ND ag commissioner admits to inappropriate comment


By Rob Port | North Dakota Watchdog

POLITICALLY INCORRECT: North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring admited in an email to members of the North Dakota Farm Bureau that he had made an inappropriate comment to staff.

BISMARCK, N.D. — In an email to members of the North Dakota Farm Bureau, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, a Republican, admits to making an inappropriate comment to staff, which, he says, the state Human Resources Department investigated.

Judy Estenson, a farmer and nurse from the Devils Lake area, is expected to announce a primary challenge to Goehring on Tuesday with what seems to be the encouragement of the Farm Bureau. A news release describing her intention to announce a campaign was sent Monday by a staffer for the Farm Bureau, Dawn Smith-Pfeifer, who said she did so as a member of Estenson’s campaign, and not as a Farm Bureau employee.

In his email, Goehring explains his position on oil drilling regulation at the State Industrial Commission, his involvement in animal cruelty legislation last year and what he describes as a “political incorrect” comment made to staff.

“I spoke and acted in a politically incorrect manner for today’s modern office,” Goehring wrote in the email. “I meant no ill-will. The complaint was fully investigated by the State Human Resources Division and there was not enough substance in the complaint and no action was deemed necessary. After the incident, on my own accord, I participated in appropriate training. It has always been my goal to provide a working environment at the Ag Department where employees feel comfortable doing their work.”

He also wrote that he apologized to his staff.

Goehring doesn’t mention the specific comment in his email, but reached by phone Tuesday morning he confirmed authorship and said he had used the word “harem” to describe his staff.

“I had made a reference when there was several people around, I made a comment about ‘harem,’” he said. “It was at a time when I had asked an employee to crack my back. I was having a couple of days when my back was out severely and we were at meetings out-of-state and I had severe headaches. I had asked an employee to crack my back. There were other people around, but it doesn’t matter what situation it was in. It was wrong and I apologize for it. I was just in a lot of pain at the time.”

One definition of “harem” is ““the wives or concubines of a polygamous man.”

Goehring said he reported himself to Human Resources. “There was a third party that raised the objection and the staff involved said they knew there was no ill will,” he said. “I don’t even think along those lines. I was sorry for it. Of my own accord I approached HR after the fact and then asked if there was some appropriate training that I could take. I really love my staff, and the workplace we have I believe it’s professional.”

Asked if he would still be running for re-election in 2014 he said “absolutely.”

“We’ve done a lot of great work in the last five years. I took an oath of office to serve all of the people of North Dakota and to serve and represent this industry,” he said. “I will continue to do so.”

Democrats do not have an announced challenger for Goehring.

You can reach Rob Port at rport@watchdog.org

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