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Plain Talk: A giant of North Dakota politics calls it a career

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem joins Plain Talk to discuss his retirement, and Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak talks about the ethics debate.

Wayne Stenehjem. Forum file photo
Wayne Stenehjem.
Forum file photo

Wayne Stenehjem has served the state of North Dakota in elected office for more than 40 years, from his stint in the Legislature starting in the mid-1970s to two decades serving as attorney general.

Now, he's calling it a career, announcing that he'll step down once his current four-year term is up. Stenehjem joined this episode of Plain Talk to discuss it.

A school official frustrated with a reporter's coverage was able to convince a law enforcement agent to launch an investigation that included seizing that reporter's phone so she could comb through all the personal and professional information on it. That shouldn't have happened, and it cannot happen again.

To say that his career was consequential for our state would be an understatement. In the Legislature, where he served with two of his brothers, Alan and Bob, something he believes to be unprecedented in America's legislative bodies, he had a hand in creating the open records and meetings law state government operates under today. He pushed for a uniform court system, moving it beyond an antiquated system that saw different areas of North Dakota served by different sorts of courts. When he became attorney general in 2000, the state of North Dakota didn't even have a crime lab to handle evidence like fingerprints and DNA.
But it wasn't all serious business. Stenehjem also recounts how he reacted with his brother Bob, then the Senate majority leader, would steal his parking space at the Capitol during a legislative session.

Also on this episode, North Dakota has had an ongoing debate about ethics for years now, well before voters approved an ethics amendment for the state constitution. Some of the people behind that push have notions about what constitutes ethics, as far as campaign finance go, that are hard to square with how Americans have traditionally viewed free speech and participatory democracy.

Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak, whose office has become ground zero for this argument, joined Plain Talk to discuss.


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