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Wrigley, Lamb offer different visions of attorney general's role

Running as an undercurrent in the campaign is controversy swirling around a $1.8 million construction cost overrun incurred under the former attorney general, and the deletion of his email account and that of his chief deputy.

Drew Wrigley and Tim Lamb
Republican Attorney General Drew Wrigley, left, debated with Democratic-NPL challenger Tim Lamb, right, on the Plain Talk podcast.
File photos
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BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakotans voting in the attorney general race in the Nov. 8 general election will choose between two men with differing views on the qualifications for the state’s top law enforcement officer.

Former U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley, a Republican, says experience as a prosecutor is a key qualification for the post, to which he was appointed in February. He wants to get tough on violent crime and beef up the state Crime Lab.

Grand Forks attorney Tim Lamb, the Democratic-NPL challenger, says he would use management and motivation skills gained during 20 years in the military to lead the office. He wants to build up public trust in the agency and increase public input.

Running as an undercurrent in the campaign is controversy swirling around a $1.8 million construction cost overrun incurred under the former attorney general, and the deletion of his email account and that of his chief deputy.

Gov. Doug Burgum appointed Wrigley as attorney general after the death of Wayne Stenehjem, who died of cardiac arrest on Jan. 28. Wrigley was already a candidate, having announced in December 2021 that he’d run. Stenehjem by then had said he would not seek another term.

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The attorney general's term is four years. The annual salary is $169,162.

Tim Lamb

Lamb earned journalism and law degrees from the University of North Dakota and holds a master’s in business from Central Michigan University. He’s been in private law practice since 2010.

Lamb, 67, served in the U.S. Army for 20 years and retired as a major in the Signal Corps. As a commander during back-to-back tours in Germany he led 200 soldiers and managed $200 million in military assets. He sees his experience in the military, his service with organizations and his business degree as solid qualifications for the post he seeks. The business degree “taught me how to deal with large organizations, broke down theory and how people are motivated,” he said.

“You don’t need to be a prosecutor to be attorney general,” Lamb said. “It’s by and large being a good manager.”

Lamb said that if elected he’d accomplish his first priority as attorney general much the same way he would when he commanded a military unit.

“The first order of business for me is to learn the workings of the Attorney General’s Office,” he said. To do that he would meet with the division leaders to define priorities and needs, then relay to the department’s 250 employees the need for a high standard in the office.

“The office needs to rebuild public trust,” Lamb said. He cited what he called the “botched up” handling of the deleted email accounts. That might be part of the Montana probe, though it's up to officials in that state to determine the scope of the investigation into the cost overrun.

An investigation by an independent third party "was my stance all along," Lamb said. He also questioned Wrigley’s “decision to accept or not investigate a huge land purchase in Walsh County by (Microsoft co-founder) Bill Gates.” The transaction was completed by “a corporate entity acting like a trust,” Lamb said.

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“It undermines public trust,” he said.

Wrigley did look into the land sale and concluded it complied with the state's anti-corporate farming law.

The attorney general should play a support role with state’s attorneys and law enforcement by assisting when possible with budget issues and staffing, Lamb believes. He also sees training as “very important” for police and sheriff’s departments.

“My mission with law enforcement would be to ask how I can help them, and in addition train the trainers,” Lamb said.

He would like to see a special focus on preparing officers for instances in which they are challenged on the street and when people are placed in danger by others.

“Neither one of those is acceptable,” he said.

Lamb favors making convicted scammers pay restitution to victims. Recreational marijuana use, if passed by voters in November, could ease the burdens on law enforcement and the court system, and taxes from marijuana sales could help fund addiction counseling and address other societal issues, Lamb said.

Wrigley during a debate with Lamb wouldn't say how he'll vote on the marijuana measure, but he said he believes using recreational marijuana is "not healthy."

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Lamb said he would seek citizen input on issues affecting business, the elderly and landowners.

“I won’t leave out oil companies either,” he said. “I think what we’re lacking now is things being done sort of without good advice, so I’d like to involve citizens on advisory committees.”

Lamb believes there is “something going on in state government that’s pushing people out.”

“One of Drew’s problems now is the governor is running him ragged,” he said. “If I’m elected I’m going to be someone who is able to consult with department heads, add stability, and serve the people of North Dakota.”

The job of attorney general is “obviously daunting,” the candidate said.

“I’m humbled by being asked to run,” Lamb said. “I will take it on with all due humility and a strong sense of being a public servant.”

Drew Wrigley

Wrigley, 57, was lieutenant governor from 2010 to 2016 during Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s tenure. He served as U.S. attorney for North Dakota from 2001 to 2009 and again from 2019 to 2021. He also spent five years as a prosecutor in Philadelphia, and sees his experience in state and federal courtrooms as being “critically important” to the way he’d oversee the attorney general’s office if elected.

“I think my background and experience brings with it a credibility when I engage in discussions with legislators and, frankly, with the public,” Wrigley said.

If he’s elected one of his top priorities would be leading a statewide “full engagement on violent crime,” he said. He’d try to do that by communicating with sheriffs and chiefs of police, legislators and state’s attorneys.

“I’m going to be an engaged, visible leader on issues involving violent crime in the state of North Dakota,” he said.

A budget in the works by his staff includes enhancements for the state Crime Lab. The facility is mired by what Wrigley called a “bureaucratic glut” that’s created a backlog of rape kit and drug testing. A lack of firearms examiners slows testing time, increases costs, and raises concerns for speedy trials and evidence chains of custody, all of which undermine the efforts of law enforcement, according to Wrigley.

“They make an arrest and take a gun, then they have to find somebody to test it,” he said.

The lab also needs an increased capacity for forensic testing of cellphones, which Wrigley said have become a staple in child pornography, drug trafficking and human trafficking crimes.

Another step in the effort against violent crime is addressing a crisis in the recruiting and retaining of law enforcement employees, according to Wrigley.

“We need to do more and more to support them in that work,” he said.

His plan includes three more agents for the Bureau of Criminal Investigation who will have responsibilities on and near the state’s American Indian reservations.

The Attorney General's Office must also keep its attorney salaries competitive to promote retention. The office in addition to criminal issues tackles civil matters “to defend the interests of North Dakotans,” Wrigley said.

“The work of the AG office touches every corner of government,” he said.

Much of Wrigley’s time since he took office has been occupied with matters related to a building cost overrun and deleted email accounts. A probe of the cost overrun has been turned over to Montana investigators.

“I think we’re going to get some good reform out of that, and I think that’s what you get out of transparency, Wrigley said.

The deletion of two email accounts — Stenehjem’s just days after his death, and deputy Troy Seibel’s following his resignation shortly after Wrigley took office — were in accordance with the law and procedure, but “damn unfortunate,” Wrigley said.

The deletions ordered by then-executive assistant Liz Brocker “created suspicion and the expectation that there was something in there,” Wrigley said, but he added he doubts there was anything in Stenehjem’s emails “that you wouldn’t have found on his desk." Brocker resigned in July, days after the deletions came to light from a Bismarck Tribune records request.

The issues consumed considerable time but needed attention, according to Wrigley.

“There’s the job you want to do and you get to do that, but there’s also the job that comes your way and (you) have to deal with it,” he said.

Related Topics: ELECTION 2022
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