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Schafer says Stenehjem would make ‘a fine governor’ under different circumstances

BISMARCK - Former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer says Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem would make "a fine governor" - just not right now. Schafer explained his endorsement of Fargo businessman Doug Burgum in an interview Monday, just hours before t...

Ed Schafer
Ed Schafer

BISMARCK – Former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer says Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem would make “a fine governor” – just not right now.

Schafer explained his endorsement of Fargo businessman Doug Burgum in an interview Monday, just hours before the Burgum campaign released an ad with Schafer endorsing him as “the conservative business leader we need.”

“The best person to improve our budget and our economy is someone from outside the political system, just like I was,” Schafer says in the video.

Burgum lost the Republican endorsement to Stenehjem at the party’s state convention in April but has taken the unusual step of running in the June 14 primary for the GOP nomination and right to face Democratic state Rep. Marvin Nelson of Rolla in November.

Schafer said he likes the business background of Burgum, who grew Great Plains Software in Fargo from a startup and led the company through its $1.1 billion sale to Microsoft in 2001. Burgum has since been involved in downtown Fargo real estate development and investing in other startups.

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“There’s a lot of comment out there that you can’t run government like a business, and that’s true,” Schafer said. “But the skills of budgeting, administration and management are transferable to government.”

Schafer, the highest-profile current or former statewide officeholder to endorse Burgum so far, said it was a difficult decision to endorse him over Stenehjem, who served as a state legislator when Schafer served as governor from 1992 to 2000. Stenehjem was elected attorney general in 2000 and has won re-election four times, most recently in 2014 with 74 percent of the vote.  

“I think Wayne would make a fine governor,” Schafer said. “It’s just when I looked at the time and I looked at the economy and I looked at what I think is a conservative fiscal adjustment and thought who best can do that, I chose Doug Burgum. I think if it were a different time and place I’d choose Wayne Stenehjem.

“It’s tough, because jeez, I’ve known Wayne forever and he’s a friend and he’s been a great attorney general and under different circumstances he’d make a great governor,” Schafer added. “But right now, today, Doug’s the right person for the job.”

Schafer disclosed last week that he planned to vote for Burgum but didn’t make his endorsement official until Monday.

Stenehjem said in an interview Friday that he was “disappointed” that Schafer was supporting Burgum but is happy that he has the endorsement of North Dakota’s two most recent governors: U.S. Sen. John Hoeven and current Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who decided not to seek a second full term in office.

Before being elected in 1992 to the first of two terms as governor, Schafer served as president of the Gold Seal household goods company founded by his father, Harold Schafer, and later operated a fish farm near Beulah called Fish 'N Dakota. Democrats panned Ed Schafer for the financially troubled fish farm, which had wastewater discharge permit violations and led to Schafer settling a lawsuit in 1996 filed by a supplier who claimed he was personally responsible for outstanding bills.

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