disappointment to Dalrymple and many party leaders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Semi-Annual Elkhorn Ranch Update

I want to bring you up to date on the threats to the Elkhorn Ranch, Theodore Roosevelt’s ranch in the North Dakota Badlands, called by many the “Cradle of Conservation,” because it was there that the future President began developing his deep conservation ethic, and later became our greatest conservation president ever.

I’ve mentioned these things a couple of times in previous stories here—the desire by a local Billings County commissioner to build a new bridge across the Little Missouri River north of Medora, which you read about here, and the scheme by a Montana raconteur to dig a big gravel mine directly across from the Elkhorn Ranch site, located here. Both projects have made national headlines, and drawn national as well as local opposition because of the disturbance they would cause to this very special place in the heart of the North Dakota Badlands, and in the hearts of North Dakotans and all conservationists.

The U.S. Forest Service map shows the Goldsberry Crossing location (1), The proposed gravel mine (2), and Theodore Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch site (3).

The U.S. Forest Service map shows the Goldsberry Crossing location (1), The proposed gravel mine (2), and Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch site (3). Medora is about 25 miles due south of the Elkhorn Ranch.

Figures no less important than the President’s great-grandson, Tweed Roosevelt, and the past Executive Director of the Boone and Crocket Club, Lowell Baier, have taken up the cause of the ranch, as have state conservation leaders and many of the country’s leading conservation organizations. And they’ve been successful—so far.

But the threats are more immediate now.

As if we haven’t had enough environmental disasters in western North Dakota as a result of the Bakken Boom, the worst of them all is about to start making its way to reality—the bridge over the Little Missouri River, deep in the Badlands, creating a monstrous truck corridor through the remote, fragile valley of the North Dakota’s only designated State Scenic River.

The Billings County website says that a Draft Environmental Impact Statement was scheduled to be released in “late spring-early summer” of 2015. But I just learned in an e-mail that the target date for release of that document is now “early 2016.” In that document, Billings County’s engineering firm will select a proposed route for the road and location for the new bridge. My guess is, that is academic—the bridge location has pretty much been narrowed down to one possibility, a place called the Goldsberry Ranch Crossing, about 30 miles northwest of  Medora, as the crow flies. A lot farther by road.

Earlier, in response to a huge public outcry after public hearings in Bismarck and Medora in 2012, the original idea of putting the bridge beside the Elkhorn Ranch was discarded in favor of two other possible locations. But one of those locations is only about 15 miles north of Medora, where there are already two bridges across the river, and that location makes no sense. That just leaves the Goldsberry site among the options identified earlier as possible locations.

The good news, of course, is that the bridge and resultant “truck freeway” will not be right up against the Elkhorn Ranch, which is part of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, as originally proposed. But the Goldsberry Ranch Crossing is just four miles northwest of the Elkhorn, and the prevailing winds will carry the huge clouds of dust and the dull roar of truck traffic down the Little Missouri River Valley as sure as Teddy Roosevelt had “four eyes.”

And while any proposed location has been moved away from Roosevelt’s cabin site, national and state conservation leaders are still concerned about the damage the bridge and accompanying road will do to the Badlands environment. We’ll get a better sense of that, hopefully, from the EIS. If the engineering firm doing the job is honest with us, we’ll have some sense of what building a gravel road and bridge carrying up to 1,000 trucks a day—one of the estimates provided by the Billings County Commissioner heading up the project—might mean to the land and wildlife in the nearby Badlands. And to hunters, hikers, birders, canoers, photographers and others who love to spend recreation time in the Badlands. Not to mention the ranchers whose land the trucks will roar through, day and night.

The threat to the environment is hard to imagine. Putting a thousand trucks a day, if that is what it turns out to be, on Badlands gravel roads, is totally irresponsible. That’s a truck every minute and a half over a 24-hour day, but much of the traffic will likely be daylight traffic, so we’re really talking about bumper to bumper truck traffic all day, every day. Imagine the dust clouds. Imagine the grass along the roads when the dust settles—unfit for deer or ranchers’ cattle to eat. Imagine the cacophony of brakes going down steep Bad Lands ravines. How do you even drive through dust like that? And the truck drivers are going to have to drive at least 35 or 40 miles of gravel to get from Highway 85 to Highway 16, which the county commissioners say is their desired objective. It’s obvious they haven’t thought this through. I hope the engineers doing the EIS have. Personally, I think if this happens, within a year or two there will be a barren, mile-wide, 40-mile long, corridor through some of the most scenic parts of the Badlands.

I’ve spoken to the two ranchers who own the land on either side of the river where the likely proposed crossing is located, and neither has heard a word from the county or the engineering firm. Neither is very excited about the prospects, and hopefully they will show up at public hearings to voice their feelings about the project. Once the Draft EIS is released, a round of public meetings will take place, testimony for and against the project will be given, and a Final EIS will be published sometime next year. Then the wheels will start turning to put the state and federal funds in place to build it. We’ll be watching to see how much of this boondoggle will be paid for by taxpayers outside Billings County. I’ll keep you posted and explain how the project will be funded when I know more about that.

The second threat is the proposed gravel mine directly across the Little Missouri from the Elkhorn site, about a mile from Roosevelt’s cabin site. That land is owned by the U.S. Forest Service as a buffer to protect the ranch site and its viewshed from development, but what are known as “surface minerals”—gravel and scoria as opposed to oil and coal—are owned by kind of a scurrilous fellow from Montana named Roger Lothspeich, who apparently bought them from a trust or estate of a family of former owners of the ranch, and then tried to blackmail the Forest Service into paying him off not to develop the gravel mine. His first asking price was something like $2.5 million, and the Forest Service didn’t bite.

Instead, they told him to go ahead and dig the gravel, and they put him through a rigorous permit process. The result was, a lot of safeguards have been put in place to make sure, as best as is possible, there is not a huge superfund site there when he is done. He’s posted a reclamation bond now, and received his permit to rebuild the access roads and begin mining, but as of August 1, there was still no activity at the site. That could change any day. Forest Service District Ranger Shannon Boehm, who will give the final go-ahead on the project, is still trying to meet with Lothspeich’s engineers to review plans for the road into the gravel mine site. Once Boehm signs off on the plans, road-building can begin. Whether it can be done before winter sets in remains to be seen.

Because mineral ownership trumps surface ownership, the fellow is entitled to dig out his gravel, but the Forest Service says it has done about all it can to make sure the disturbance is temporary. And there will be disturbance, for about the two-year life of the project. For a while, the Elkhorn won’t be the quiet meditative spot it has been for the last 125 years. We can just hope the bond will bring a concerted effort to reclaim the land atop the hill across from the ranch, as best as Badlands can be reclaimed. And hope that the Forest Service monitors the site closely, which will be difficult for them, given the scope of the other oil activity on their million acres in western North Dakota.

The irony in that, of course, is that it was Theodore Roosevelt, when he became President, who created the U.S. Forest Service. The agency that now manages the million acres of the Little Missouri National Grasslands. Roosevelt recalled his days in Dakota when, as the National Park Service points out on its website, “He became increasingly alarmed by the damage that was being done to the land and its wildlife.”

“He witnessed the virtual destruction of some big game species. Overgrazing severely impacted the grasslands, which also affected the habitats of small mammals and songbirds. Conservation increasingly became one of Roosevelt’s main concerns. After he became President in 1901, Roosevelt used his authority to protect wildlife and public lands by creating the U.S. Forest Service and establishing 51 Federal Bird Reservations, 4 National Game Preserves, 150 National Forests, 5 National Parks, and enabling the1906 American Antiquities Act which he used to proclaim 18 National Monuments. During his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt protected approximately 230,000,000 acres of public land,” the NPS website says. “Theodore Roosevelt was the nation’s 26th President and is considered by many to have been our country’s ‘Conservationist President.’ Here in the North Dakota Badlands, where many of his personal concerns first gave rise to his later environmental efforts, Roosevelt is remembered with a national park that bears his name and honors the memory of this great conservationist.”

“We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources,” Roosevelt once wrote. “But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation . . . We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.”

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Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged

This morning’s Bismarck Tribune had a front page story about the Catholic bishop of Bismarck announcing that he would no longer allow Catholic churches in his diocese to sponsor Boy Scout troops. He said in the story that the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to allow gay Scout leaders “prompted him to decide that the diocese, its parishes and schools would end their relationship” with the Boy Scout troops, effective immediately.

Bismarck Bishop David Kagan has done a mean, spiteful thing. The Boy Scouts said that chartered organizations sponsoring Boy Scout troops can use their religious beliefs on sexuality to select leaders. In other words, they do not have to allow troops they sponsor to select gay Scoutmasters. That makes sense. Certainly the Boy Scout organization I know would not require anyone to violate his or her religious beliefs. If sponsoring organizations, like the Catholic Church, teach that homosexuality is wrong, then they should not have to violate that principle. And the Boy Scouts agreed with that, and said so.

Organizations which sponsor Boy Scout troops, one of which sponsored my Boy Scout troop when I was growing up, generally include churches, civic groups like the American Legion,  and schools, which provide some financial help, meeting space and leadership to the volunteer Boy Scout organizations. In North Dakota, Catholic and Lutheran Churches have been leaders in  sponsoring Scout troops.

In my hometown of Hettinger, when I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s, we had two Scout troops, one sponsored by the Catholic Church and one by the Lutheran Church. Your religious affiliation generally, but not always, dictated which troop you would join. My dad was Scoutmaster of Troop 34, sponsored by the Catholic Church, so I naturally joined that one.

Many of those affiliations persist today. The beauty of this arrangement is, religion generally doesn’t overlap into Scout activities. Scouts aren’t pestered about religion. They learn scouting. In Mandan, for example, the paper this morning pointed out that St. Joseph’s Catholic Church has sponsored a troop for more than 60 years.

No more.

Today, I am so angry at my bishop that I sent him a letter. I’ve never done anything like this before.  But he needs to hear from Catholics, and today he heard from me. He further angered me this week when he had his priests read a letter from the pulpit last Sunday denouncing the Supreme Court’s decision to allow same-sex marriage. The Catholic Church has no dog in that fight. We don’t allow same-sex marriage, but we also should not be judging others who do. Lest we be judged.

So today I wrote to the Bishop. If you are a Catholic, and if you agree with me, I urge you to do the same. One of my friends has already done so. In short, he said “Who was it who said, ‘Who am I to judge?’  Pope Francis.”

Here’s my letter. Father, forgive me, but I must speak out.

Dear Bishop Kagan,

            I am a very sad Catholic today. Your stance on the Boy Scouts is intolerant and unbecoming of a Man of Christ. 

            I am particularly troubled by this sentence:

            “While there are indications that the BSA has a religious organization exemption, which each local troop could invoke, that will provide no protection for any of our parishes and/or schools, which sponsor troops.” 

            Protection from what, Bishop Kagan? Protection from what? 

            I would like an answer to that question: Protection from what? What are you afraid of? I sense a deep, dark, absence of compassion and understanding, and more than a bit of ignorance on this issue. I know I must trust you to lead our diocese’s churches and its priests, but this statement gives me no confidence in your thinking process, which is critical to your ability to lead.

            I grew up in  Boy Scout Troop 34 in Hettinger, sponsored by my parish, Holy Trinity Catholic Church. The troop was started by my father, and he served as Scoutmaster for many years. My three brothers and I all were Scouts and mass servers, and we felt both were part of our growing up process. Actually, it would have been unthinkable for us to not do either of those things. I’m pretty sure I can  speak for my father and my brothers in saying that your dictum is a huge mistake.

            As Scouts we were brought up to follow the Scout Oath: On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight. 

            And I tried my best to obey the Scout Law, which was which was to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent (and  I didn’t have to look those up–I still remember–that’s how important those things were to me).

            I’m guessing you were not a Boy Scout, Bishop Kagan, or if you were, you have forgotten a lot of what you learned.

            Last Sunday I listened to your equally intolerant letter on gay marriage, read to me by Father Chad Gion, and reacted much the same way as I am reacting today after reading the newspaper story. You, and we as Catholics, have no dog in the gay marriage fight. Gay men and women who choose to marry have no place in my thought process, or in my religious practices or beliefs. It is their business. Not mine. Not yours. 

            It seems to me you’ve picked two unnecessary fights this week, and I am terribly disappointed in you. That’s not leadership. That’s pandering. 

            I am so grateful I have a wonderful compassionate priest in Father Chad. I’ve not seen anyone in my 68 years as a Catholic who better expresses his love for Jesus, and why I should love him as well, as Father Chad does. He may agree with you on these stands, but he doesn’t wear them on his sleeve, and he doesn’t go out of his way to pick a fight. He’s the reason I continue to practice my faith, in spite of the fact I have an intolerant bishop.    

            I hope your days in our diocese are numbered. We need better leadership than you are displaying right now. And I am not just speaking for myself. I have many, many friends who want to see you go away and for the Holy Father to bring us new leadership. True leadership.


Jim Fuglie


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The Ugliest Story Yet From North Dakota’s Oil Patch

According to the man who says he killed Kristopher “K.C.” Clarke, the young oilfield worker who disappeared more than three years ago is buried in one of North Dakota’s Bad Lands parks—likely Little Missouri State Park or the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

That’s one of the apparent confessions made by Timothy Suckow of Spokane, WA, as he attempts to cut a deal to shorten his potential life sentence in prison, by implicating James Henrikson, the man who Suckow says hired him to kill Clarke and another Spokane man, Doug Carlile. Suckow, who’s admitted in the past to being a “devil-worshiper,” spilled his guts—as former North Dakota U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon said “He only had one card to play”—and the U.S. Attorney for Eastern Washington, where Henrikson is being held and is scheduled to stand trial in October, has outlined in detail how and when Clarke and Carlile were killed, in a sometimes gruesome 58-page document released this week by District Judge Salvador Mendoze, Jr. of Spokane. Reading it is not for the faint of heart. These are some bad dudes.

There are four other defendants in the murder case, all associates of Henrikson or Suckow, and they‘ve also apparently told all, judging from the contents of the document. I first wrote about this case in January of 2014, (there are links to those stories here, here and here) just a month after Carlile was killed in his home, allegedly in an ambush by Suckow, although it’s obvious the word “allegedly” can go away in this case now that Suckow has told all. Suckow has pleaded not guilty to the two murders, but it is likely that plea will change as his court date nears, based on the fact he has pretty much admitted to two murders in the employ of Henrikson. The price: $20,000 each.

The Clarke murder has puzzled authorities for more than three years. Here’s how it happened, according to the court documents which are based on testimony from Suckow and the other witnesses and defendants in the case:

Henrikson was operating a trucking and oilfield business on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation under arrangement with then-Tribal Chairman Tex Hall. Henrikson suspected Clarke was about to leave his firm and start his own trucking business and take some customers with him, so he brought Suckow in from Washington to kill Clarke. On the morning of February 22, 2012, Henrikson and two of his employees lured Clarke to the Henrikson’s shop, which may have been owned by Hall and leased to Henrikson—the documents are not clear on that, but they’re clear on the fact the shop was on the reservation—and, while two of Henrikson’s employees stood guard outside the door of the shop to make sure no one could get in, Henrikson distracted Clarke and Suckow bashed in  Clarke’s head with the handle of a floor jack, hitting him four times in the head “until the last hit apparently crushed the skull (Suckow stated that Clark’s head got soft with the last hit).”

Then they put Clarke’s body in a large box, loaded the box in the back of a truck, and, along with another Henrikson employee named George Dennis, who has not been indicted, they drove both the truck and Clarke’s pickup to Watford City, where they left Clarke’s vehicle. They went to a hardware store and bought two shovels, and drove to a place the document calls “Badlands State Park,” where Suckow says he spent about seven hours digging a grave, with Henrikson standing over him with a gun and Dennis waiting in the pickup, and they buried Clarke’s body.

Now, there’s no such place as “Badlands State Park,” but there are two parks in the Bad Lands reasonably close to Watford City—the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, about 15 miles south of town, and Little Missouri State Park, about 40 miles east.

I have asked the state and national parks people if they have been involved in any of the investigation, and both said no.

Wendy Ross, Theodore Roosevelt National Park Superintendent, said “I imagine that there would be something we would have heard about this officially if there were investigations occurring on park land.”

Jesse Hanson with North Dakota State Parks said there hasn’t been any digging—searching for a body—in Little Missouri State Park, that he’s aware of, and if there was, he’d surely know about it.

The document says the body was buried about 5 feet deep in a sitting position, and after that was done—by this time it was pretty late at night—they  all went back to Watford City, got Clarke’s pickup and drove it to Williston, where they abandoned it on a back street with the keys in the ignition, hoping someone would steal it.

Not long after that, Clarke’s family reported him missing. Speculation quickly turned to Henrikson, but no evidence surfaced, and Henrikson’s employees (who have not been charged as accomplices—yet) kept their silence about the events of February 22. Publicly, it remained a mystery until the judge in Spokane released this document last week. Now we know the story has apparently been told by witnesses. What remains is to find the grave.

Henrikson’s employee George Dennis, who drove the truck to the park, has apparently told the story to investigators, and should know at least which park they went to. It’s not clear in the document whether investigators have gone looking for the grave or not. I’m guessing they want to find the body to help with the case against Henrikson and Suckow.

Fast forward almost two years to December of 2013. Somebody else pissed Henrikson off, a business partner named Doug Carlile in Spokane. According to the document, Suckow killed him too. Shot him six times in his own home. But he bungled the job, left behind some evidence, and didn’t count on surveillance cameras at neighbors’ houses and schools and convenience stores.  Police nailed him within a few days, based on DNA evidence found in a glove he left behind.

Carlile had been nervous about Henrikson, to the point he told family members “If I disappear or wake up with bullets in my back, promise me you will let everyone know that James Henrikson did it.”

Good police work tied Henrikson to Suckow after he was arrested. They found Henrikson’s phone number in Suckow’s phone, and put two and two together. Henrikson denied any involvement, but everyone suspected a connection, to the point where, a few months later, North Dakota U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon saw to it that Henrikson was arrested in North Dakota on weapons charges—a felon in possession of firearms—to make sure he didn’t fly the coop.

Eventually, after Suckow and the others started talking, the charge was changed to murder. That was last October. Henrikson was moved from a jail in North Dakota to Washington, although news reports last week said that he had planned an elaborate escape, offering a fellow inmate $500,000 to put together a team to ambush on a van which was taking Henrikson to a courthouse for a hearing. The inmate ratted Henrikson out, and no escape attempt was made.

If you like reading legal documents, here’s a copy of the indictment of the six defendants.

So, here’s how it stands today.

Tex Hall is free, although he is no longer tribal chairman, having lost an election in the middle of all this. Apparently he is, or was, rich, though, because he has accused Henrikson and his former wife of bilking him out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. And he remains forever connected to Henrikson, because his girlfriend’s daughter (it’s not clear whether she is Hall’s daughter as well) bore Henrikson’s child from an illicit affair during the two men’s business relationship.

Henrikson is in jail in Spokane and will probably never set foot free again, even though he never pulled a trigger. He paid people to do that for him.  In addition to the murder charges, he has been charged for his heroin distribution operation, a little (actually not so little) sideline business he ran in western North Dakota when the trucking business got slow. It looks like lots of people are going to testify against him. His trial is set for sometime in October.

Suckow and the other four defendants who helped him on one or the other of the murders are in jail. Suckow pulled the trigger. He’ll go to jail for a good long while, in spite of a probable plea deal. His assistants will likely do time as well.

K.C. Clarke is still missing. There’s a $10,000 reward for information leading to his discovery—dead or alive, I think. K.C.’s mom has maintained a Facebook page all these years, with not much to report. Yesterday she was finally able to put the Spokesman-Review story on the page for her more than 7,500 followers to read. She’s hoping authorities will now be able to find her son.

At least six men, including Jed McClure of Chicago, Tim Scott and Jay Wright of Washington state, Ray Olness of Arizona, and Tex Hall and  Steven Kelly of the Fort Berthold Reservation, are alive, despite efforts by Henrikson to have them killed. Henrikson is charged with conspiracy to murder three of them.

The story has caught the attention of the news media in Spokane and New York, but not much in Bismarck or North Dakota. The Spokane Spokesman-Review has provided ongoing coverage of the whole affair, and their reporter, Kip Hill, has been kind enough to share some of the court documents with me. Hill’s lengthy story on Sunday prompted me to revisit this case. He also wrote this story about the planned jail escape Henrikson was planning, as well as a fascinating account of how detectives use cell phone tracking to put together a criminal case. The New York Times published the most comprehensive story to date, accompanied by a well-produced 18-minute documentary news story, last winter. The story is worth reading and the video is worth watching, if you want to see what good journalism looks like.

Meanwhile, I’m going to try to track down the efforts to find Clarke’s grave in those Bad Lands parks.  I go to those parks and if there’s a body buried there, I want it out of there.

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The Dead Have Risen, For A Weekend, At Least

I’m going to Hettinger, my hometown, today. Class reunion. A chance to see many old friends. But I’d rather be in Chicago. Let me tell you why.

Just about exactly 20 years ago, on the morning of July 8, 1995, I was sitting under the Gateway Arch at the Jefferson National Memorial in St. Louis, Missouri, reading the St, Louis Post-Dispatch and sipping coffee, when I noticed a lot of long-haired freaky people in tie-dyed tee shirts and red bandanas wandering around the park. I wondered if this was a normal summer morning in St. Louis which was not noted, in my mind at least, as a real hippie kind of town.

I figured it out as I paged through the paper. A story on one of the inside pages said the Grateful Dead had just concluded a two-concert set there, and these were the remnants of the 50,000 or so “Deadheads” still hanging around town. Further down in the story, I read that they were opening a two-concert set in Chicago that night. Well, the only thing on my agenda for the day was to decide what to do that day. I decided Chicago, just 300 miles north, might be a good place to go.

I was about halfway through a two week driving trip between the end of one job and the start of another, a palate-cleansing exercise I have always performed between employment gigs. I changed jobs pretty frequently during my working years, growing tired of routines or searching for a few more bucks for my travel/concert budget. I’ve always taken a few weeks to make a clean break before starting over. This time I had set out for Hannibal, Missouri, to see Mark Twain’s home, a worn paperback copy of Hucklebery Finn, my book of books, beside me on the seat of a brand new Jeep Grand Cherokee, which was also loaded with a lot of camping gear.

After doing that, and getting a full dose of Huckleberry History, including an overnight sleep near the bank of the Mississippi, I’d headed into St. Louis the night before, arriving in time to eat a late supper and a make decision to take a hotel room for a shower, which I needed badly.

Now, a good night’s sleep under my belt, I checked my maps and realized that Chicago was just 300 miles away, five or six hours at most. I hiked over to my Jeep, took off and headed north on Highway 61, destination Soldier Field, Chicago. Me and hundreds of “Deadheads” in Volkswagon microbuses and various other tie-dye painted jalopies, windows down, driving below the speed limit, clouds of smoke pouring out the windows. I never did figure out how they supported themselves, much less found the money to buy concert tickets, gas, dope and veggie burritos, but thousands of young people, even as late as 1995, traveled around the country, following the band, seeing as many concerts as they could. I was not one of them.

I’d never seen the Grateful Dead. I’d meant to, but the occasion never presented itself. I really wasn’t a huge fan of their music, but they were not just about the music. I’m sure the concerts were great, musically, but it was the spectacle of the band and Jerry Garcia, the larger than life image they projected, that drew their millions of fans. That and all the dope smoke in the air. The Upper Midwest was not really Dead Country. I guess they must have played in Minneapolis or Denver, but I never got there. And right then, in 1995, you never knew how long they would be touring—they’d had a fitful career. So this was my chance.  I guessed there would be tickets on sale for a place as big as Soldier Field when I got there.


I managed to score a hotel room at a Holiday Inn not far from the concert site and walked to Soldier Field. I spent the late afternoon and early evening watching 50,000 or so people troop in through the gates, as I wandered around the parking lots, with hundreds of other Deadheads who were trying to score tickets, muttering “Looking for a miracle, man,” and “A lid for a ticket.” Alas, I had neither, and there were no tickets to be had anywhere near me. As concert time arrived, I sat down in the parking lot, leaning against a lamp post, clouds of marijuana smoke mushrooming around me, and listened from outside, with hundreds, maybe a couple thousand, other disappointed all-aged rockers.

I don’t recall much of the rest of that trip, just that I got home in time to start my new job working as a magazine editor for Lee Enterprises.

“Next time they’re anywhere near me,” I said to myself, “I‘ll catch their gig.”  Everybody needs to see Jerry Garcia once before they die.

Or before HE dies, as turned out to be the case. That concert was the last one the Dead ever did with Garcia as the star. After the concert, Jerry Garcia went to California and checked himself into a rehab facility to get rid of his heroin and cocaine addiction. And of all things, he died there of a heart attack. Not a drug overdose. A heart attack! At age 53.  I guess kicking the habit was just too much for him. My concert list is long, but Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead are not on it.

But, now, 20 years later, almost to the day, the Dead are back together, minus Garcia, and are playing at Soldier Field. Tonight, tomorrow night and Sunday night, July 3rd, 4th and 5th, they’ll be rocking Chicago again, and I will be in Hettinger, North Dakota, attending my 50-year class reunion.  (Go ahead, take a break and do the math. Yep, I’m that old.)

I’ll guarantee you, if they had announced the concert before we planned this reunion, I’d have moved Heaven and Earth to change the dates of the reunion. And I’d have been in Chicago tonight. Maybe. Soldier Field seats about 60,000 for concerts. Ticket prices ranged from $60 to $200 when they went on sale earlier this year. There were 400,000 ticket requests to Ticketmaster. About half were lucky to score a ticket, some just to make a profit. You could buy a ticket for $15,000 today if you knew the right people. Jerry Garcia wouldn’t like that part.

The gig is not without some controversy. There will be plenty of Deadheads there, while others are boycotting, saying it just ain’t the same without Garcia. The New York times has a pretty good story about it.

And if you want to see some of the magic, here’s a link to a rough video of an old concert. First, grab a bottle of Ripple and whatever else you were taking when you listened to music in 1978. Then sit back and enjoy. It’s at least as enjoyable as any other fireworks you might see this weekend. Happy Independence Day.

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Empty Deer Camps

Over the past couple of years I have written several times about the decline in North Dakota’s wildlife population since the Bakken Boom began. It may just be a coincidence that numbers of game species (deer, sage grouse, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn antelope, to name a few) have been decimated at the same time as the big oil boom took place. Or not. There have been a number of factors, including some harsh winters a few years back, disease (including rubber tire disease) and questionable decisions by the Game and Fish Department. The number of deer licenses being issued this year, for example, is about 100,000 fewer than in 2008, just seven years ago, because of sharp declines in the deer population. In an article I wrote recently for Dakota Country magazine, which should appear in the mail and on newsstands this weekend, I talked about one of those questionable decisions and the politics of it. Even if you’re not a deer hunter, you might want to read this anyway, for a good lesson in the politics of game and fish management and hunter management.

At noon on November 6, just about 4 months from now, about 40,000 North Dakotans are going to be doing something other than what they had hoped to be doing. That’s when the North Dakota deer season opens, and that’s how many hunters are not going to be going deer hunting. Because they didn’t draw a license in this year’s deer gun lottery.

In recent years, the Department has had to severely restrict the total number of deer gun tags issued statewide, for a number of reasons we won’t go into here. You’ve all heard the litany. This year, the Department will issue just over 43,000. Of those, about 13,000 will go to landowners who get a gratis license for taking care of the deer herd for us. That leaves about 30,000 licenses to be drawn for in the lottery. About 70,000 people were expected to apply this year. You do the math. But that number of unsuccessful applicants could have been cut substantially if the Department had stuck to its guns late last year.

At a North Dakota Game and Fish Advisory Board meeting in Bismarck last December 2, Director Terry Steinwand was pretty unequivocal about the change he was about to make in the allocation of 2015 deer licenses. After discussing a number of options with his biologists, Steinwand was ready to go ahead with a “One Tag Only” season in 2015. Meaning that if you drew a gun tag in the 2015 lottery, you would not be able to buy a second tag to take a deer with a bow, as in past years.

Traditionally, there’s been no limit on how many bow licenses can be issued, the theory being that generally the number of deer taken by bow hunters is not significant enough to affect the deer population. Each year, somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 licenses are issued to bow hunters. Any North Dakotan who wants to hunt deer with a bow can do that. Bow licenses are issued all year long.

Hunters who want to get a gun tag AND a bow tag apply for the gun tag in the lottery and take their chances just like anyone else. If they are drawn, they can still go get a bow license and hunt with a bow right up until rifle season, and then go out to deer camp with their buddies on November 6 and hunt with a rifle. A lot of them do that. A lot.

Under Steinwand’s proposal last winter, acknowledging that these are hard times requiring some sacrifice by all of us until the deer herd bounces back, the idea was, if someone is a serious bowhunter, and really, really wants to hunt deer with a bow, and doesn’t want to be restricted to a specific unit, they would purchase a bow license and forego the lottery for a rifle license, thereby freeing up that license for someone not interested in bowhunting. It likely would have meant a few thousand—or maybe as many as 10,000—more non-bowhunters would have drawn a rifle tag this year.

So what happened to Steinwand’s “One Tag Only” proposal? It disappeared. Steinwand got run over by the North Dakota Bowhunters Association. Unhappy bow hunters won a political argument. Bowhunters are great sportsmen, but too many of them are also selfish. Bow hunting is not a sport for the timid. It’s hard work, but also, when successful, incredibly stimulating. Problem is, it often does not result in taking a deer. And so, to have the best of both worlds, a lot of bow hunters want the option of being able to go shoot a deer with their rifle at the end of the season to guarantee they’ll have some venison in their freezer.

So how’d they do it? Well, they showed up, and victory often goes to those who just show up. They showed up at Game and Fish Advisory Board meetings last winter, like the one I attended here in Bismarck, where Steinwand argued pretty hard in favor of his “One Tag Only” proposal, saying bowhunters have not had their opportunity to bowhunt reduced, the way gun hunters have. I left that meeting convinced (and pleased) that Steinwand really believed that “One Tag” was the way to go until the deer herd recovers from its current problems, in spite of how noisy the bowhunters were at the meeting. But the bowhunters used another tool. They got political. They wrote letters to people in high places, some even containing threats of political repercussions. It wouldn’t be fair to say there was a flood of letters to the Governor’s office, or to director Steinwand, but there were enough to make a difference. Here’s a sample (the comments in parentheses are mine):

  • “Governor Dalrymple: I am concerned about the ND Game and Fish Department’s proposal to change the deer allocation system . . . This decision is proposed to take a little heat off of the department, even though it will only add about 7000-7500 more people in the field.” (Only?)
  • “Dear Governor Dalrymple: The alternative currently being considered, in my opinion . . . brings too many restrictions upon those who enjoy hunting with multiple types of weapons. Please direct your agency to take no action and CONTINUE TO MANAGE DEER ALLOCATIONS AS THEY TRADITIONALLY HAVE.” (“Direct your agency?” I’m not sure I like the idea of the Governor telling the Game and Fish biologists how to do their job.)
  • “To Governor Dalrymple: I have purchased an archery tag for over 20 years now . . . I am also a landowner and get my gratis tag yearly to hunt my own land on which I have shot several respectable bucks . . . Why not make a new category of license available through the lottery that allows hunting with a bow, rifle and muzzleloader (any weapon, any season) sell it for twice the price of the regular gun lottery license . . .” (This guy gets a free tag AND a bow license. That’s about as good as it gets.)
  • To Governor Dalrymple: “I am writing hoping that I am one of MANY people contacting you in OPPOSITION to the ND one deer tag proposal. Anyone with common sense knows that his makes NO sense. Tell the GnF if they want to do something constructive, ELIMINATE the taking of does.” (That would leave another ten or twenty thousand people at home on November 6.)
  • “To Governor Dalrymple: As the Governor, please ask the director of game and fish to not implement the 1 tag system.” (Once again, asking the Governor to override the Director)
  • “Dear Governor Dalrymple: “I believe this is a kneejerk reaction to the incessant whining of a spoiled populous (sic) . . . SUSPEND DOE KILLING STATEWIDE FOR TWO YEARS . . . PUT A BOUNTY ON COYOTES . . . MANDATE ALL GUNS IN VEHICLES BE ENCASED AND FULLY UNLOADED . . . Our state has gone through a huge transformation in the last several years and it scares the heck out of me when I see who’s driving the roads with loaded guns.” (New gun laws?)
  • “To Governor Dalrymple: I believe that if we are going to make a decision like this, it should be put to a public vote. Then you would know the majority opinion.” (Think Al Jaeger can figure out how to get THAT on the ballot?)
  • “To Governor Dalrymple: This plan punishes land owners because it would force me to choose between gun hunting my own land or bowhunting with my friends across the state . . . It appears the Governor is the only chance to stop this policy. I just want it to be known that I feel strongly enough against this that, if it is enacted, it will decide my vote for Governor in two years.” (Well, I don’t think Jack was really shaking in his boots . . . )
  • “Dear Governor Dalrymple: In general, one tag option is going to suppress the interest of our youth getting into the heritage of hunting, not accomplish the goal that you are trying to achieve, and will require future legislation and changes to correct this problem . . .” (Uh-oh. Calling in the Legislature.)
  • “Dear Director Steinwand (cc: Gov. Dalrymple): The “One Tag Option”, as you proposed, is a terrible idea dreamt up by someone with a short term view of things, and, if implemented, will immediately tarnish and damage the hunting system we have all grown up with. This is our culture and tradition you are meddling with . . . A few ideas to consider – temporarily eliminating non-resident tags . . .” (I’ve been waiting for that “no non-residents” thing to come up.)

The letters to the Governor were given to the Game and Fish Department to respond to. That’s how Governors do things. All the writers got a letter or a phone call from Steinwand or Wildlife Division chief Jeb Williams. I asked to see the letters I quoted from above. They’re public records once the Governor opens them. I didn’t ask to see the responses. And I don’t know how much influence the letters to the Governor, or the Governor himself, had on Steinwand’s decision to just leave things the way they are. I think I don’t want to know that.

I do know that Steinwand has said over and over that his job is not only to manage the wildlife, but to manage the hunters. There’s a customer service element to what he does, and that often plays a role in his decision-making process. It’s a fine line he walks, and as he said at the Advisory Board meeting, “When I make a decision, I will make half the people in this room happy and half the people unhappy.” I’m guessing that among the half that were unhappy with his final decision were his own biologists.

As I read through those letters, though, I saw some things I really didn’t like, as you can see from my comments. For example, the requests for the Governor to step in and override the experts—the biologists—at the Game and Fish Department. I’m trying to imagine, if the Governor did that on any regular basis, how most North Dakota sportsmen and women would feel about that. While technically it is the Governor who issues the annual hunting and fishing proclamations, most often that is just a formality, lending stature to a tradition of hunting and fishing that we hold most dear here on the prairie. Details are left to the biologists. At least we hope so.

It seems to me that the bow hunters who opposed the One Tag Only proposal exhibited a selfishness that has no place in our outdoor heritage. Yes, they want to experience the ruggedness—even primitiveness—of hunting a deer with a bow. But the chances are they won’t get a deer, so they want that gun license, too, as their backup, to insure meat in the freezer. They want to have their cake, and eat it too.

And then there’s the guy who says to create a new “everything” license and double the price. Fine for those wealthy folks, I suppose. But I’m not sure that’s how things are supposed to work—an entitled gentry—in the fields and streams of North Dakota, or America.

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This Summer’s Prize For Tackiness On The Highway

If you head for the Bad Lands this summer, be prepared for some new scenery. All along I-94 from Dickinson to Medora you’re going to see the latest abomination brought to us by the oil industry: “repurposed” semi-trailers painted up with advertising messages parked along the ditches beside the freeway. It’s what happens when greedy, tasteless money-grubbers stretch the law to its very limit, and maybe even beyond its limit, although there’s no one in state government, apparently, willing to challenge these companies who are turning us into another Arkansas/West Virginia.

You’ll recall the 1960s, when Ladybird Johnson persuaded Congress to pass the Highway Beautification Act, putting strict regulations on what can and cannot be parked or built alongside our highways. I’m pretty sure neither Mrs. Johnson nor the members of Congress who voted for this law envisioned these “portable billboards” junking up our highways, especially highways leading to national parks and natural wonders like our Bad Lands.

But the North Dakota Department of Transportation, whose job it is to regulate these kinds of things, says they’re just fine, under a little-used section of our own state laws, which says if someone controls the land alongside the highway, they can put up pretty much any kind of advertising sign, “affixed to the ground or any tree, wall, bush, rock, fence, building, structure, or thing . . .”  Yeah, you can hang a sign on a bush. Or a “thing”—a semi-trailer. You can look it up, Section 24-17-02 of the North Dakota Century Code. Now that is a bad law. Yeah, they might be legal, but it seems to me that good taste would come into play somewhere along the line here. Nope, good taste has no place in the Bakken Oil Boom. This is the Wild, Wild, West. Anything goes.

In a past life I was the State Tourism Director, and I was pretty friendly with the billboard industry, because it was their signs that directed tourists to where they could eat, sleep, play and spend money in North Dakota. I still am, because now I’m one of those tourists, and I rely on billboards a lot. Thing is, the billboard industry does things right, follows the law, and makes sure the advertising is tastefully done. These renegades who are painting up old trailers, or hanging banners from them, give the whole outdoor advertising industry a bad name. I’ve talked to somebody from Newman Signs, which owns most of the billboards in North Dakota, and they are not happy about this. They follow the law, putting their signs, generally pretty nice looking, in commercial or industrial zones, like the federal law dictates.

This is one of he ugliest of the signs hanging alongside the interstate near Medora. It's owned by Dalrymple re-election campaign chairman and Republican mega-donor Jim Arthaud

This is one of he ugliest of the signs hanging alongside the interstate near Medora. It’s owned by Dalrymple re-election campaign chairman and Republican mega-donor Jim Arthaud

So who’s doing this? Well, most of them are companies looking for truck drivers, hanging help wanted signs on trailers or painting them up. Others are selling real estate. But there’s one guy who just seems to like to see his name in big letters, and he is responsible for about a third of these things. His name is Jim Roers, and he has a company called Roers Development, and he’s putting one of his developments on the west edge of Dickinson. His trailers just have his name and his phone number on them, along with the words “Building Success.” Well, good for him. He’s not worried about whether his trailers are legal or not, because he has friends in high places. Like the Governor’s office. Apparently he and Jack Dalrymple are real buddies. They even campaigned together in 2012, when Jack was running for Governor and Jim was running for the State Senate. Jack won. Jim didn’t, becoming what I believe is the first Republican to lose a Legislative race in south Fargo’s heavily Republican District 46. Got beat by now-State Senator George B. Sinner.

A real classy Rolers trailer-sign.Legal or not?

A real classy Roers trailer-sign. Legal or not? Doesn’t matter if you’re friends of the Governor

Campaign buddies Jim and Jack

Campaign buddies Jim and Jack

Did I mention that Jim and Jack campaigned together? Oh, yeah, here’s how I found out. I found this video clip on the Internet of the two of them campaigning together. You can watch it—it’s only 45 seconds—by clicking here. Go ahead, do it. When you get back here, let me know if you saw them leaving a house, and Jack walking right across the lawn instead of using the sidewalk. Back in another past life, when I was conducting Campaigning 101 classes for candidates, I told them the first rule is “Keep Off The Grass!” I’m guessing Jack hasn’t done much door-to-door, so he didn’t know that rule, or else he’s arrogant enough to believe it doesn’t apply to him. Oh, but then I saw the sign behind them that says Vote for Jim. So maybe they were at Jim’s house, staging this for a commercial. And walking on the grass was okay. But go back and look closer, in the driveway  behind them—of all things, the sign is sitting on a trailer! Well, that ties right in with his modus operandi, as Joe Friday would say.

Here’s kind of what I think. I think they were filming a TV commercial at Jim’s house (or maybe the next door neighbors) and the two people standing in front of the house are the film crew. Someone came by and saw what was going on, and pulled out their smart phone and filmed the filmmakers making the film. But what happened next puzzles me.

Did you notice what was interesting about that clip? It was for sale! Yeah, you can buy a low-resolution version of the clip—30 megabytes—for just $19. Sounds like a bargain, if you have any use for a few seconds of Jack Dalrymple walking across somebody’s lawn. But if you want the good stuff—high resolution 76 megabytes—that’ll run you $79. It’s an interesting way to make money, isn’t it? Film the Governor out campaigning, and then sell it. Never miss an opportunity to make a quick buck, taking advantage of a chance encounter with a Governor, albeit across the street. Not sure who would buy it, but . . . I looked around a little more, and found out you can buy a version of it in French. And in German. And in Italian. In Portuguese. And even in Vietnamese! COOL! And it’s the same price on all the foreign versions—240p for the low resolution, 1080p for the high resolution. I don’t know what the “p” stands for—some kind of currency I suppose.

I can’t imagine that Jack and Jim would be selling it themselves and collecting royalties, but you never know. Rich guys never seem to have enough . . . As an instructional video, I’d suggest they could title it “What Not To Do When You Leave Someone’s House During Your Campaign.” Sorry, I don’t have the Portuguese translation for that.

But back to matters at hand—ugly semi-trailers parked alongside I-94 on the road to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Legal or not, they are just plain tasteless, and as someone who is concerned about our state’s image, I think they ought to go away. Gonna be tough, though. Jim Roers, in addition to being a candidate for the Legislature, is a big Republican donor. Another one of the signs is for a company called MBI. That’s Jim Arthaud’s company, and he was Jack’s campaign chairman last time, and gives $10,000 a year to the Republican party and its candidates. I think both of those guys have enough money to put up a real billboard, a legal one, and a little more tasteful. I didn’t look to see if the owners of the rest of them are donors to Dalrymple’s campaign or the Republican Party, but anyone want to hazard a guess?

Aside: In announcing an America the Beautiful initiative in January1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson (D) said :”I want to make sure that the America we see from these major highways is a beautiful America.” America agreed with him. He wouldn’t like to see the road from Dickinson to Medora these days. The Federal Highway Administration, on a page on its website, has an interesting and funny story from the Washington Post titled “How the Highway Beautification Act Became a Law.” You can read it by clicking here.  

A few more nice trailer signs. Thanks to my friend Jerry DeMartin for sharing these photos with me, and for motivating me to get off my butt and write about this. I’ve got another rant about some bad highway signs, but I’ll save it for another day. I feel pretty good after getting this one off my chest.

1E sign

1C sign1d sign

1A Sign

1B sign


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