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Hoeven's exit makes state history

BISMARCK -- John Hoeven will make state history this week as he becomes North Dakota's first governor to voluntarily resign.

After 10 years as the state's leader, the Republican will appear before state legislators Tuesday to give a speech and transfer the governorship to Lt. Gov Jack Dalrymple.

The ceremony begins at 11:30 a.m. CST in the House chamber. The day's events will be "groundbreaking," said Rick Collin of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

"We've never been down this road before as far as what kind of ceremony takes place," he said.

The four previous North Dakota governors to leave before their terms were up either died or were removed from office. In a case, a new job representing North Dakota in the U.S. Senate awaits.

Hoeven doesn't think Tuesday will be too emotional for him.

"It would be except I really do look at us going forward, continuing to serve the people of North Dakota," he said. "I think if that weren't the case I would be more emotional about it."

Hoeven is the state's second-longest serving governor and the only governor to be elected to three four-year terms, Collin said. Bill Guy served 12 years, with two two-year terms and two four-year terms.

Hoeven sat down with Forum Communications to reflect on the past 10 years and look to the future.

Key achievements

Anyone who has listened to Hoeven in the past 10 years knows his emphasis on "more jobs, better-paying jobs." So when asked what he thinks his key achievements as governor are, "job creation" is his first reaction.

"That's why I ran in the first place for governor, and that's why I ran for the Senate. For me, job creation is No. 1," he said.

Hoeven said his first priority after being elected governor in 2000 was putting in place a strategic plan for economic development.

This included establishing the Department of Commerce and targeting five key areas: value-added agriculture, advanced manufacturing, technology-based businesses, tourism and energy. Getting key players at the local, state and federal level working together was also important, Hoeven said.

Early on, he pushed to create Centers of Excellence, a concept to link higher education with job creation and economic development. To date, 23 centers are approved, and a 2009 state report says the program created 2,060 jobs.

"When we started, North Dakota was losing population. Young people were going other places," Hoeven said. "The whole focus here was creating more opportunity in North Dakota."

Hoeven also discussed his support for military troops and his push for bonuses for combat deployments, education funding and more outreach to help with post traumatic stress syndrome.

"I've worked hard to support them because they do so much for us," Hoeven said.

Hoeven also believes he's taken "a very tough approach on law and order" and cited the state's task force on violent sexual offenders as an example. He said his administration made progress in improving education funding, providing tax relief and growing energy development.

At the start of his administration, per capita income in North Dakota was 84 percent of the national average, Hoeven said. Now, the state is at 103 percent.

North Dakota's success is being touted nationwide through the media and national business rankings. While many point to the state's oil boom, Hoeven said 70 percent of the state's 13,000-plus job openings are outside the oil and gas producing counties.

Nurture vs. nature?

Some have said Hoeven was lucky to serve in a time when North Dakota's business and energy sectors were soaring. We asked how he distinguishes his impact on the state from what would have occurred naturally.

Hoeven said it's important to look at the full decade and the state's consistent growth. He points to the importance of creating a good environment for growth to occur.

In 2001, the state began creating a comprehensive energy plan known as EmPower North Dakota, which continues to be modified and in use today.

Ten years ago, companies were leaving the Williston basin, so the state asked what it could do to keep them investing, Hoeven said. As a result, the state created the oil and gas research fund, put tax incentives in place and improved U.S. Highway 2.

Through the Centers of Excellence, a Williston program was started to train oil patch workers who formerly had to go out of state to get training, Hoeven said. The state also created a Pipeline Authority to help move more product to market.

Hoeven emphasized the importance of creating a diverse economy "so that you're not only growing more over time, but more stable over time."

Did he do enough?

We asked Hoeven to name policy areas in which he wished he'd done more.

Hoeven said the state continues to work on energy development, including infrastructure needs. The upcoming state budget will look to address the issue and help communities with housing, sewer and water needs, he said.

Flood protection in the Red River Valley is also a continuing process, which Hoeven said he plans to be "very involved" with at the federal level. He also said there's more to be done with Devils Lake.

"This is ongoing work. You continue to work on these things," he said.

Personal reflections

Discussing his favorite personal memories, Hoeven spoke of how much he enjoyed the enthusiasm of young people.

"They enjoy meeting us, but I'm not so sure we don't get a bigger kick out of it than they do," he said.

Hoeven said another thing that strikes him is the enthusiasm for the state that now exists.

"When we go out and talk to people about North Dakota now, we love the reaction we get," he said. "They go, 'The state's doing a lot of great things up there.'"

Hoeven also recalled his push in his first legislative session for a $3,000 increase in teacher compensation and how he forced a special session in 2003 to ensure 70 percent of new education funding goes to teacher compensation.

Hoeven's time with troops also ranks high on his memories list, including his visits to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hoeven also had his difficult times, such as the news of soldiers' deaths.

"When you first find out and then I call the family, I don't think there's anything harder," said Hoeven, who made a point to attend soldiers' funerals.

Hoeven also talked about the "very difficult, very emotional" search for University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin, as well as the devastation in Northwood after the 2007 tornado.

Hoeven said he would miss "everything" about being governor.

The future

Hoeven looks forward to starting his new job as senator in early January. He's excited to serve on the Energy and Appropriations committees, "so I can hit the ground running for the people of North Dakota."

He expects to continue his working relationship with Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and thinks that will be a strength going into his new job. He said it will be a change to go from being the head of the state to being one of 100 senators, but said his experience working with state legislators to get major changes approved will help.

"I think that my approach has always been to work with everyone. I'm going to Washington, D.C., with the sense that I need to work with everybody," he said. "You've got to build the kind of coalitions it takes to pass legislation and get things done."

When asked what criteria he will use to determine whether he goes along with Republican leadership on issues, Hoeven said he doesn't expect his 10-year record of working for North Dakotans to change.

"I try to think things through very carefully and determine what's best for the people of North Dakota and the country and that's how I'll make my decisions," he said.

Hoeven said it's too soon to say how he hopes North Dakota history remembers him.

"I'm just changing my role from governor to senator, so the work continues," he said. "I hope they think of me as somebody who is honored to work for the people of North Dakota, enjoys it, appreciates the opportunity and is excited about continuing the work."

Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.