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Stressing unity, Burgum gets warm welcome from big crowd at GOP luncheon

BISMARCK - In the same room where his shocked opponent conceded the Republican nomination for governor two weeks earlier, Doug Burgum addressed a receptive crowd of GOP faithful Tuesday, sharing his vision for the office and speaking of unity to ...

Doug Burgum addressed a receptive crowd of GOP faithful Tuesday at Bismarck Municipal Country Club. Photo by Mike Nowatzki / Forum News Service
Doug Burgum addressed a receptive crowd of GOP faithful Tuesday at Bismarck Municipal Country Club. Photo by Mike Nowatzki / Forum News Service
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BISMARCK - In the same room where his shocked opponent conceded the Republican nomination for governor two weeks earlier, Doug Burgum addressed a receptive crowd of GOP faithful Tuesday, sharing his vision for the office and speaking of unity to party diehards whose endorsed candidate he defeated.

The 75 to 80 people who showed up at Bismarck Municipal Country Club to hear from the Fargo entrepreneur was a record for the monthly GOP chairman's luncheon, which typically draws anywhere from 15 to 50 people, party chairman Kelly Armstrong said.

Among those in the crowd was Sen. Brad Bekkedahl of Williston, a member of the Legislature's GOP supermajority, many of whom bristled at Burgum's criticisms of "the good ol' boy network" and "runaway" state spending during his campaign against Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

Bekkedahl said he heard a "pretty strong message of unity" from Burgum when the longtime GOP contributor said he would support the campaigns of the party's statewide and legislative candidates.

"I think that was a huge message," Bekkedahl said.

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Burgum bested Stenehjem by more than 20 percentage points in the June 14 primary, despite GOP state convention delegates endorsing Stenehjem in April. He's widely considered a heavy favorite in November against Democratic state Rep. Marvin Nelson of Rolla and Libertarian candidate Marty Riske of Fargo. Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple did not seek a second full term.

Burgum's 17-minute speech, followed by about 10 minutes of question-and-answer, touched on familiar themes: diversifying the state's economy, the need for better data to guide decisions, his gratitude for supporters and his respect for Stenehjem, who has 2½ years left in his term as attorney general and with whom Burgum pledged to work "shoulder-to-shoulder" on initiatives such as corrections reform.

"Part of this teamwork is again appreciating the team that we were competing with," he said.

Striking a cooperative tone to an audience that included several state agency heads, Burgum said "we've got people in this room that are smartly working" on the state's short-term budget problems.

"If I'm governor and people say, 'We need more money, we need more money,' the answer right now is going to be, 'No, you don't need more money, you need better ideas.' ... I want to see results, not budgets. Everyone fights about budgets. Let's fight about results," he said, drawing applause.

Bekkedahl said the speech gave him some insight into Burgum's comments during his campaign.

"I saw a hand extended here that, as a legislator, I really appreciated," he said.

In an interview afterward, Burgum said he had "a great first day at the Capitol" on Monday. He met with Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner of Dickinson for two hours before attending a meeting of the Legislature's Budget Section, during which legislators were told that the governor may call them into special session if the July revenue forecast predicts another significant shortfall. He's also been in contact with Dalrymple, who will deliver the proposed executive budget for 2017-19 before leaving office in mid-December.

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"Part of the message that was sent (by voters) was that let's address the economic reality, and that's what the legislators are doing right now. So, I mean, I think we're all on the same page," Burgum said.

Armstrong, a state senator from Dickinson, praised Burgum's efforts and predicted that if he wins, GOP lawmakers will be ready to work with him when the Legislature convenes in January.

"The reality is everybody needed a little time," he said.

Related Topics: DOUG BURGUM
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