Plain Talk: In first debate, attorney general candidates clash over crime, marijuana, and more

MINOT, N.D. — If there’s one thing we learned from the first debate between North Dakota’s candidates for attorney general, it’s that they disagree on a lot.

Drew Wrigley, a Republican, is the incumbent attorney general, having been appointed to finish his predecessor Wayne Stenehjem’s term by Gov. Doug Burgum. Wrigley is now running to be elected to a term of his own, and he’s being challenged by Democratic-NPL candidate Tim Lamb.

One area where the candidates disagree sharply is on crime. Wrigley’s office released the most recent iteration of the state’s crime report. It illustrated a 10% year-over-year increase in violent crime, and a 20% increase since 2017. Wrigley says that’s significant and invites a response in the form of tougher penalties for violent crimes, tempered with perhaps a lighter touch for non-violent offense.

Lamb disagrees with Wrigley that the state has a crime problem.

Lamb, meanwhile, is for a measure on the November ballot that would legalize recreational marijuana. Wrigley, for his part, wouldn’t say how he’ll vote on the measure, but said from a personal perspective that using marijuana is “not healthy.” Whether voters pass the measure or not, Wrigley says “we will have issues going forward” with how to handle marijuana in the criminal justice system.

The two candidates also were at loggerheads over the handling of the deletion of official state email accounts for Stenehjem, after his death, and former deputy Attorney General Troy Seibel, after his departure from the office.

Wrigley said the deletions, ordered by Stenehjem’s former executive assistant, were wrong, but didn’t rise to the level of a crime.

Lamb disagreed, saying they did.

Lamb accused North Dakota’s Industrial Commission of mishandling monetary penalties levied against oil industry companies involved in spills. Wrigley accused Lamb of a “false and slanderous statement.”

Wrigley responded to a poll , paid for by the financial backers of a ballot measure to create term limits, which found that 65% of North Dakotans say he abused his power in investigating measure backers for signature fraud. Wrigley forcefully defended his actions.

“I did not abuse my power,” he said.

The two candidates did agree in one area. Wrigley said that he has no interest in his office enforcing penalties against educators for teaching critical race theory, despite the comments of state Rep. Jim Kasper, a Republican from Fargo, at a recent Department of Public Instruction meeting. Lamb, a long-time member of the Grand Forks School Board, largely agreed with Wrigley’s sentiments.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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