When Doug Burgum announced his intention to seek the Republican nomination for governor in January of 2016, he was viewed as a political outsider. To many, the idea of the software executive and downtown businessman from Fargo beating his opponent — Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem — in the June primary seemed unlikely. Not only was Stenehjem well-known in political circles and across the state, but he was well-liked too.
By the time the Republican State Convention rolled around in April, Burgum had made it clear — win or lose — he would move on to the primary. It took two ballots, but as it turned out Burgum came in third behind Wayne Stenehjem and State Representative Rick Becker (R – District 7) for the NDGOP endorsement.
What followed was one of the great upsets in North Dakota’s political history. When all the votes were counted in the June primary, Doug Burgum walloped Wayne Stenehjem by a margin of nearly 21 points.
There’s little doubt that money was a significant factor in Burgum’s win. After all, the Fargo businessman had to do something to overcome lack of name recognition across the state— something Stenehjem enjoys as a result of his long-time public service. As a result, some speculate that it was the most expensive primary race in the state’s history.
But money alone wasn’t why Doug Burgum won the Republican nomination and later went on to become North Dakota’s 33rd governor by beating State Representative Marvin Nelson (D – District 9). Burgum ran on “reinventing government” as an anti-establishment outsider— and a conservative one at that.
At every turn he was hammering “the good ‘ol boys club”. Whether it was Stenehjem on Obamacare or the North Dakota State Legislature on spending, Burgum was relentless. And it worked.
Fast forward to the current election cycle— For someone who ran the campaign that he did in 2016, you’d think that Burgum would support anti-establishment conservative candidates in the party today. But unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be entirely the case.
We’ve received reports, from multiple sources close to his office, that Governor Burgum has actively courted potential challengers to conservative candidates in at least three races:
- State Auditor
- State Treasurer
- District 36 House
Let’s take a look at the current status of each of these.
You might recall that State Auditor Josh Gallion released a performance audit, in June of 2018, that wasn’t exactly favorable to the governor’s office. The purpose of the audit was twofold— air travel and executive security. In it, Gallion made multiple findings and concluded with four recommendations.
Regardless of where you stand on that issue, we expressed our view that transparency is a good thing. But Burgum took issue with the report and seemingly hasn’t forgiven Gallion. In fact, he even signed the bill that sought to strip the State Auditor of his authority to initiate performance audits. Gallion is currently running unopposed for the party’s endorsement.
After current State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt announced she wouldn’t seek another term, State Representative Dan Johnston (R – District 24) stepped up and announced his candidacy. A few weeks later, State Representative Thomas Beadle (R – District 27) threw his hat in the ring.
As you can see by this report from the American Conservative Union (ACU), Johnston is one of the most conservative members of the State House with a lifetime rating of 91%. Beadle, on the other hand, scored lower (50%) than the most conservative Democrat last session (62%), Rep. Tracy Boe (District 9). Beadle has a lifetime rating of 56% with the ACU.
The District 36 Republicans’ Endorsing Convention was held last Saturday. Incumbent Representatives Mike Schatz and Luke Simons are running for re-election. But they had to stave off a challenge from Stark County Commissioner Carla Arthaud. As it turned out, out of 250 ballots cast, Schatz came away with 225 votes, Simons with 184, and Arthaud 78. She may still go to the primary.
Make no mistake about it, Arthaud was looking to knock off Luke Simons, not Mike Schatz. As an unapologetic limited government constitutionalist, Simons makes it no secret where he stands on the issues. His lifetime rating with the ACU is 96%. I’m guessing his opposition to Burgum’s Theodore Roosevelt Library & Museum didn’t gain him any political favor. He’s a real thorn in the side of big government Republicans and Democrats alike— as he should be.
Unfortunately, I’m not at liberty to share details about what I’ve been told has gone on or been said behind the scenes. But suffice it to say that it’s alleged Governor Burgum’s preference is to have Republicans not named Gallion, Johnston, or Simons in these offices.
I suppose this isn’t altogether a surprise. But it is, nevertheless, a disappointment. Especially as someone who had branded himself as a conservative in 2016. I guess that went out the window when they removed the video of him claiming as much?
Perhaps North Dakota voters traded “the good ‘ol boys club” for a growing Burgum Establishment.
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