North Dakota GOP endorses incumbent for ag commissioner

Farm Forum

MINOT, N.D. (AP) — Foreseeing a tough fight in the fall to retain the agriculture commissioner seat, North Dakota Republicans endorsed incumbent Doug Goehring for re-election to the post over a political newcomer from a small town in the northeastern part of the state.

The Republican farmer from Menoken defeated Judy Estenson, a nurse and farmer from Warwick, 624-245 on April 6, shortly before the two-day GOP convention ended at the state fairgrounds in Minot.

In accepting the GOP nomination, Goehring called on the party faithful to prepare for battle in November in all statewide offices. Republicans hold every statewide office in North Dakota except for U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp.

“Democrats are going to run hard this year,” he said. “Democrats think they’ve got issues: ‘doom and gloom’ and fear-mongering. We’ve got to tell the great story of North Dakota.”

The state agriculture commissioner was the only contested race at the convention, where delegates also chose their preferred candidates for U.S. House, tax commissioner, two public service commission seats, secretary of state, and attorney general.

There’s significant interest in the agriculture post because the commissioner sits on the state Industrial Commission, which regulates North Dakota’s booming oil and gas industry. Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, both Republicans, sit on the board with Goehring at present.

“The ties between agriculture and energy have never been more important that they are today,” Goehring told delegates. North Dakota’s oil industry can coexist with a “growing agriculture industry,” he said.

Former Gov. John Hoeven appointed Goehring to the job in April 2009 when Democrat Roger Johnson resigned. Goehring unsuccessfully ran against Johnson in 2004 and 2006. Goehring defeated Democratic challenger Merle Boucher in 2010, garnering about 70 percent of the vote.

Goehring, who is a former vice president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau, lost the support of the group which backed Estenson during the campaign. Pete Hanebutt, the director of public policy at the Farm Bureau, said a difference in policy issues between the commissioner and the bureau led to its support of Estenson.

Democrats recently endorsed Towner rancher Ryan Taylor for the job as agriculture commissioner. Taylor, a Democratic state Senate leader and past gubernatorial candidate, accepted the endorsement for the race that the party faithful believe is winnable.

Taylor has said the state has not done a good job ensuring that agriculture and the state’s rapid oil development can exist together.

Separately on April 6, delegates endorsed Secretary of State Al Jaeger for re-election. Jaeger, who was first elected in 1992 to the office best known for supervising elections, is the longest-serving Republican official in the North Dakota Capitol.

Public Service Commission Chairman Brian Kalk also got approval of Republican convention delegates on April 6 to seek his second six-year term.

Kalk is a Bottineau native who served for 20 years in the Marine Corps before retiring as a major in 2006. Kalk taught at North Dakota State University before he was elected to the PSC in 2008.