Wayne Stenehjem Doesn't Think Doug Burgum Ran An Honorable Campaign At The Convention

When Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem took the stage at the NDGOP convention to thank delegates for their endorsement he gave a shout out to state Rep. Rick Becker – but, rather conspicuously, not Fargo businessman Doug Burgum – for running an “honorable, honest and decent campaign.”

“Honor is to be earned not bought,” he added, clearly a shot at Burgum’s prodigious spending on his campaign so far.

Those were some tough, if oblique, comments. When I interviewed Stenehjem yesterday about them I wanted him to explain a bit more, and he did.

As to whether or not he thinks Burgum is running an honorable campaign, Stenehjem said he didn’t like how the candidate handled the convention.

“I want to emphasize that Becker ran a professional campaign,” he told me.

“The problem that I had with the other opponent is he pretends he wanted to come to the convention and respect the process,” Stenehjem added. He said Burgum’s attitude toward convention delegates was, “I don’t care what you do I’m running anyway.”

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]”The problem that I had with the other opponent is he pretends he wanted to come to the convention and respect the process,” Stenehjem added. He said Burgum’s attitude toward convention delegates was, “I don’t care what you do I’m running anyway.”[/mks_pullquote]

I think Stenehjem’s feelings about Burgum’s approach to the convention are fair. There’s nothing wrong with skipping the convention and running on the June primary. That’s what Congressman Kevin Cramer did in 2012. He didn’t ask the delegates for their votes at all, and instead took on convention-endorsed candidate Brian Kalk on the June primary and won.

But Burgum did something different. He tried to have his cake and eat it too. He said he was going to the convention and asking to their votes because he respects the process, but also said from the start that he’d ignore the convention outcome if he lost and push on to the statewide primary.

That’s the sort of calculated and cynical move career politicians make. You know, the sort of person Burgum says he isn’t.

As for the rest of Burgum’s approach to his campaign, I think it’s been just fine. Burgum has been beating Stenehjem up in his messaging, and that’s just fine. In fact, it’s something his campaign has to do if they hope to have a chance in June. “We’ve got a very short window to help North Dakotans understand the issues at play,” Burgum surrogate Robert Harms told me yesterday, and he’s right.

That sort of a situation calls for an aggressive campaign. Some of the Burgum campaign’s messaging is silly, but other aspects of it – such as the focus on fiscal issues – make perfect sense.

Speaking of which, I asked Stenehjem for some specifics on how he’d address the budget situation (I asked Harms the same but he said the campaign would be releasing more soon), and I was impressed with his answer.

He talked about incarceration reform, and looking for ways to help people whose “crimes” are merely substance abuse instead of putting them in a jail cell. Something Stenehjem argues would save the state money and address rates.

That’s a huge issue, albeit one that probably flies under the radar of the general public, and I’m glad he’s talking about it.

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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