Lieutenant governor could take top spot for first time in 75 years

BISMARCK – For the past 10 years, a vote for John Hoeven has been a vote for Jack Dalrymple.

The same is true again this November, even though Dalrymple’s name is nowhere on the ballot.

If voters elect Republican Hoeven to replace Byron Dorgan in the U.S. Senate, Dalrymple moves from being the state’s lieutenant governor to being governor.

It would be the first time in 75 years that a North Dakota lieutenant governor took over for a governor, said Rick Collin of the State Historical Society.

Since the move is so rare, questions have been raised about how the potential transition would work and what it would mean for North Dakota. Although not everything is determined yet, here’s what we do know.

Transition of power

Article V of the North Dakota Constitution would give Dalrymple the power to fill the governor position: “The lieutenant governor shall succeed to the office of governor when a vacancy occurs in the office of governor.”

If for any reason Dalrymple could not serve, “the secretary of state shall act as governor until the vacancy is filled.” Al Jaeger, who is up for re-election on Nov. 2, is secretary of state.

There have been four times in state history when a lieutenant governor became governor, Collin said. Like Dalrymple, all were Republicans.

In 1898, Frank Briggs died in office, and Joseph Devine completed the term. In 1928, Arthur Sorlie died in office, and Walter Maddock stepped in.

In 1934, William Langer was removed from office, and Ole Olson became governor. In 1935, Thomas Moodie was removed from office, and Walter Welford completed the term.

Although some think a Hoeven win would automatically mean he isn’t governor anymore, there is a process involved.

Jaeger said state law requires the written resignation of an officer. Since the Legislature won’t be in session at the time, the notice must be given to the secretary of state.

“He is governor until he resigns,” Jaeger said.

The State Canvassing Board is tentatively scheduled to meet Nov. 16. Until then, the results of the Nov. 2 election are not official.

Therefore, there’s speculation that Hoeven would step down between Nov. 16 and Dec. 6, the day the organizational session begins for the state Legislature. If elected, Hoeven’s work in the U.S. Senate would begin in early January.

Don Canton, a spokesman for the governor’s office, said the topic of when Hoeven would step down hasn’t been discussed.

“There is an election under way, and it’s premature to discuss that at this time,” he said.

Dalrymple also said they haven’t discussed a potential transition. Like Canton, he emphasized there’s still an election process.

“I have not been one to sit around and think idle thoughts about how wonderful it would be if my boss left town,” Dalrymple said. “That is really not the way my mind works.”

Who is Jack Dalrymple?

So, who is the man who might be the state’s next governor?

Well, for one, he would be the fifth governor who considers Casselton home. Born Oct. 16, 1948, Dalrymple grew up in Casselton on the family farm, established in 1875 as North Dakota’s first large-scale wheat farm, according to his official biography.

He graduated with honors from Yale with a bachelor’s degree in American studies and returned to North Dakota to manage the farming operations. He and his wife, Betsy, have four daughters.

Dalrymple served on the Casselton Jobs Development Commission and helped establish Share House, a Fargo residential treatment program for recovering alcoholics and drug dependents. He was the founding board chairman of Carrington-based Dakota Growers Pasta.

He served eight terms in the North Dakota Legislature, beginning in 1985, and was chairman of the House Appropriations Committee for six years.

In 1992, he challenged Kent Conrad to serve out the U.S. Senate term of the late Quentin Burdick and lost. In 2000, Dalrymple and Hoeven were elected to the state’s top posts.

Dalrymple said his role as lieutenant governor has been multifaceted. He’s chairman of the state Commission on Education Improvement, created after school districts sued the state over school funding equity.

The commission has worked to improve equity and adequacy and is about to bring forward a third major piece of legislation to further reform education funding and policy, Dalrymple said.

He has also been point man on the preparation of the state budget and on economic development policy, particularly in regard to value-added agriculture. He serves as the primary liaison to the state Legislature and as chairman of the North Dakota Trade Office.

He’s chairman of the State Investment Board and takes on “a number of other assignments that the governor has given to me from time to time.”

Dalrymple said he sought public office in the 1980s because he kept giving other people his opinion on how state government should run.

“Finally, one day, I decided that I should quit complaining and get involved myself,” he said.

When Hoeven was looking for a running mate in 2000, Dalrymple said he had a revelation that he should volunteer for the job.

“For the simple reason that I felt that I could be a big help to him,” he said.

Looking ahead

If Dalrymple becomes governor, he would appoint a lieutenant governor. State law says “any vacancy in a state or district office, except in the office of a member of the legislative assembly, must be filled by appointment by the governor.”

The last time a North Dakota lieutenant governor was appointed was in 1987, Collin said. Lloyd Omdahl was appointed after Ruth Meiers died.

Although names of possible Dalrymple selections are being thrown around in political circles, at least one name is ruled out.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said he likes the job he has. He thinks Dalrymple has a list of people who have expressed interest.

“I’m not on it,” Stenehjem said.

Dalrymple wouldn’t speculate about 2012 and whether he would seek his own term as governor.

“I have not felt the need to address that,” he said. ‘I think it’s premature to speculate on what I would do in a future situation.”

Discussing his leadership style in general terms, Dalrymple said he and Hoeven are “remarkably compatible in our views on policy.” The state’s future should include further development of the economy, as well as K-12 and higher education policy, he said.

Another priority is improvements to the state’s infrastructure, he said.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson of Fargo said Dalrymple is “very thorough” and “very organized.”

“He’ll be a good governor,” Carlson said. “He understands both sides of the issues: the legislative side of the issue, as well as the executive branch side.”

Senate Assistant Minority Leader Carolyn Nelson of Fargo said Dalrymple is talented and academically well-prepared.

“For at least this two-year period until we can figure out where we’re all going, I think he’s the best one to step in and do the job,” she said.

As for the state’s potential next first lady, Nelson said she thinks the world of Betsy Dalrymple and called her a “people person.”

“His wife is a very talented lady,” Nelson said. “She’s got a history in Casselton and in the Fargo-Moorhead area of being involved and engaged in things.”

Dalrymple said his wife has been “very much a part” of his public service career. If voters so decide, Dalrymple said he would be ready to be the state’s next leader.

“As far as readiness goes, I would simply say that when you sign up to be lieutenant governor, by definition, you have accepted the fact that you must be ready at all times to step into the governor’s chair,” Dalrymple said.

“And I told the people in my talk to the state convention that I stand ready to step into that job the moment that it is necessary. I think that my experience these last 26 years will be very helpful in that regard.”

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