North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem touted his nearly four decades of political experience working with the state’s agriculture and energy industry Wednesday in Dickinson as part of his campaign seeking the Republican nomination for governor.
Stenehjem geared much of his 20-minute speech to a small but friendly crowd gathered at the West River Community Center around topics important to western North Dakotans — agriculture, oil and education.
“We also have to emphasize that North Dakota, more than ever, is truly a part of a global marketplace,” Stenehjem said. “We must redouble our efforts to secure global sales of all of our farm and energy commodities. If there is one thing we’ve learned, it’s the importance of diversifying our economy. We’re doing that in marvelous ways and we can do more.”
Stenehjem made campaign stops in Grand Forks, Fargo and Bismarck on Tuesday, and was in Minot on Wednesday morning before flying into Dickinson. He’ll wrap up his kickoff rally with a stop at Lewis & Clark Elementary School in Williston at 10 a.m. CST Monday.
State Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, a Dickinson Republican who introduced Stenehjem, said he believes the attorney general has a broad experience that appeals to western North Dakotans. Wardner pointed to Stenehjem’s work to curb both human and drug trafficking in the state, as well as his time regulating the oil and agriculture industries as a member of the state’s Industrial Commission.
“He understands western North Dakota,” Wardner said. “He has a knowledge of it, the people, and he has experience.”
Stenehjem, in an interview, hesitated to pinpoint any one issue more important than others to western North Dakotans. He said he believes the federal government’s Clean Power Plan and Waters of the U.S. rule — if implemented in North Dakota — would be devastating to the state.
He added that he believes the state’s energy industry slowdown isn’t going through a bust, and that it’s not comparable to the 1980s bust that hurt western North Dakota.
“There are those who are eager to say this oil boom is now a bust,” he said in his speech. “And it’s not. It is a lull. We know that. That gives us some breathing room. That’s not always a bad thing, to do the development of some of the infrastructure we wish we could have done 10 years ago.”
Along with continuing to build up infrastructure in the Oil Patch, Stenehjem said the state must continue investing into fighting domestic violence and curbing human trafficking there.
“That’s an issue out here and we need to recognize it,” he said.
Rep. Mike Lefor, R-Dickinson, said he has been impressed by Stenehjem’s efforts to fight regulatory overreach on behalf of North Dakotans as attorney general and as a member of the Industrial Commission.
“He’s got a steady hand,” Lefor said. “I think he’s a good decision-maker. We’ve talked about local issues. He’s always been thoughtful and thinks through an issue. I think he comes to excellent decisions. I have a lot of faith in his ability.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that he’s the most qualified candidate for governor. … I fully support him because of that reason.”
Wardner, Lefor and Rep. Vicky Steiner, R-Dickinson, represented their party as Stenehjem stumped.
Sen. Kelly Armstrong of Dickinson, the North Dakota GOP chairman, said Stenehjem’s string of campaign stops this week, combined with Rep. Rick Becker’s announcement earlier this month that he’ll also seek the Republican nomination, are already making for a fun buildup to the Republican state convention next April in Fargo.
“They’re fighting hard for the Republican endorsement, and once they get it, we’re going to go win the second Tuesday in November,” Armstrong said. “I’m just thrilled with all my candidates.”