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Published November 09, 2010, 08:28 AM

Former ND governor's memoirs includes a number of topics, including ag

FARGO, N.D. — Former North Dakota Gov. George A. Sinner — a farmer who became a state legislator and sugar beet lobbyist before winning statewide races in 1984 and 1988 — is launching a memoir book titled, “Turning Points.”

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — Former North Dakota Gov. George A. Sinner — a farmer who became a state legislator and sugar beet lobbyist before winning statewide races in 1984 and 1988 — is launching a memoir book titled, “Turning Points.”

The book of about 350 pages is expected to be available sometime in December is by co-authors Sinner and Bob Jansen, Sinner’s gubernatorial press secretary. The two were featured in an event in Fargo, N.D., hosted by American Crystal Sugar Co. of Moorhead, Minn., on election night A reception at the Fargo Air Museum involved those willing to give a $150 donation to help finance the printing of the book through the Dakota Institute Press.

Sinner, now 82, served a term in the North Dakota state Senate from 1962 to 1966. He was president of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers from 1975 to 1979, the grower/lobbying group associated with American Crystal. He was also on the North Dakota Board of Higher Education and was a leader in groups that led to the creation of the Northern Crops Institute. He was elected governor in 1984 and 1988.

Since political days, Jansen has worked in communications at Minot State University and North Dakota State University in Fargo. He’s now retired from a paycheck to work on specific projects.

Among those in attendance at the event were U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and his wife, Lucy Calautti. Conrad remembered that as a boy he stopped with at the Sinner farm near Casselton, N.D., with his family on their way to a Minnesota lake place.

“I always felt that Bud and Jane were, in many ways, additional parents during my times growing up,” Conrad says.

The senator credits Sinner with convincing Conrad to go back to the U.S. Senate after seat that was left vacant when Sen. Quentin Burdick died in office in 1992. Conrad praised Sinner with leading the state through a decade of some of the toughest times in agriculture since the 1930s.

While the authors allude to obvious agricultural overtones, the book will involve a number of topics, including themes on his family’s business partnership, Sinner Brothers & Bresnahan and his religious and political highlights.

After leaving the governorship, Sinner became vice president of public and government relations for American Crystal. David Berg, now president and chief executive officer at Crystal, joked about the dynamics of Sinner shifting from running a state to running one employee — Berg — when he came to Crystal. Also, Berg hinted at the dynamics at Crystal when two competitive dynamos — Sinner and Joe Famalette, then the president and CEO — were in the same building.

Lobbying for sugar

Mike Warner, a former Hillsboro, N.D., farmer who succeeded Sinner as president of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association, recounted the mentorship that Sinner and former association executive directors Al Bloomquist and Dick Fitzsimons had provided.

Sinner and Warner recalled points at which Sinner helped lobby for “support legislation” for sugar that continues today. Sinner told about cases where the local leaders they went to Washington and were able to convince scientists and regulators to allow them to continue to use pesticides that the government had planned to discontinue.

“One fellow told me, ‘You North Dakotans are different,’” Sinner recalled of a conversation after one of the hearings. “He said, ‘You don’t seem to know what you’re not supposed to do.’”

Sinner paid special tribute to the early leaders of the sugar beet cooperative, which preserved and grew the business in the Red River Valley to employ 30,000 people and contribute $3 billion to the economy.

Sinner and Jansen have been working on the book for several years. It is published by the Dakota Institute Press, which is associated with the Lewis & Clark Fort Mandan Foundation.

Jansen, who did much of the writing, said he enjoyed the process of interviewing Sinner and studying his dictations was enjoyable. He says the book started out as a discussion of Sinner’s gubernatorial years, but later changed to cover “all of the important highlights of Gov. Sinner’s life.” Sinner’s wife, Jane, came up with the title, “Turning Points.”

Leading in farm crisis

Historian Clay Jenkinson who is the director of the Dakota Institute, based in North Dakota’s Washburn and Bismarck areas with the Lewis & Clark Fort Mandan Foundation, says the book includes an array of Sinner legacy stories. One he mentioned is story from Christmas 1986, of how Sinner authorized North Dakota National Guard jets to get a heart to California for a transplant to save the life of a young man who went on to become a concert pianist.

Conrad and Jenkinson credited Sinner served as governor in the tumultuous 1980s, when the state went from 40,000 farms to 33,000 farms. The chief reasons were farm financial crisis and a drought that rivaled the 1930s. He says that’s difficult to realize in today’s period of energy expansion, budget surpluses and “optimism, bordering on giddy optimism.” In the book, Sinner describes his “cheerful optimism” in the midst of despair, believing that things would get better.

Jenkinson says the institute wants to publish at least three books a year, involving topics of the Upper Missouri River, the Great Plains, white-Indian relations, the future of agriculture, the energy boom, U.S. relations with Canada and other topics. Among projects on the books are volumes of poetry by Tim Murphy, an agricultural financier from Fargo, whose work on agriculture an hunting have been published in Agweek.

Information: David Borlaug,, 877-462-8535 or