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Only two races bring mystery to GOP convention

BISMARCK -- As 1,100 North Dakota Republicans prepare to descend on the Fargo Holiday Inn next weekend, two big questions remain: Who will run for superintendent of public instruction now that the law allows nearly anyone in the office? And, which of two men will become the Public Service Commission candidate?

The convention gets underway at 1 p.m. Friday with an afternoon and evening of various committee meetings, socials and other non-nominating business. Delegates will issue endorsements to candidates all day Saturday and again until around noon on Sunday.

The Democratic-NPL Party holds its state convention in Grand Forks April 4-6.

Seven candidates will be anointed for statewide races on the November ballot. In five of those races, Republicans have little-to-no mystery about who their candidates will be because of lack of competition.

Those are Republican candidates: Governor-lieutenant governor, incumbents John Hoeven and Jack Dalrymple; U.S House, Duane Sand; insurance commissioner, incumbent Adam Hamm; state treasurer, incumbent Kelly Schmidt, and state auditor, incumbent Bob Peterson.

The party doesn't yet have a candidate for state superintendent of public instruction, Chairman Gary Emineth said Friday. The position appears on the no-party ballot so both parties issue letters of support.

"We've got a few people considering it," Emineth said. He and others in the party have been busy trying to woo several potential candidates and there will likely be an announcement in the days leading up to the convention's start. The candidate will oppose Superintendent Wayne Sanstead, a Democrat who has been in office since 1985.

The historic angle is that, this year, for the first time in about 100 years, the candidates for superintendent need not have a teaching certificate. In a controversial bill passed by the Republican-dominated 2007 Legislature, that requirement was stripped from state law. Bill sponsor Rep. Duane DeKrey, R-Pettibone, had in hand an attorney general's opinion saying the state constitution prohibits such a qualifying credential for the office.

Emineth said the party is trying to find "somebody who's passionate about education and who'd be a good administrator." He is careful to discuss with potential candidates issues about how prepared they are for a hard-fought campaign and holding office, with questions such as "Is this right for you and your family," Emineth said.

Saturday's business will see the culmination of a two-way race for the PSC endorsement. College professor and retired Marine Brian Kalk of Fargo and Senate Majority Leader Bob Stenehjem of Bismarck are duking it out for delegates.

The spot is open because incumbent Commissioner Susan Wefald is retiring when her term ends in December.

Hoeven does have a Republican opponent waiting in the wings, DuWayne Hendrickson of Minot, but Hendrickson said Friday he is bypassing the tussle for delegates at the convention and instead will oppose Hoeven on the June primary ballot.

Hendrickson's campaign so far has centered on his dispute with State Fair officials in Minot, whom he accuses of wanting to charge him exorbitant rental fees for sponsoring drag racing at the fairgrounds. He blames Hoeven for not helping him deal with fair officials and local government officials in Minot on the issue and says the fair should be moved to Bismarck.

Hendrickson said that after his brother, Ken Hendrickson of Bismarck, was killed in action in Iraq in 2004, Hoeven came to the funeral and pledged to help with anything Hendrickson would "ever need." Now, he says, Hoeven will not return his calls.

Hoeven campaign manager Don Larson said Hoeven's aides have tried to get back to Hendrickson to find out what he wants to talk to the governor about, but have been unsuccessful.

Hoeven will seek to become the first governor in state history to win three four-year terms. Though one other governor, Democrat William Guy, has served 12 years, Guy did it partly by bridging old and new constitutional provisions. He was elected twice to two-year terms, 1960 and 1962, followed by two elections for four-year terms in 1964 and 1968.

Janell Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Dickinson Press.