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Other views: It’s open season for ag commissioner job

What was looking to be another ho-hum tilt for North Dakota commissioner of agriculture could be one of the spotlight races of the 2014 political season. Instead of grousing over a likely slam-dunk for a popular Republican incumbent, Democrats are salivating over the real possibility they can win the ag office.

Unlikely? It seemed so just a few months ago. But then the state’s most influential Republican-aligned farm organization, the North Dakota Farm Bureau, threw incumbent Doug Goehring under the bus and recruited Warwick-area farmer/rancher/nurse Judy Estenson to challenge him for the party’s endorsement. Citing disagreements with Goehring’s commitment to policies the bureau favors, and concerns about his conduct regarding women employees in his office, Farm Bureau leaders said they would work to convince convention delegates that political newcomer Estenson was a better choice.

Democrats smiled and mobilized. In short order, one of the state’s high-profile Democrats, former state senator and candidate for governor Ryan Taylor, said he would seek his party’s endorsement. Unlike Republicans who will tussle over Goehring and Estenson at their convention, Democrats in convention will be united behind Taylor, a Towner rancher.

Moreover, should Estenson win the endorsement, Goehring said he will run as a Republican in the primary — a situation that will further exacerbate the family fight.

The down-ballot ag race seldom is a headline-maker. It will be different this time. Among the commissioner’s duties is serving with the governor and attorney general on the Industrial Commission, which is making headlines every day because of its role in monitoring and regulating the booming oil and gas industry.

Critics contend the three Republicans on the commission are not doing enough to ameliorate oil development impacts — that they are too cozy with the industry. Others suggest a different political view and new regulatory perspective can bring needed balance to the commission. That’s the theme Taylor sounded when he announced his candidacy. Given daily news reports from oil country, that theme resonates with more North Dakotans every day — and that factor could change the political equation.

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead’s Editorial Board formed this opinion.