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Port: No surprises as Burgum appoints Drew Wrigley as attorney general

Wrigley was a formidable candidate even before Burgum's appointment gave him the advantage of incumbency.

Drew Wrigley
Drew Wrigley holds a news conference as U.S. attorney for the state of North Dakota in July 2021.
Chris Flynn / The Forum
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MINOT, N.D. — Gov. Doug Burgum is not a conventional politician. He can surprise you.

But there were no surprises with his decision to pick former lieutenant governor, and two-stint U.S. attorney for the state of North Dakota, Drew Wrigley to replace Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

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On this episode of Plain Talk, we discuss the jolt of excitement North Dakota's general election ballot just received from a couple of independent candidates, and the approval of a measure legalizing recreational marijuana. We also discuss Rep. Liz Cheney losing in the Wyoming primary.

“I am deeply humbled by the faith that Gov. Burgum has placed in me, and I pledge to work tirelessly on behalf of the citizens of North Dakota,” Wrigley said in a statement released by Burgum's office. “During my service, I will always be mindful of the outstanding work of my friend Wayne Stenehjem, and I will keep his memory near as we all navigate the path ahead.”

It has to be a bittersweet moment for Wrigley.

This is the job he wanted.

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This certainly wasn't the way he wanted to get it.

When I was asking around political circles about who Burgum might appoint last week , a common theme among those I asked was an inability to come up with someone else Burgum might appoint.

One person floated the idea that Michelle Kommer, a member of Burgum's cabinet during his first term, might be interested in an appointment, but when I contacted her she said she wasn't interested. Ditto for Levi Andrist, a lobbyist for the firm Gilbertson Andrist, whose name was also thrown around.

Wade Webb, currently a district court judge, has been flirting with the idea of a campaign for attorney general (and still hasn't given a definitive answer) told me last week he hadn't spoken at all with Burgum about an appointment and wasn't pursuing it.

The consensus seemed to be that it would be Wrigley, if only because nobody could really think anyone who would be willing to campaign for that job who would be better.

Even in Democratic circles — the office is on the ballot this year so Wrigley will still be campaigning for the job — there is no talk about who might run. Everyone seems to think the party will get around to endorsing a placeholder candidate for that office at some point, but there isn't any expectation that a serious contender against Wrigley will be found.

"I think Drew cleared the field when he announced," one political observer told me.

I think that's probably correct. Wrigley is well-liked, well-spoken, and a capable campaigner. Plus, his resume for the job is sterling.

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“Having twice served as North Dakota’s chief federal law enforcement officer leading the U.S. attorney’s offices in Bismarck and Fargo, and six years as lieutenant governor, Drew Wrigley brings highly relevant state and federal experience to the role of North Dakota attorney general," Burgum said in his released statement. "He has a deep knowledge of the law, extensive background in public safety and broad experience with the intersections of local, state and federal law enforcement. His knowledge of the federal government is especially valuable at this time, with federal overreach a frequent threat to states’ rights."

The citizen in me wants more candidates in this race, if only for the sake of competition. People who hold elected office should have to work for it. The debate that takes place on the campaign trail, though it can offer veer off into the puerile and petty, is a healthy thing.

But the pundit in me, the part of me tasked with handicapping these sort of political races, can't help but conclude that this race is effectively over.

Wrigley was a formidable candidate even before Burgum's appointment gave him the advantage of incumbency.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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