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Hoeven talks Senate race, being a Republican in Herald interview

Gov. John Hoeven decided to run for the U.S. Senate weeks before Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., announced he would not seek re-election, Hoeven told the Herald in an interview that ranged from his membership in the Republican Party to his goals if el...

Sen. John Hoeven
Sen. John Hoeven, D-N.D.
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Gov. John Hoeven decided to run for the U.S. Senate weeks before Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., announced he would not seek re-election, Hoeven told the Herald in an interview that ranged from his membership in the Republican Party to his goals if elected.

He said he had been considering a Senate run for "a long time," and made up his mind during the Christmas season last year -- after talking it over with his wife, Mikey, because it's a decision they approached "very much as a family."

"I look at it like a job interview," Hoeven said. "Right now, the same thing that drew me to run for governor was this focus on aggressive economic development. Really, that's what has been drawing me to run for the Senate."

But he first needs to beat out a member of his own party -- Fargo architect Paul Sorum -- to get the Republican nomination. Republicans will formally candidates during the March 19-21 state convention in Grand Forks.

'Pragmatic'

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Hoeven said his reason for being a Republican is very much about building up the business base -- the same reason he first ran for governor.

"It's about empowering people, businesses, entrepreneurs and small business across this country to pursue their dreams to create jobs and opportunity," he said. "I really got into the governor race back in 2000 because I believed we needed to expand and grow and diversify our economy."

The Republican Party stands for the belief that the private sector can grow and create better opportunities for people, Hoeven said. "That's how we've built our country."

Before serving as a three-term Republican governor, Hoeven had considered a 1996 challenge to incumbent Republican Gov. Ed Schafer -- as a Democrat. It's a point his likely Democratic Senate competitor brought up last month with The Associated Press.

"Gov. Hoeven's popularity is built on the fact that he's been a moderate, a centrist, a former Democrat who has governed much as a Democrat," said state Sen. Tracy Potter, D-Bismarck.

But Hoeven said the issue of his party allegiance is "old news" because he's always been consistent in his approach.

"I established myself as a Republican years before I ever ran for office," he said. "I ran and got the Republican nomination three times. I've always run as a Republican."

Still, Hoeven is often considered to be a more moderate Republican, a label he didn't deny.

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"I think we take a more pragmatic approach," he said. "Instead of trying to get into labels, I think you've got to look at results."

Hoeven said North Dakota's surplus, strong financial situation and low debt levels are the "results" that speak more than his political affiliation.

He said proper fiscal management has been essential during his time in office because it enabled the state to wisely invest in "the things that matter," such as education, infrastructure, flood protection and strong law enforcement

"That's the key, not getting into some of the labels and politics," he said. "It's about getting the job done for the people of North Dakota and this country. I think that I'm conservative in a pragmatic way."

Sen. Hoeven?

Hoeven said his focus on encouraging economic development through political office has been consistent since 2000, a focus that will stay if he is successful in becoming a senator. This approach could help jumpstart the national economy, he said.

"That's the kind of background and experience I would bring to the Senate, and I think that's what's needed," Hoeven said.

Limited government is an important consideration, Hoeven said, because there needs to be certainty "from a legal, tax and regulatory standpoint" so businesses can invest and hire more people.

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The federal deficit also needs to be addressed, he said, and "aggressive economic development" is what it will take to improve the national economy.

"Job creation is job No. 1, and that's how we get people back to work and get a growing economy and with good fiscal management get on top of the deficit," Hoeven said.

Years of experience with military and higher education issues would help him address important regional issues, Hoeven said, including developing new missions for Grand Forks Air Force Base and keeping the Human Nutrition Research Center in Grand Forks.

If elected, he would represent North Dakota by addressing the national recession because it's "having a real impact on our state." He said the state has seen success and growth since 2000, but the national economy is having an impact.

"So when we talk about getting our national economy going and growing again, that's very important for North Dakota," he said. "We are part of this growing economy."

Experience

"That's up to the people to decide," Hoeven said when asked to name the best thing he did for the state while governor. But he's proud of his focus on economic development, which he said helped the state gain jobs and increase incomes and wages.

"That's what enabled us to fund education and put more money into roads but it's also enabled us to cut taxes and have a strong reserve, the things that really help the state grow and become stronger," Hoeven said.

Hoeven said his experience -- including the eight years he spent as president of the Bank of North Dakota before becoming governor -- will help him "hit the ground running" in the Senate.

"I have substantial experience," Hoeven said. "Not only do I have experience on all these issues... but also how it affects us vis-à-vis the national issues."

A decade as governor has led to relationships with nearby Republican leaders who now serve in the Senate, Hoeven said, including South Dakota's John Thune and Nebraska's Mike Johanns.

"I know these people and I've worked with them," he said. "It's really going to help me be effective right away."

A pledge from Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also could boost his pull in the Senate, he said. In January, McConnell said he would appoint Hoeven to two prominent Senate committees, Appropriations and Energy and Natural Resources, if he is elected.

Hoeven said North Dakotans can expect to see a positive campaign this year, "what they've seen from me over the last 10 years." He said he would focus on ways to help move the state and country forward.

But Hoeven said he doesn't make predictions and isn't taking anything for granted this year. He still needs to get the Republican nomination, and would face a Democratic challenge if he is the candidate.

Potter is the only Democrat to campaign for the Senate so far, but the party won't officially name its candidate until the March 25-28 state convention in Fargo.

"We're going to work as hard as we can just as we always have in these elections, and it's up to the people," Hoeven said. "We are focused on a strong, positive campaign on the things that I believe will lift up this state and lift up this country and best serve our citizens."

Johnson reports on local politics. Reach him at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send e-mail to rjohnson@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: JOHN HOEVEN
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