I took this picture of Doug Goehring when he hosted an Environmental Protection Agency visit at his farm near Menoken, N.D., in 2010.
It will be fascinating to learn what North Dakota Ag Commissioner Doug Goehring has done to draw the ire of the North Dakota Farm Bureau.
A media advisory on Feb. 3 announces a news conference today at the Ramada Inn, announcing the intentions of Judy Estenson to file for his office. I’ll miss it, but the event is being handled by Dawn Pfeifer, who handles communications for the NDFB in Fargo. This makes it look like the right-leaning organization has a new horse in the 2014 race in which Goehring will try to defend his position. Republican district conventions start next week.
Goehring, of course, was the former NDFB vice president under Eric Aasmundstad of Devils Lake. At the same time he served as president of the Nodak Mutual Insurance Co., as Aasmundstad served as its vice president, through some difficult times for the company.
Goehring tried to be ag commissioner when Democrat-NPL man Roger Johnson was commissioner. It was only when Johnson left the scene to become president of the National Farmers Union, that Goehring was appointed to the position by now Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D. When the NDFB threw some of its political action committee money behind Goehring in 2010, he beat state Rep. Merle Boucher, D-Rolette.
So, what has Goehring done to make the NDFB so mad that they’d challenge a sitting ag commissioner – one of the three members of the North Dakota Industrial Commission, one who has championed the property rights and oil and gas interests that the organization often aligns with?
Was it too much support of animal cruelty felony penalties in the 2013 legislature? Not enough opposition (even though NDFB gave kudos to the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association for their work on the bill). Not enough time for former president Aasmundstad who was then a NDFB lobbyist? Or maybe Goehring didn’t voice enough support to the NDFB’s right-to-farm efforts?
A Google search of Estenson doesn’t offer many hints of why she’s the chosen one. She once wrote a letter to the editor, blasting the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead for supporting the animal measure. I tried to reach her through her farm number at Warwick, N.D., which is south of Devils Lake near Stump Lake National Refuge. But no one immediately called back. (Cell is 701-936-0686, if you’re interested, Ms. Estenson.)
So, what’s happened here?
Did Goehring hire the wrong person at some point? Too many South Dakotans? (Hey, I’m from South Dakota.)
He seems to have picked people with close ties to the NDFB. Goehring’s deputy commissioner, Tom Bodine, of Minot, has a North Carolina degree, but he farmed in North Dakota and held a NDFB leadership post before taking the deputyship. Britt Aasmundstad from Devils Lake is a policy analyst in the department.
Did Goehring on too many trade missions, peddling North Dakota soybeans, corn, pulse and specialty crops? Say the wrong thing sometime or another? Try too hard to protect honeybees?
Whatever: The NDFB has been looking for someone to run against Goehring and they’ve found Estenson. Such a move would likely be vetted before the NDFB’s council of county presidents.
It’ll be fascinating for the relatively few North Dakotans who know much about the office, even though it has extensive regulatory influence over farmers. Occupants of the office have won their votes through elevating their public image with the population centers — cheerleading for farmers and ranchers, helping them to throw away unused chemicals, and helping the state’s folk businesses sell things at Christmas.
It is interesting to imagine what Warwick might do differently than Goehring, and how much the conservatives will spend to beat each other. Or maybe Goehring will just get the message – whatever that is.
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