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.