Election preview: North Dakota candidates file for six statewide positions

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April 13, 2012

By Ballotpedia's State Executive Project team: Greg Janetka, Maresa Strano

BISMARCK, North Dakota: Friday evening marked the end of the filing period for candidates seeking one of the seven state executive positions up for election in 2012 in the state of North Dakota.

Out of 16 hopefuls who successfully filed their nominating petitions with the secretary of state by the 5:00pm deadline on April 13, five are incumbents seeking re-election. One is carrying a four-decade family legacy, and zero face elimination at the June 12 primary election. With the exception of the dual ticketed gubernatorial/lieutenant gubernatorial race, the only contest featuring more than two candidates is for Superintendent of Public Instruction, which is a nonpartisan office.

Although the certified primary candidates will almost all be advancing to the general election, it is never too early for North Dakota voters to get to know the diverse group of individuals running for the chance to represent them in office before heading to the polls on November 6.


In 2000, Jack Dalrymple was elected Lieutenant Governor of North Dakota on the Republican ticket with John Hoeven, the party's gubernatorial candidate. The pair won re-election in 2004 and 2008. In 2010, though, Hoeven won a seat in the U.S. Senate, vacating his gubernatorial post and leaving Dalrymple, as his lieutenant governor, to serve the remainder of his four-year term. Dalrymple is running for election this year to a four-year term of his own, on a ticket with his current lieutenant governor, Drew Wrigley. After Dalrymple won the endorsement and support of the North Dakota Republican Party at its statewide convention, his only challenger, Paul Sorum, withdrew from the race.

On the other side of the aisle, state Senator Ryan Taylor is running with Ellen Chaffee on the Democratic ticket. Chaffee is a senior fellow at the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. She worked for 15 years as President of Valley City State University, nine of which she spent doing double duty as President of Mayville State University. She has also worked as President in Residence at Harvard University, academic vice-chancellor for the North Dakota University System, director for organizational studies at the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, trustee of the MeritCare health care system, and in student affairs at North Dakota State University.[1]

State Auditor Peterson has served since 1997.

First elected in 1996 to replace his father as North Dakota Auditor, Republican Robert Peterson is seeking a fifth term in office. Between the two, the Peterson family has controlled the office for 40 years.[2]

Peterson will face a challenge from Democratic state Rep. Scot Kelsh, who was first elected to the legislature in 1996. He said that Peterson has not acted as an adequate watchdog over state government abuses.[3]

Treasurer Schmidt is seeking a third term.

Republican incumbent Kelly Schmidt has served as North Dakota Treasurer since 2005 and is seeking a third term in office. She does not face a primary opponent and will square off against Democrat Ross Mushik in the general election. Mushik has worked for 22 years in accounting, auditing, budgeting and management for various state offices, including the state tax commissioner's office, Office of Intergovernmental Assistance and Department of Emergency Services.[4]

Schmidt has faced criticism from Democrats over management of state investment funds.[5] She has said the criticism is unfounded and that she plans to continue on as she has in the role, modernizing the office and increasing transparency.[6]

Insurance Commissioner Hamm is seeking his second full term in office.

Incumbent North Dakota Commissioner of Insurance Adam Hamm (R) was first appointed to the office in October 2007 by Gov. John Hoeven, and was elected to a full, four-year term in November 2008.[7] He was endorsed for another term at the 2012 state GOP convention without opposition.

Hamm will face retired University of North Dakota finance professor Tom Potter (D) in the general election. Potter was originally running for U.S. Senate in 2012. He said he changed races because the next insurance commissioner will serve during an "interesting period" as “Parts of the Affordable Care Act will be implemented.”[8] Potter supports the law, while Hamm has called it “the single worst example of over-regulation” that he has seen while in office.[9]

Superintendent Sanstead did not seek re-election.

Long time North Dakota Superintendent of Public Instruction Wayne Sanstead decided to call it quits after 27 years in the office. Four challengers are vying for the seat.

The position of Superintendent is nonpartisan - candidates run in the same ballot column and are not identified by party. However, GOP and Democratic convention delegates chose a candidate to support.[10] Mandan School Board President Kirsten Baesler won the backing of the Republican Party, defeating state Rep. David Monson at the convention by a vote of 863-725.[11] Former teacher and North Dakota Education Association president Max Laird won the support of the Democratic convention.

Meanwhile, former state Senator Tracy Potter and former middle school and high school principal Keith Jacobson are also running. They did not seek support at a party convention. Jacobson unsuccessfully ran for the position in 2004.[12]

PSC Chairman Clark did not seek re-election.

One seat on the three member North Dakota Public Service Commission is up for re-election this year. Twelve year incumbent Tony Clark, who currently serves as chair of the commission, did not seek re-election.

Current state Sen. Randy Christmann received the Republican nomination at the party's convention, defeating state Rep. Blair Thoreson.[13] Christmann was first elected to the Senate in 1994. He will face Brad Crabtree, a renewable energy activist, in the general election.

Crabtree, who also runs a small sheep and cattle ranch, ran for the PSC in 2010, losing to Republican Kevin Cramer.[14] Crabtree has said he will not accept campaign donations from companies that the PSC regulates or from executives who work for the businesses. “Public service commissioners, as regulators, need to be held to a higher standard than, say, a state legislator or even a state official who is elected,” he said. Christmann said he has not been influenced by supporters' money in the past and will not restrict his donations.[15]

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