‘I think North Dakotans want someone like me’: Lenz, Dem-NPL candidate for governor, fundraises in Grand Forks

Dr. Shelley Lenz, right, Democratic candidate for ND Gov., meets local voters during a picnic Wednesday at Lincoln Park. At left is Sheryll Weisenberger. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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Unless they were eating the $10 chicken, everyone at Shelley Lenz’s Grand Forks fundraiser was wearing a mask.

If the Democratic-NPL candidate for North Dakota governor was already hypothetically running the state government, that scene might be commonplace statewide. Lenz told the Herald that, if she were in incumbent Gov. Doug Burgum’s position, she would have mandated that residents wear masks in public to prevent the spread of a novel coronavirus “a long time ago,” Lenz said before taking the mic in front of a crowd of 20 or 30 supporters in Lincoln Park.

The candidate touted the “NPL” half of her party affiliation, and, when asked what she would do differently than Burgum, laid out a series of criticisms to the state’s response to the virus under his leadership. Burgum’s decision to allow K-12 school districts in North Dakota to determine whether they’ll hold in-person classes this fall amounts to “punting” the decision to those districts.

“They’re now healthcare providers?” Lenz said. “We already have limited resources.”

The plan Burgum and state Superintendent Kirsten Baesler rolled out on Tuesday includes a seven-page set of guidelines for school districts to consider as they plan for the upcoming school year.


“But what is the state going to do to help fund those local school boards to reach the guidelines?” Lenz wondered rhetorically. “And how much are they enforcing it? Or are they just suggestions? .... If you’re suggesting that and they can’t meet that suggestion because of funding, what’s the government going to do about that?”

Were she in the governor’s shoes already, Lenz told the Herald she would have called a special session of the North Dakota Legislature to enact budget and policy measures to combat the virus.

“He says it’s all local. Well then call in a legislative session,” Lenz said.

She also wondered why Burgum had partly decided to use federal coronavirus relief funds to cap oil wells in the state. No one at a 150-person meeting Lenz hosted to brainstorm plans for that money said they wanted to cap wells, Lenz said.

“Why did he do that?” she said. “It’s like he’s not listening.”

The decision to cap oil wells, the Associated Press reported in May, was designed to make work for the energy sector and to subsidize the cost to oil companies.

At the Grand Forks fundraiser, Lenz and her campaign staffers handed out packets of seeds and a campaign flyer that includes her hope to invest in infrastructure, education, and access to “affordable, quality” healthcare.

Lenz enthusiastically pointed to her affiliation with the Nonpartisan League, a North Dakota political faction that helped produce a state-owned mill and a state-owned bank. The league has since merged with the North Dakota Democractic party.


“I am a strong, strong Nonpartisan League-r,” Lenz said, referring to the political faction that helped produce North Dakota’s state mill, bank and other public entities and has since merged with the state’s Democratic party. “Even though Republicans and Democrats have changed power throughout the decades, they’ve always kept the stuff from the NPL….The NPL speaks to all North Dakotans.”

Regardless of which part of the party name she stresses, Lenz faces a climb to the governor’s mansion in Bismarck that’s been steep for a left-leaning candidate. Republicans have held the seat since 1992, but Lenz said she thinks she’ll win the statewide election this fall.

“Because I think North Dakotans want someone like me. A veterinarian and a farmer are a better representative for North Dakotans than a billionaire tech guy,” she said, referring to herself, running mate Ben Vig, and Burgum, respectively.

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

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