Stenehjem comes back to campus

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem returned to the district where he was first elected to public office to discuss his run for governor.

Stenehjem is currently seeking the Republican nomination for governor. He was first elected to the North Dakota House of Representatives in District 42 in 1976 while he was still a student at the UND. He went on to graduate from the UND School of Law in 1977 and was elected to the North Dakota Senate in 1980.

Stenehjem credited the help of Earl Strinden, former majority leader in the State House of Representatives, with guiding him through the beginning of his work in public service.

“He could not have been more helpful,” Stenehjem said. “He took care of his members of the caucus and certainly me. He was a great mentor and role model.”

Stenehjem discussed how the economy and state has changed during his time in public office, and described how students and young professionals are now choosing to stay in North Dakota.

“A huge percentage of students who graduate did leave, but now we’ve come a long way to turning things around,” Stenehjem said. “Our unemployment is 2.7 percent, the lowest in the nation. We have 126,000 new jobs here in North Dakota.”

While the current fiscal situation is tightening for the state government, Stenehjem highlighted the work the state did to invest in projects such as infrastructure and education over the past several years. He cited examples including the roads in the western part of the state that were heavily used due to oil activity and the construction of UND’s Medical School.

“One thing they also did which was very smart was taking a lot of that money and putting it into savings account,” he said “There are billions of dollars in funds that have been set aside,” Stenehjem said. “The Legacy fund has $3.6 billion in it. That is a fund out of which we can do many visionary things that we never thought we could do in North Dakota.”

Stenehjem mentioned keeping college affordable as a priority, and he brought up striking a balance in the budget between keeping tuition low and offering scholarships to students.

“There is no point to giving a whole bunch of scholarships to people if the cost of tuition rises drastically,” Stenehjem said.

The North Dakota economy has always been cyclical, Stenehjem said, but increased diversification of the economy and the savings in various funds allows for the state to weather a slowing economy. He reflected on times in the state history that required budget cuts in order to remain solvent.

“We had times that were exceedingly tough, where there was just not the money to go around,” Stenehjem said. “We have to balance the budget, there is no other choice. It’s not easy, but it’s not complicated. Priorities for me have always been and always need to be education, number one, and public safety, number two.”

As attorney general, Stenehjem is part of the industrial commission, along with the governor and agricultural commissioner, that regulates the oil and gas industry in the state. He described the work that the commission does to balance the development of business interests in the state with concerns of North Dakotans.

“It’s not easy, believe me, to balance. We don’t want to squelch development in North Dakota. We want people to come here,” Stenehjem said. “But we also want to insist that they are treating our citizens right.”

When considering a run for governor, Stenehjem described the support he received from people across the state who wanted him to run, but he also mentioned the role his family played in his decision.

“It’s not just me, my wife, Beth, too has a role,” Stenehjem said, describing the conversations with his family leading up to his announcement. “She said to me ‘Wayne, sometimes you have to step up,’ and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Sean Cleary is the editor-in-chief for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]