Independent Dr. Shelley Lenz declared her candidacy for North Dakota governor Friday and is seeking the endorsement of the Democratic-Nonpartisan League Party.
Lenz, of Killdeer, is a veterinarian who owns two practices — one in Killdeer and one in Dickinson.
Lenz is also the founder and president of Sustainable Vets International, a nonprofit founded in 2014 that works to provide sustainable economic development in underserved regions, including Nicaragua, Uganda, Pakistan, Honduras, Guatemala, Peru, Mexico and El Salvador. The organization focuses on veterinary care, agriculture and skill development, such as vocational training.
Lenz wants to run for governor to give a voice to the people of western North Dakota.
"I think that largely our rural and western North Dakota voice is being unheard and unmet in both funds and how they’re being distributed and hearing what our needs are. I think it’s time to bring that kind of unifying voice up on the state level so we have more of a voice at the table," she said.
Although she was born and raised in Ohio, Lenz had family ties to North Dakota prior to moving here.
Her grandfather is from Killdeer but left during the Great Depression and took a job in Ohio as an electrical engineer. Her mother used to visit North Dakota in the summer and was eventually given a significant amount of his land.
"My mom used to come back out here for the summer … My father was actually off-the-boat German. They met in Ohio ... She brought my dad out here, and my dad fell in love with it. He’s in the oil and gas industry also. He’s an engineer, and he had been out here for work stuff back when I was in Ohio," Lenz said.
When her father retired, her parents started spending part of the year in North Dakota and part in Ohio. She and her three siblings came to visit them here.
Lenz received her bachelor's degree in chemistry from Ohio University and her doctorate in neuropharmacology from the University of Pennsylvania before attending veterinary school at Ohio State University.
From there, she moved to Kentucky and treated thoroughbred race horses at the Hagyard-Davidson-McGee equine clinic in Lexington.
"That was great, being trained by the best of the best, working on the best horses, but that’s when I started to develop my vocation for serving the underserved. I am super well trained, and it is great for my ego to be with the big boys, but it is great for my soul, heart to go to the places where they need service,” Lenz said.
She worked in California and South Dakota, then moved to Killdeer where she opened her first veterinary clinic in 2007 — a mobile unit that grew to become the Killdeer Vet Clinic. In 2012, her business expanded to Dickinson.
Lenz's platform focuses on the following:
- Workforce development and recruitment
- Affordable and accessible college and vocational education
- Balanced support between energy and agriculture economies and lifestyles
- Accessible quality health care for all
- Advocating for western North Dakota in the statewide policies and fund distributions
- Community development for quality of life of the state's workforce and families
Lenz wants to see more state investment in vocational training.
"I think we saw a state need to put our money where our mouth is. When we say workforce development, that equals career and technical training. Our workforce is more technical — whether it's a vet technician, your welder, your engineers. The vocational training needs to be invested in," she said.
Lenz said the state needs to create a more stable workforce.
"The wages are naturally increasing, but it doesn’t keep up with the cost of living because everything’s increasing ... We have to mitigate those costs of rent with other costs of services that are just as important to quality of life here," she said.
The Press asked Lenz about the difficulty communities such as Dickinson and Belfield have had when it comes to funding new school facilities. She said the state needs to balance the public school funding equation to put less of a burden on smaller communities.
"We are bragging about our piggy bank that we have. Why aren’t we accessing that now to help our communities? By helping them, that helps the whole state ... Our property taxes have been raised and raised and raised … and we’re still not having the services we need for the quality of life that's demanded of our tough world here," Lenz said.
She said that raising property taxes is not the answer, that money needs to come from another source.
Lenz also wants to emphasize animal agriculture.
"I feel like that is one of our strengths in North Dakota, not only for food security and the best nutrient-dense food that you can have, also our grasslands are a national treasure — actually a world treasure — every time a cow eats grass, those roots, they go 6 feet below. That's carbon capture. That's more important than the forests of the Amazon," she said.
Lenz wants to brand North Dakota beef and make our agricultural products more widely available in the state.
"I would like to see a little bit more branding of our North Dakota beef and everything that brings. Why don't we have more slaughter facilities right here? If we're having a lunch debt problem in our schools, how can that be when we're growing the food right outside of our window? ... That's the bottleneck is the food processing centers. We need a slaughter plant ... When there's a national problem that affects our local ag, North Dakota still needs to be able to eat."
ND is not DC
Lenz stresses the difference between North Dakota politics and Washington, D.C., politics.
"I don't want our state politics to reflect the national politics as much as they seem to be these days," she said. "North Dakotans are very different. Our Republicans are very different. I live in a Republican world, but they're not what's reflected in our national politics. Sometimes our Democratic platform at the national level is wrong, and it doesn't fit for North Dakota. I'm all for a two-party system, but let's focus on more (of a) Democratic and Republican platform more tailored to our state."
Lenz said she's not against the state's Republicans.
"I like Rich Wardner ... I really support Rich. I like what Rich has done for our communities, as much as he can," she said. "I’ve wrote him a couple of times for some issues that were on the legislative chopping block, and he was responsive to that. I called him and the next day, he put it on the floor at the Legislature — ... And that's how it should be. It should be a battle of ideas, not cult personalities. I'll tell you what, they largely are Republican here, and they put bread and butter on mine and my employees' tables every day because they believe in what we do, and I believe in what they do."