Port: Secretary of State Al Jaeger calling it a career and other election news ahead of 2022
The stirrings of the 2022 election cycle have begun, and it's time we got the lay of the land, at least as far as what the incumbents in North Dakota's statewide offices are going to do.
MINOT, N.D. — I know.
But maybe not as early as you think. The stirrings of the 2022 election cycle have begun, and it's time we got the lay of the land, at least as far as what the incumbents in North Dakota's statewide offices are going to do.
I've spent some time calling them and inquiring about their plans, and this is what they told me.
Here are the elected leaders whose terms end next year:
- U.S. Sen. John Hoeven
- U.S. Congressman Kelly Armstrong
- Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem
- Secretary of State Al Jaeger
- Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring
- Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak
- Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger
The odd-numbered legislative districts will also be on the ballot in 2022, but let's leave those for another column.
Let's talk about the incumbents who are definitely running for re-election
Sen. John Hoeven told the Associated Press in February that he'll seek a third six-year term. Hoeven was first elected to that seat in 2010 after serving as governor since 2000. He is one of the most dominantly successful politicians in state history and is unlikely to face any real challenge to his re-election.
Congressman Kelly Armstrong will also be running for re-election, he told me this week, which is no surprise, but, hey, you have to ask the question, right? Armstrong was first elected to his current office in 2018 with more than 60% of the vote after serving in the state Senate since 2012. He was re-elected in 2020 with nearly 69% of the vote.
Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak also told me she'd seek another six-year term in office. She was first appointed to her office in 2012 by Gov. Jack Dalrymple to serve out the final two years of current U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer's term after he was elected to Congress. Fedorchak was elected to her current term in 2016, meaning 2022 will be her second stint on the statewide ballot.
"With all of the aggressive changes being advanced in the electric sector that have huge ramifications for the economy as a whole and especially for our state, I am very eager to continue serving in this role and use my years of experience to be a voice of reason and common sense here and in these key national positions," she told me, noting she's currently president of the Organization of MISO States and 2nd vice president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.
Now let's talk about the incumbent who definitely isn't running
Secretary of State Al Jaeger took office the same year Soul Asylum's "Runaway Train" was at the top of the charts.
It's been a while.
From 1992 to 2022, when his term ends, Jaeger will have spent 30 years in office. He confirmed to me, for the first time publicly, that he's not seeking another term. "I am not running for re-election in 2022," he told me. "I will have been blessed with 30 years and winning eight elections."
If you're thinking eight terms should be 32 years in office for Jaeger, and not 30, remember that he had one two-year term from 2004 to 2006. The state used to elect all of its statewide officers on the same four-year cycle. That changed starting in 2006, and some statewide elected officials, including Jaeger, had one short term to adjust.
Anyway, it's the end of an era, you might say.
Who might be interested in replacing Jaeger? It's a good question.
One name that's consistently come up in Republican political circles is Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford , though when I contacted him, he told me, unequivocally, that he's not interested in the job.
Another name is Rep. Shannon Roers Jones of Fargo, and you can mark her down as a maybe. "I have given it some consideration," she told me when I inquired. "It doesn't sound super interesting right now, but never say never," she told me.
A third name I've heard is former Rep. Dan Johnston , who ran unsuccessfully for treasurer in the 2020 cycle. He didn't respond to my inquiries.
Who could run for the Democrats? Rep. Josh Boschee of Fargo, who is currently the Minority Leader in the House, ran for the office in 2018. Would he run again? "I have no plans to run for secretary of state at this point," he told me.
And now for the maybes
Some of the incumbents told me they're undecided about 2022.
The big one in this category is Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. "At this point, I have not made a decision or an announcement about my plans for 2022," he told me. "I expect to make my decision by the end of November, though."
Stenehjem has been in office since 2000, making him the second longest-tenured statewide officeholder, second to Jaeger. He took a shot at a gubernatorial campaign in 2016 but lost in the primary to current Gov. Doug Burgum . It's widely rumored that this term might be his last, and one name is consistently touted in Republican circles as a possible replacement.
Drew Wrigley has served North Dakota as U.S. Attorney from 2001 to 2009 under former President George W. Bush . He was lieutenant governor alongside former Gov. Dalrymple from 2010 to 2016. From 2019 to 2021, he served as U.S. Attorney again under former President Donald Trump .
Since leaving that post, he's been working as executive counsel for his family's business. Is he interested in being attorney general?
He is, but he defers to Stenehjem as the incumbent. "Wayne and I have been friends for 22 years," he told me. "It's the middle of July. Someone who has served for 21 years, he's entitled to make an announcement when he feels it's reasonable.
Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger also isn't sure about his 2022 plans. "I definitely am not ruling out running for reelection in 2022, but I have yet to make any final decisions," he told me. "I would expect to make a final decision toward the end of 2021."
Rauschenberger's first two stints on the statewide ballot have been overshadowed by his personal struggles with alcohol. He was first appointed to the job by Dalrymple in 2013 to finish the term of former Commissioner Cory Fong . He ran for re-election in 2014 and won nearly 57% of the vote despite a stint rehab. I had published a story that year about Rauschenberger's car being involved in an alcohol-related crash. He wasn't in the vehicle. He had loaned the car to a friend. When I called him about it, Rauschenberger admitted to me that he had been struggling with alcohol.
In 2017, Rauschenberger was arrested for DUI with a blood-alcohol level more than twice the legal limit. He again sought treatment and was elected with 59% of the vote. The Democratic challengers in both 2014 and 2018 — Jason Astrup and Kylie Oversen , respectively — attempted to use the incumbent's struggles with alcohol against him, but it backfired with the voters.
Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring is also in the "maybe" category, though I got the impression that he'll likely seek another term. "This is probably a bad time to ask me," he said, alluding to more than a year of challenges from his office, from the pandemic to the current drought. "I don't know which way is up or sideways."
"You should never act like you're entitled to the job," he continued. "I don't want to sound arrogant. I sort of have aspirations to do it if the people of North Dakota will let me."
That's not definitive, but it sure sounds like Goehring wants another term.
Goehring ran unsuccessfully for his current job in 2004 and 2006 (this office, like Jaeger's, had an odd two-year term due to the aforementioned reshuffling of North Dakota's statewide terms). In 2009, when Democratic-NPL incumbent Roger Johnson left to take a job as president of the National Farmer's Union, Goehring was appointed by then-Gov. John Hoeven to finish the term. He has subsequently been re-elected in 2010, 2014, and 2018 with 68%, 57% and 68% of the vote, respectively.
I suspect both Goehring and Rauschenberger will run again. I've heard little buzz about Republicans interested in those offices, and they haven't been high priorities for Democrats in past election cycles, with our left-wing friends typically waiting to announce a candidate shortly before their state convention.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com .