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Dems run for governor: Satrom studious, experienced

BISMARCK -- Former North Dakota Gov. Bill Guy has been urging Joe Satrom to run for governor for 12 years. Guy said he saw something promising in the 23-year-old North Dakota State University graduate in 1968 and appointed the Clifford, N.D., far...


BISMARCK -- Former North Dakota Gov. Bill Guy has been urging Joe Satrom to run for governor for 12 years.

Guy said he saw something promising in the 23-year-old North Dakota State University graduate in 1968 and appointed the Clifford, N.D., farmer state travel director. Satrom held the post for eight years, under Guy and Gov. Art Link.

Now Guy calls Satrom the best gubernatorial candidate in 50 years -- "of both parties, including myself."

Satrom is challenging state Rep. Merle Boucher, Rolette, for state Democratic-NPL Party's endorsement to run for governor.

Satrom's fervent supporters say this quiet, reflective man is a natural leader. His life and professional experiences, keen intellect and sterling personal traits portend a skilled, principled governor, they believe.


"One of his very best qualities is how he can work with varying sets of people and bring them together to accomplish a goal," said his wife, Katherine. "He's worked well across party lines. ... Joe respects people. He doesn't look at the label first."

Some Republicans, too, talk admiringly of his abilities and character.

John Pierce, West Fargo, director of planned giving at Concordia College, has known Satrom since they grew up in neighboring farm communities.

Satrom has had tremendous success with "everything he's ever touched," Pierce said. "Anybody who's ever worked with Joe Satrom knows he has a sense of integrity."

Satrom, a former state senator, had abandoned party politics for more than a decade when he began to entertain thoughts of running for governor. State leaders, he believed, had adopted "an introverted conservative view" which the public senses as "a slow and irreversible decline. And that doesn't have to be."

Satrom said that three years ago, "I held some optimism that (Gov.) John Hoeven would exert himself on these issues." By last March, "I realized it wasn't going to happen."

At that point his wife, Katherine, supported his decision to run for the state's highest post.

"People have been asking Joe to run for governor for years, even when he was very young," she said.


A year ago they both "were so disturbed by what was going on and not going on," she said.

Satrom's campaign stresses his breadth of experience in business, having founded -- along with his wife -- Satrom Travel and Tours of Bismarck.

He served in the Army National Guard, the state Senate, and ran the Nature Conservancy's regional office.

The late Harold Schafer -- Republican icon and father of former Gov. Ed Schafer -- tapped Satrom as the first chairman of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation board, which runs Medora tourism.

Satrom's campaign talk is sprinkled liberally with references to his distant past. At 58, he still proudly touts having been editor of the North Dakota State University newspaper, The Spectrum, more than 35 years ago and once being the youngest tourism director in the country.

His biography includes such minutiae as having played first base for the Clifford fast- pitch softball team.

"I think (Satrom) is too steeped in the past," opponent Boucher says. "Dwelling on past achievements is not what it is about."

When Link, Guy and former Gov. George Sinner -- ranging in age from 65 to 90 years old -- endorsed Satrom, Boucher dismissed it, noting that when Guy left office, "I was 26 years old."


Boucher, only a year younger than Satrom, said he respects the party's former governors. "It's a new age. It's time to move on. We can't lament our great past, we've got to think about our future," he said.

But Satrom says citing the past illustrates how he will emulate Guy's appointments of young North Dakotans to public office.

Satrom says he will look to young people "and engage them in more important ways than an internship." (A Hoeven program touts internships in North Dakota businesses to keep young people in the state.)

One of Satrom's young fans Berrett Gall, 20, left the failed Howard Dean presidential campaign to join the Satrom campaign, going on the payroll two weeks ago.

A candidate's life and views should have personal stories behind them, Gall said, so those past anecdotes are important.

Satrom relates well with young people and sought out all the young Democrats' groups, Gall said. "He's a brilliant, brilliant man .... We want change. We're not seeing that over the last four years."

Satrom says Hoeven's reputation is of one who is "evasive of direct action."

Among other things, Satrom challenged Hoeven over the state's country-of- origin labeling law for meat products, saying it's not being enforced.


Hoeven says Satrom is completely wrong.

"We enforce it to the extent that we can," the governor said. "Either he doesn't understand it or he's engaging in negative campaigning."

Hoeven called on Satrom to "put forward his ideas, not just engage in negative campaigning."

Neither man is known for histrionics or spitfire sound bites like Boucher.

Satrom, who admits having a studious nature, is remarkably soft spoken, has had to work to loosen up and use more humor on the campaign stump. In conversation, one of the most striking things is his laughter -- a soft, high-pitched giggle.

Friend Carol Jean Larsen, who for several years managed the Satrom travel company, says he can get angry.

"You look at his face and you know he's mad," she said. "But he does not hold a grudge. I've never heard him raise his voice."

Satrom's life isn't all heavy reading and brokering compromises on complex topics. His family benefits from his training as an Army cook who specialized in baking pastries.


"I still bake pies. I love to bake," he says. "I used to bake bread. I make dinner all the time."

It's his domestic side that took him out of the Senate 12 years ago after a decade of representing a central Bismarck district.

The Satroms adopted daughter Sarah in 1987 and by 1991, Joe realized he couldn't devote himself to both parenting and politics. He chose not to run again.

Now he's dived back in, calling delegates, traveling, raising funds to oppose a well-financed incumbent, all while keeping a full time job.

Satrom and his boss at Ducks Unlimited, Jeff Nelson, believe that if nominated Saturday, he will take a leave of absence to campaign.

From what he sees, Satrom is a good campaigner, Nelson said. "He knows everybody in North Dakota. I have yet to go to lunch with Joe Satrom (around the state) and not have him know someone in the restaurant."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Janell Cole at (701) 224-0830

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