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(Photo by Mike Nowatzki / Forum News Service) North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring parades around the GOP State Convention floor with Doris Bromenschenkel of Fargo and other supporters before receiving the Republican Party's endorsement on Sunday, April 6, 2014, at the State Fair Center in Minot.

Ag commissioner Goehring survives GOP endorsement challenge

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Ag commissioner Goehring survives GOP endorsement challenge
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

MINOT -– North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring survived a hard-fought challenge from Warwick nurse and rancher Judy Estenson for the Republican Party’s endorsement on Sunday at the GOP State Convention in Minot.

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Goehring received 624 delegate votes, compared with 245 for Estenson.

The convention had 941 delegates registered Sunday morning, requiring 471 for a majority. Seventy-two registered delegates were absent or didn’t vote.

Estenson thanked supporters and asked for a unanimous ballot for Goehring, and delegates confirmed his endorsement.

Goehring accepted it and asked for the party’s support in his campaign, saying, “The Democrats are going to run hard this year.

“They think they’ve got issues. It’s doom and gloom. It’s fear-mongering. We’ve got to tell the great story of North Dakota,” he said.

State Sen. Jerry Klein of Fessenden nominated Goehring, noting the GOP will have a tough race against Democrat Ryan Taylor, a cattle rancher and former state senator from Towner who made an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2012.

“But Doug is the one person who has proven he can keep this critical office in Republican hands,” Klein said.

Klein said Goehring has stood up to overreaching regulators and left-wing environmental groups and opened new markets for North Dakota farm commodities.

“Why on earth would we abandon our candidate who is doing a great job, is a proven vote-getter?” he said.

Klein recalled how party infighting contributed to Democrat Sarah Vogel winning the agriculture commissioner’s office in 1988, leading to 20 years of occupation by Democrats and the loss of control of the Industrial Commission. Losing those offices again at a critical time for the state’s energy industry “will certainly set North Dakota back,” he warned.

Estenson, a registered nurse who also operates a cattle and grain farm in rural Warwick with her husband, Hal, announced her bid for the endorsement in February.

North Dakota Farm Bureau leaders supported Estenson, saying they’d lost confidence in Goehring, in part because of policy differences and complaints about what Goehring has acknowledged were “politically incorrect” actions and statements toward female staffers. The Menoken farmer has said he apologized to employees and addressed the issues through sensitivity training.

Goehring, a former vice president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau and past president of its Nodak Mutual Insurance Co., didn’t acknowledge Estenson’s challenge during his pre-endorsement speech, instead focusing on his accomplishments, including leading trade missions that have helped grow exports by over 50 percent since 2010.

“Folks, that’s real progress,” he said.

Estenson acknowledged her support from Farm Bureau and Liberty North Dakota, but she told delegates that anyone who knows her “knows this is my campaign and it’s my candidacy.”

She said her intentions “were to do no harm to the Republican Party.”

“I have never intended to divide this party,” she said.

As proof, she said she wouldn’t campaign beyond the convention unless she received the endorsement, a difference between her and Goehring that she pointed out during her speech to delegates. Goehring had earlier said he would run in the primary if he lost the endorsement.

District 29 chairman Tom Christensen, who nominated Estenson, said she “did not enter this race to satisfy her ego.” He said arguments made since her bid announcement that she has no name recognition, hasn’t paid her party dues and hasn’t held elected office “don’t hold water.”

Both candidates said the state’s growing and prosperous agriculture industry and oil and gas industry can coexist and that they would fight to protect the rights of private landowners.

Democrats are hoping to take the agriculture commissioner’s seat from Republicans and gain a spot on the important Industrial Commission, the three-member panel that decides policy for the state’s booming oil and gas industry. The governor and attorney general round out the commission.

Goehring made two failed bids for agriculture commissioner in 2006 and 2008 before being appointed to the post in April 2009 after Democrat Roger Johnson resigned to become president of the National Farmers Union.

Goehring won a four-year term in 2010 with Farm Bureau backing, grabbing 68 percent of the vote.

The heated endorsement race had several convention speakers calling for togetherness in the party.

To start the morning, former state party chairman Gary Emineth spoke of party unity and asked delegates to reach out and hold hands to pray the Lord’s Prayer.

Public Service Commissioner Randy Christmann said “we’re all on the same team here” and urged delegates to “respect each other in our moments of disagreement.”

“If we fail to come together as a team, believe me, the Democrats are ready to fill any void that we leave,” he said.

District 28 delegate Andrew Bornemann of Kintyre sported an Estenson sticker as he chatted with two fellow delegates and friends from same district wearing Goehring stickers. He said he doesn’t think Estenson’s challenge created division within the party that will affect the outcome of the November election.

“Obviously, I’d rather have either of them than the Democratic alternative,” he said.

In other business Sunday, delegates unanimously endorsed Public Service Commission Chairman Brian Kalk, a Bottineau native and Marine Corps veteran who taught at North Dakota State University, for a second six-year term on the PSC.

Kalk called for more oil and gas pipelines in the state and said the differences between his view of the energy industry and that of his Democratic opponent, Fargo businessman Todd Reisenauer, are “profound.”

“When the other side looks at the energy industry, they see problems. I see challenges. … I see opportunity,” he said.

Delegates also endorsed Secretary of State Al Jaeger, who has previously won six terms in office, one of which was a two-year term. He spent about 20 years as a real estate broker before being elected in 1992.

His Democratic opponent, former state legislator and nonprofit director April Fairfield of Bismarck, has characterized Jaeger as incompetent and criticized his handling of a new voter identification law that requires proof of ID at the polls and removed the option of voting by affidavit.

Jaeger said Sunday he’s proud of North Dakota’s history of well-run elections, and he defended the voter ID law.

“I, for one, want to have the comfort of knowing that every other voter who casts a ballot is a qualified North Dakota elector,” he said, earning the loudest applause during his speech.

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Mike Nowatzki
Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.
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