North Dakota’s Century Code makes clear the line of succession to the governor’s office in the case of some tragic or unprecedented circumstance.
For example, if current Gov. Doug Burgum had to leave during a term, he would be replaced by Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, with Secretary of State Al Jaeger next in line.
And then, Century Code states, “if during a vacancy in the office of governor, the lieutenant governor and the secretary of state are impeached, displaced, resign, or die, or from mental or physical disease or otherwise become incapable of performing the duties of the office of governor ... then the succession to the office of governor is the speaker of the House, president pro tem of the Senate, attorney general, in the order named.”
The speaker of the House is Lawrence Klemin of Bismarck. The president pro tempore of the Senate is Oley Larsen of Minot.
The line of gubernatorial succession adds somewhat to the controversy surrounding Larsen, who last week claimed U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., received training from the terrorist group al Qaeda. On Facebook, he posted a photo that purported to show Omar actually in training at a camp in Somalia. The Associated Press determined the photo was taken in 1978, before Omar was born.
In the days following his post, the controversy exploded; eventually, Larsen conceded that the post was untrue. Wednesday, he apologized for “spreading fake news” and deleted that particular post.
"Moving forward, I will do my best to thoroughly vet the information I share online," Larsen wrote. "However, I want to be clear, this is by no means an apology to Ilhan Omar. Although there is no evidence that she has directly engaged in terrorist activity, there is ample evidence that she is grossly sympathetic to the cause of certain religious extremists."
Democrats are outraged. But fellow Republican Rich Wardner, the Senate majority leader, suggests Larsen apologize and resign his leadership position. Gov. Burgum has done the same.
Wardner and Burgum are right, and their decision to offer opinions takes this controversy from simple partisan politics to a much higher, much more thoughtful, conversation. As noted, Larsen’s role as president pro tempore of the Senate means he is in high leadership in the Legislature, and fourth in line of succession. It’s a designation made only for constitutional purposes and incredibly unlikely events, but it still denotes a certain political gravitas.
Meanwhile, Larsen’s inflammatory post portrays questionable reasoning skills. It seems more than just a simple mistake of fact, which can happen to anyone.
Politicians on both sides are guilty of poor social media choices. In March, for instance, a Herald opinion piece noted an inflammatory post made by a state Democrat; we wrote then that lawmakers have the right to post whatever they want, but they should know they may be critiqued and they may have to answer for it.
The opinion of Burgum and Wardner appears to be going unheeded, but we appreciate that they have weighed in nonetheless.