Longtime North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem announces retirement

Wayne Stenehjem announced Friday, Dec. 17, that he will not seek reelection next year to the office he has held since 2001.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.
North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.
Forum file photo
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BISMARCK — The longest-serving attorney general in North Dakota history will retire at the end of next year.

Republican Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem announced Friday, Dec. 17, that he will not seek reelection next year to the office he has held since 2001.

The 68-year-old Capitol mainstay told reporters he wants to spend more time at home in the Bismarck area and traveling abroad with his recently retired wife, Beth.

Stenehjem touted accomplishments his office has made in busting up locally operated meth labs, mitigating human trafficking and reducing driving under the influence. He added that he's proud to have stood up for open records laws and lobbied for the establishment of a crime lab that analyzes physical evidence. 

The attorney general said he has advocated for the state on environmental issues as a member of the Industrial Commission, noting that he helped set regulations on the flaring of natural gas during oil production. Stenehjem said one of his top triumphs remains his office’s 2004 victory of $30 million for the city of Mandan after a massive underground diesel spill at a BNSF Railway yard


Last year, Stenehjem joined an unsuccessful Texas lawsuit disputing then-President-elect Joe Biden's victory in a handful of battleground states. Earlier this year, the attorney general joined several still-pending lawsuits against the Biden administration over COVID-19 vaccine mandates for federal contractors, health care professionals and employees of large businesses.

Stenehjem has held public positions in North Dakota nearly his entire adult life, first winning election to the state House of Representatives in 1976. After four years in the lower chamber, Stenehjem served two decades in the Senate, including seven years with his older brother, Bob, who later became Senate majority leader.

After a successful bid for attorney general in 2000, Stenehjem won his last five elections to the office by landslide margins.

"I ran for public office because of my love for North Dakota, and my love for our state has only grown during that time," Stenehjem said.

In 2016, Stenehjem had his eyes set on the governor’s office and even won the Republican endorsement in a hotly contested race with Bismarck Rep. Rick Becker and Fargo entrepreneur Doug Burgum. However, Burgum prevailed in an ensuing GOP primary election, dashing Stenehjem’s chances.

Burgum said Friday that Stenehjem is the “epitome of a dedicated public servant,” adding that his “chief concern has always been the safety and well-being of North Dakota citizens.”

North Dakota's Republican U.S. Senators, John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, congratulated Stenehjem on a well-earned retirement.

"Throughout his career Attorney General Stenehjem has been a tireless advocate and force for North Dakota advancing the cause of federalism and states’ rights," Cramer said in a statement.


Stenehjem noted that he still has more than a year left in office, and he will focus on wrapping up ongoing litigation with opioid producers and marketers, getting the federal government to pick up the tab for policing during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests and prosecuting out-of-state robocallers. 

The attorney general said the best advice he can give to his successor in the “incredibly important office” is to follow the rule of the law and hire the best people and let them do their jobs.  

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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