Doug Burgum Learns the Hard Way Not to Use Political Talking Points From North Dakota Democrats


New North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum speaks with cabinet members on his first day of office Thursday morning at the state Captiol in Bismarck. There are 17 cabinet positions with Burgum replacing a few of the postions with new members or with people filling in for the interim during the transition from former Gov. Jack Dalrymple's administration. 12-15-2016

Back during last year’s campaign season I was an outspoken critic of then-gubernatorial candidate Doug Burgum’s campaign.

It earned me a lot of flak from Burgum’s supporters, which turned out to be a landslide majority of the state’s voters, but I argued consistently that his primary campaign was as phony as a three dollar bill. That the candidate was saying and doing a lot of things he didn’t really mean.

I stand by that criticism, though I like Burgum himself a great deal and feel he’s already showing that he can be a great leader for our state. He was just doing what he felt he had to do to win the election.

Now some of it is coming back to haunt him.

In May of last year, when the heated primary between Burgum and fellow Republican Wayne Stenehjem was near its apogee, it was revealed that the oil industry seemed to have sided with Stenehjem. That’s where most of their donations were going, anyway.

When Burgum was asked about that, he decided to swipe a talking point from the state’s Democrats and cast the contributions as somehow inappropriate given that our state’s Governor is one part of a triumvirate  called the Industrial Commission which, among other things, regulates oil and gas development.

“If you’re a member of the NDIC and you’re asking for someone’s support and you regulate that industry and they know you’re going to continue to regulate them, think about the power dynamic,” Burgum told reporter Mike Nowatzki (who is today Burgum’s public relations guy).

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]I don’t think Burgum really meant what he said when he condemned the oil industry contributions to Stenehjem….That was a thing Burgum felt he had to say to throw some dirt on his opponent.[/mks_pullquote]

I ripped Burgum for saying that. I pointed out that Democrats had been campaigning on that talking point in one election cycle after another since at least 2012, and losing. I pointed out that the energy folks, just like any other group of concerned citizens, have every right to spend money promoting the candidates and policies they prefer.

I also wrote that “Burgum would absolutely accept campaign contributions from oil and coal interests” if they’d been offered.

And on that last point I was right. Once Stenehjem was out of the race the oil industry turned their support to Burgum, and the candidate accepted.

“Gov. Doug Burgum accepted more than $100,000 in campaign contributions from oil company executives last fall, despite comments he made as a candidate that accepting donations from the oil industry would be a conflict of interest,” my colleague Amy Dalrymple reports this weekend.

The story here is not that the energy folks made perfectly legal, disclosed campaign contributions to a candidate (just like people representing all sorts of other industries and interests did), but that Burgum flip-flopped.

I don’t think Burgum really meant what he said when he condemned the oil industry contributions to Stenehjem. Again, his primary campaign was built around the candidate saying whatever it took to win. That was a thing Burgum felt he had to say to throw some dirt on his opponent.

But this particular bit of flung mud ricocheted. Not only is this issue a non-starter for North Dakota voters – again, Democrats haven’t exactly been riding it to election day success – it also makes Burgum look petty and calculating.

The sin here wasn’t the oil industry supporting the candidate they feel will best represent their interests. Everyone involved in politics does that. The sin was in Burgum attacking their motivations, and the integrity of his opponent, because he thought it made for a nice election year talking point.