Dalrymple's out, but who’s in?
BISMARCK - Gov. Jack Dalrymple sent shockwaves through North Dakota's political landscape Monday with his announcement that he won't seek a second full term next year, blowing the gubernatorial race wide open.
BISMARCK – Gov. Jack Dalrymple sent shockwaves through North Dakota’s political landscape Monday with his announcement that he won’t seek a second full term next year, blowing the gubernatorial race wide open.
Dalrymple’s decision was seen by many as a surprise, and it immediately intensified speculation over whether Democratic U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp will seek the state’s highest office and which of the state’s top Republicans will run.
The 66-year-old Republican said he and first lady Betsy Dalrymple are in good health and want to spend more time with their five grandchildren and other family.
“It’s really 100 percent a personal decision about the way we want to spend our time down the road,” he said.
Dalrymple became governor in December 2010 when he replaced Gov. John Hoeven after Hoeven’s election to the U.S. Senate. Dalrymple won his first four-year term in 2012, defeating Democratic state Sen. Ryan Taylor with 63 percent of the vote.
His decision opens the door for potential GOP hopefuls, with Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem often mentioned as possible candidates. But one of North Dakota’s most successful business leaders, Doug Burgum, said Monday that he would not rule out a campaign, perhaps even as an independent.
Dalrymple’s exit from the 2016 race is also sure to fuel a guessing game about Heitkamp’s political plans.
Heitkamp, who is recovering from hip replacement surgery last week, hasn’t ruled out a run for governor but reiterated Monday through spokeswoman Abbie McDonough that she is focusing on her Senate work.
McDonough said Heidi Heitkamp, who lost a governor’s race to Hoeven in 2000, wasn’t available for an interview. In a statement, the senator called Dalrymple “someone who will listen to all sides of a debate and work with those who disagree with him.”
The state’s GOP-controlled Legislature passed a bill this spring requiring a special election to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy, a bill seen by Democrats as an attempt to dissuade Heitkamp to run for governor because she wouldn’t be able to appoint her replacement.
Joel Heitkamp, a talk show host on Fargo radio station KFGO, a former Democratic state senator and Heidi Heitkamp's brother, also didn't rule out a run.
"Almost every politician I know, when they shave in the morning, they see the governor," he said. "Obviously it’s something that I would have to consider, but I love my job."
He said that if he had to bet $10, he'd put it on his sister not running, because she finds her job in the U.S. Senate "really rewarding."
The other potential candidate who also could also keep Joel Heitkamp from entering the race is Doug Burgum, the former CEO of Great Plains Software who led the company through its sale to Microsoft in 2001 for $1.1 billion. That’s despite Burgum, a prominent downtown developer in Fargo, being a Republican who has donated to numerous GOP candidates.
“There’s a lot of things that Doug does, where I would say, why the heck would I get in his way?” Joel Heitkamp said. “He certainly is no far-right-wing party member."
GOP contest likely
North Dakota GOP chairman Kelly Armstrong, a state senator from Dickinson, said he didn’t know if Dalrymple’s decision will prompt a Heidi Heitkamp run, but added, “We’ve been preparing like she’s going to get in the race until she says she’s not going to get in the race.”
In a phone interview, Wrigley praised Dalrymple for his “extraordinary service” but wouldn’t comment on whether he plans to run for governor.
“Kathleen and I look forward to announcing our plans in that regard,” he said, adding he has no time frame set for that announcement.
Stenehjem said up until 10 a.m. Monday, he was convinced that Dalrymple would run again, “and I was thoroughly happy about it, because I enjoy working with him.”
Stenehjem didn’t rule out running for governor, but said, “I hadn’t even considered doing so because I was convinced as most people were that Gov. Dalrymple would run again.”
State GOP Deputy Chairman Jim Poolman said that with most people having assumed Dalrymple would run again, he also expects a number of Republicans – including possibly a couple of state lawmakers and statewide officials – to dip their toes into the political waters to gauge potential support.
“I think we’ve got a strong bench to run against Heidi ... if she chooses to do so,” he said.
Dalrymple declined to comment on his preferred successor.
“There may be a contest, and I think that’s a good thing, and we’ll see who comes forward,” he said.
Mark Jendrysik, a political science professor at the University of North Dakota, said it will be interesting to see who the party coalesces around and how GOP leaders manage the competition.
Lieutenant governor is a good position from which to run, he said, but name recognition can be a problem. Before becoming lieutenant governor, Wrigley was the U.S. attorney for North Dakota from 2001 to 2009. Stenehjem has good name recognition, having won five statewide elections for attorney general dating back to 2000, he said.
“It’s pretty clear whoever runs for the Republicans, if Sen. Heitkamp doesn’t run, is the odds-on favorite to win,” Jendrysik said.
Burgum, who now splits his time between the venture capital firm Arthur Ventures and Kilbourne Group, a real estate redevelopment firm focused on downtown Fargo, noted in an interview Monday that North Dakota’s last three governors – Dalrymple, Hoeven and Ed Schafer – were all private-sector leaders first.
Burgum said his family’s friendship with Dalrymple goes back more than 30 years. His late brother, Brad, was Dalrymple’s campaign treasurer during his first legislative race in 1984.
“As long as Jack was running I was never going to give it any consideration at all. But I guess at this point, I would be open minded about how things might evolve,” Burgum said, adding that could include being an independent candidate.
Democrats tout bench
Poolman said the pressure to decide whether to run is tougher on Heidi Heitkamp because Republicans would likely capture her Senate seat should she vacate it.
The executive director of the state Democratic-NPL Party, Robert Haider, said that while the party has had disagreements with Dalrymple on policy grounds, he and his wife “deserve our gratitude for their decades of service to the people of North Dakota.”
Haider said the party has been aggressively recruiting candidates for 2016, and Dalrymple’s decision won’t affect that.
If Heidi Heitkamp doesn’t run, Haider said Democrats have a strong slate of potential candidates that includes former U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon; Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider of Grand Forks; former state representative and former U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development state director Jasper Schneider; and state Sen. George Sinner of Fargo, who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. House last year.
If Joel Heitkamp were to run, FCC rules would require that the opposing party's candidate receive equal time on the air, or Heitkamp would have to quit his show.
He also said he did not know whether his sister was planning to run, but if she does, "I guarantee you, I won’t stand in her way," he said. "It’s Heidi’s race to run if she wants to run it."
Dalrymple said there’s still a lot to accomplish during his last 16 months in office, including more investments in infrastructure and water projects and boosting property tax relief, in part by relieving counties of the burden of funding social services.
During a sit-down with reporters Monday afternoon, he reflected on his five years in the governor’s office, 10 years as lieutenant governor and 16 years as a state representative.
The Casselton native has led North Dakota through a period of unprecedented prosperity driven largely by oil and gas development and a strong agricultural economy. After decades of population loss, the state has gained population every year since 2004.
Dalrymple said his experience as a state lawmaker in the 1980s, when the state faced stark economic times, “has helped me appreciate that much more what we have achieved now.”
He said he considers diversification of the state’s economy its greatest achievement, made possible by technological advances in oil drilling.
“We really have transformed this state from where it was 20 years ago,” he said.
The state also has experienced unprecedented challenges, and Dalrymple said he expects to make more progress in several areas in the coming year, including reducing flaring of natural gas, conditioning oil for rail transport and providing more oil regulators and law enforcement.
“Really we have tackled these impacts of rapid growth on all fronts, and I think we have made great progress,” he said.
Dalrymple said he and his wife of almost 45 years have been talking about the decision over the summer and made up their minds last week not to seek re-election.
Armstrong said he wasn’t surprised by Dalrymple’s announcement.
“If he’s decided he wants a little personal time, neither I nor anybody else can blame him,” he said.
Hoeven issued a statement highlighting Dalrymple’s years of service to the state and saying he “has earned the appreciation and respect of all North Dakotans.”
Dalrymple said he has no specific plans for life after the governor’s office, saying he may travel and even write a book.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to think that I could actually choose what I want to do,” he said.
Forum reporter Grace Lyden contributed to this report.