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Published February 17, 2014, 10:46 AM

Who wins the Goehring, ND Farm Bureau split?

The long knives are out for Doug Goehring, and it will be April or November before we see the net effect.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — The long knives are out for Doug Goehring, and it will be April or November before we see the net effect.

Goehring, 51, is North Dakota’s agriculture commissioner, serving nearly one full term and an appointment. The Menoken, N.D., farmer is a former vice president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau and former president of its Nodak Mutual Insurance Co. He tried twice to become agriculture commissioner in 2006 and 2008. When the North Dakota Farm Bureau backed him in 2010, he won with 70 percent of the vote.

On Feb. 3, the Farm Bureau announced its intentions to back someone else — Judy Estenson, a registered nurse and farm woman from Warwick, N.D. The Estenson family is known for its horse work.

So what did Goehring do to infuriate the Farm Bureau? The most high-profile issue is sexual insensitivity — three incidences of inappropriate comments. In one case he introduced former communications staffer Katie Pinke as a “babe in the woods” in a policy area. Pinke, of Wishek, N.D., has strong agricultural public relations credentials and abilities in social media, as well as key family connections to North Dakota’s agricultural public relations hierarchy in the Red River Valley.

I wasn’t there, so I can’t know the full context of these comments. I can’t peer into Goehring’s mind to see his intent.

Perhaps the weirdest situation is when he asked someone — Kelly Wald, a female staffer — to walk on his back when he was having back and headache troubles. This “walking” was done in Goehring’s hotel room in the presence of a male staffer. Wald left the department for education, but then came back to a full-time spot.

The Farm Bureau says these are firing offenses for executives. I wouldn’t say that’s automatic, unless you want someone fired. When a Farm Bureau delegation approached Goehring for details on his indiscretions, Goehring is said to have declined and suggested he didn’t need the Farm Bureau and their PAC money to get re-elected.

Goehring is a dirt-on-the-boots, cellphone-at-his-ear active farmer who has had more personal farm business credibility than any predecessor since Kent Jones. He is especially focused on Environmental Protection Agency regulations and on improving trade possibilities for North Dakota agriculture. Like all of his predecessors, Goehring sometimes talks too long and gets carried away with himself. He’s not my idea of a slick public relations dream, but all of his predecessors I’ve known have had their negatives. Kent Jones imploded because of the “Spud Scam,” selling potatoes to Honduras in 1986.

Goehring’s sin is less dramatic. It involves a lack of deference to the Farm Bureau on strategies involving animal welfare, or his lack of consultation on new fertilizer regulations.

This time, Goehring will have to raise money on his own, which he’s not done without Farm Bureau support. His farm constituents will have mixed loyalties. The Farm Bureau PAC put $25,000 into his 2010 campaign. Insiders say it normally takes $150,000 to $200,000 to win the race these days. This time, Goehring will have financial sources related to his increasingly significant nonag work on the North Dakota Industrial Commission and the North Dakota State Water Commission.

Here’s a scenario: Political unknown Estenson wins the Republican nomination in April. Goehring will go to war with her in the June primary (he says he will) or skip it and save his money for the general election in November. A charismatic Democrat wins.

Think that can’t happen? I remember the 1988 race — Republican farmer Keith Bjerke (39.3 percent); incumbent former Republican and “Independent” Kent Jones (14 percent); Sarah Vogel, Democratic-NPL (45.2 percent).

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