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North Dakota Democrats tap AG, ag commish, PSC candidates

March 16, 2018

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Democrats at their convention on Friday endorsed candidates at for attorney general and agriculture commissioner, posts that are doubly important because the holders also make up two-thirds of the Public Service Commission, a powerful panel that regulates North Dakota’s oil and gas industry.

David Thompson, a trial lawyer from Grand Forks, was unopposed for the Democratic endorsement for the state’s top law enforcement officer, a position Republican Wayne Stenehjem has held since 2000. Stenehjem is seeking a sixth term.

Thompson accused Stenehjem of being too friendly in regulating the state’s energy industry. He vowed to review the industry’s campaign contributions to the PSC.

Stenehjem, Gov. Doug Burgum and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, all Republicans, make up the panel at present.

Convention delegates endorsed longtime state Sen. Jim Dotzenrod of Wyndmere to run against Goehring. Dotzenrod, who farms in southeastern North Dakota, said the state needs to do more to address falling crop prices and farm income.

“We need to talk about agriculture,” Dotzenrod said. “Dark clouds are on the horizon and it should be part of the campaign.”

Delegates unanimously endorsed two political newcomers for the PSC, which determines the locations of some pipelines and power plants. It also has some regulatory duties regarding telecommunications and railroads.

Casey Buchmann, a union iron worker from Washburn, was endorsed for the seat now held by Republican Brian Kroshus. Jean Brandt, who works for an oilfield services company, is the endorsed candidate for the seat now held by the GOP’s Randy Christmann.

Convention endorsements give a favored candidate a guaranteed spot on the June 12 primary ballot and party support that includes access to lists of previous Democratic campaign donors. Endorsements don’t protect a candidate from a primary challenge, but they are rare within the Democratic party.

North Dakota Republicans have long had a lock on the regulatory panels and wield supermajority control in the Legislature and hold every statewide office except for U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.

Heitkamp faces a tough re-election fight against GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer in one of the nation’s most closely watched Senate races. Three Democrats — Jamestown state Sen. John Grabinger and former state lawmakers Mac Schneider of Grand Forks and Ben Hanson of Fargo — are trying for the House seat Cramer is leaving.

That endorsement was to come Saturday.

For Republicans, former U.S. Marine Tiffany Abentroth and state Sens. Kelly Armstrong and Tom Campbell are seeking endorsement next month at the party’s convention that also is being held in Grand Forks.

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