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‘Legendary’ Dem-NPL figure Hoffner dies at age 91

BISMARCK - Sebastian "Buckshot" Hoffner, a longtime state legislator who played a key role in the 1958 merger of North Dakota's Nonpartisan League and Democratic Party, died Thursday at a long-term care facility in Bismarck. He was 91.

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Sebastian “Buckshot” Hoffner

BISMARCK – Sebastian “Buckshot” Hoffner, a longtime state legislator who played a key role in the 1958 merger of North Dakota’s Nonpartisan League and Democratic Party, died Thursday at a long-term care facility in Bismarck. He was 91.

“Buckshot was one of those legendary political figures in North Dakota who will be long-remembered,” former Democratic-NPL executive director Jim Fuglie said in a statement. “He was colorful, articulate, honest, and unwavering in his loyalty to traditional Nonpartisan League principles. … The state has lost one of its political giants.”

Born on the family farm near Esmond, Hoffner joined the U.S. Army during World War II and served in England, where he met his future wife, Pat, who died in 2008.  

In the 1950s, Hoffner became active in a group of progressives and Democrats who called themselves “Insurgents” and sought to unite the Democratic Party and NPL, which had split into liberal and conservative factions.

“You needed someone with some stick-to-it-ness, and he was one of them,” fellow Insurgent and former Lt. Gov. Lloyd Omdahl said.

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Success quickly followed for the newly merged party, starting with Quentin Burdick’s election to the U.S. House in November 1958. Two years later, William Guy won his first term as governor, an office that would remain in Dem-NPL hands for 28 of the next 32 years. Hoffner was elected NPL chairman that same year.

Hoffner won a seat in the North Dakota House of Representatives in 1962 and would eventually serve 10 years in the House and eight years in the Senate. He also ran unsuccessfully for Congress, state agriculture commissioner and governor.

Former House Majority Leader Earl Strinden of Grand Forks recalled battling Hoffner in the Legislature over several contentious issues, including the coal severance tax.

“We obviously had our differences, but I found him to be a straightforward individual who was dedicated to serving the citizens of North Dakota, and we had a very cordial relationship over many, many sessions and many years,” he said. “He was well-respected by those on both sides of the political aisle.”

According to Fuglie, Hoffner often said that his proudest accomplishment in the Legislature was passage of the state’s open records and open meetings laws, considered some of the broadest sunshine laws in the nation.

After losing the Dem-NPL nomination for governor in 1984 to eventual winner George “Bud” Sinner, Hoffner was appointed by Sinner to be executive director of the North Dakota Centennial Commission, overseeing planning for the state’s 100th birthday celebration in 1989.

Hoffner left the commission in 1990 and retired from active politics.

As a founder and executive director of the Missouri Valley Historical Society, he spearheaded efforts to create Buckstop Junction, a historic town just east of Bismarck. Society board member Marlette Pittman said that without Hoffner’s knowledge and drive, the town may not have materialized.

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“He went around and found buildings and talked people into donating them,” she said. “And he donated tons of time. It was his life’s passion for 15 years.”

Hoffner is survived by three children, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

 

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