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Sinner accepts Democratic nomination for Congress: Former governor draws contrast with Cramer

FNS Photo by David Samson Former North Dakota Gov. George B. Sinner greets supporters Saturday at the state Democratic-NPL Party Convention in Fargo after receiving the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Kevin Cramer for North Dakota’s U.S. House of Representative seat.

FARGO — George B. Sinner and Kevin Cramer both grew up in Cass County but took divergent career paths that now are colliding in the race for North Dakota’s lone seat in Congress.

Sinner, a longtime banker and son of a former governor, accepted the endorsement Saturday of the Democratic-NPL Party to unseat Republican Cramer, a first-term incumbent in the U.S. House.

In accepting his nomination at the Fargo Civic Center, Sinner and his fellow Democrats drew a sharp contrast between the two candidates, one a relative newcomer to politics, the other a career politician.

“He collected a government paycheck year after year, always needing more, and all the time complaining about the excesses of government,” Sinner said of Cramer, a former member of the Public Service Commission who previously held posts in Republican statehouse administrations.

Sinner, elected two years ago to the North Dakota Senate from a traditional Republican stronghold district in south Fargo, portrayed himself as someone who can work with both parties to find consensus and solve problems.

“That’s what I will bring to Washington — balance, bipartisanship, compromise and results,” Sinner said.

By contrast, the first-time statewide candidate and other Democrats painted Cramer as a tea party extremist — “a captive of the right wing of the right wing,” out of step with North Dakota, in the words of former Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who nominated Sinner.

Cramer joined House Republicans in delaying passage of a farm bill and in forcing last year’s shutdown of the federal government, as well as risking a default on the nation’s debt, Sinner said.

Although Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., donated their paychecks to charity during the partial government shutdown, Cramer refused, and said in a television interview, “… I don’t feel guilty about the salary I earn and that the people pay me and if it becomes a problem, you know, that’s what elections are about, but we have bigger issues here to deal with.”

Sinner, who referenced Cramer’s comment, said in response, “Yes, congressman, that is what elections are for,” and pledged to be “a politician who will find solutions and get results.”

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who gave the convention keynote address, said he needs Sinner in the House to work on issues with members of both parties and said Democratic leaders told him that Sinner would have a seat on the House Agriculture Committee if elected.

“We need more people in the middle that can work this stuff out,” said Peterson, whose Minnesota lake home near Detroit Lakes is by the Sinner family’s. “We need George Sinner in the Congress.”

Conrad and his two fellow members of what Democrats called “Team North Dakota” — former Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and former Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D. — gave convention speeches Saturday to rally the 460 delegates and 87 alternates, urging them to go home to their districts to campaign hard for their slate of candidates.

Pomeroy recalled a “barnburner of a convention” 30 years ago in Minot, when George “Bud” Sinner — Sinner’s father — was nominated to run for governor, the late Nick Spaeth for attorney general, Bob Hansen for treasurer, Sarah Vogel for agriculture commissioner and himself for insurance commissioner.

All five candidates went on to beat the Republicans, although state government was shared between the two major parties in that era, in contrast to the lock Republicans have on the statehouse.

“North Dakotans, they’ve got balance, and their government doesn’t,” Pomeroy said, sounding a common theme at the convention.

Democrats also endorsed April Fairfield, who served 10 years in the legislature, for secretary of state and Todd Reisenauer for a seat on the Public Service Commission.

Fairfield will oppose Republican Al Jaeger, who has held the secretary of state post for almost 22 years. She accused the incumbent of mismanagement, including a botched computer system and unreliable online access for business filings.

“Maybe he’s just tired,” said Fairfield, who runs a small nonprofit organization in Bismarck. “He’s been at it a long time.”

Fairfield also criticized Jaeger for reducing the hours of his service counter to businesses that had to file with his office and for going along with a restrictive voter registration law passed by fellow Republicans that she said is disenfranchising voters, including the elderly, the disabled and students.

Reisenauer, who grew up on a cattle ranch near Dickinson and now works in Fargo as a business consultant, blamed the all-Republican Public Service Commission for failing to adequately regulate utilities and pipelines.

The result, he said, has been chaos in western North Dakota, including electricity “brownouts” in Williston that led two of his business clients to leave the state.

“We see the effects of special interests,” Reisenauer said. “We see the effect of unresponsive and ineffective governance. That is what I am going to Bismarck to change.”

Democrats also highlighted 21 women who serve or are seeking a seat in the Legislature, saying they are needed in an assembly that last session passed the nation’s most restrictive abortion laws.

North Dakota Republicans gather next weekend in Minot to endorse their candidates for the Nov. 4 election.

Patrick Springer

Patrick Springer first joined the reporting staff of The Forum in 1985. He can be reached by calling 701-241-5522. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to