Andrews was a political ‘laser beam’ for farm interests

Former U.S. Sen. Mark Andrews, who died recently at age 94, was a political 'laser beam' for farm interests, especially sugar and rural infrastructure. After the Senate, he went on the board of Tenneco Corp., and fostered the development of Quadtrac tractors, now produced by CNH Global.

In his later days in Washington, D.C., former Sen. Mark Andrews and his wife, Mary, lived in the Watergate Hotel, but his heart was always back at the farm in Mapleton, N.D. Undated photo.North Dakota State University Archives / Agweek

MAPLETON, N.D. — Former U.S. Sen. Mark Andrews, R-N.D., who died at age 94 on Oct 3, 2020, had an outsized impact and intimate knowledge of the region’s agricultural industry — both in Washington, D.C., and back home.

His agricultural roots ran deeper than the state itself.

Officially, he was Mark Andrews II. His grandparents were from New York state and were Michigan-trained medical doctors who moved to Dakota Territory in the late 1870s, prior to statehood in 1889. The Andrewses bought some farmland near Mapleton, N.D., and established a farm.

Later, Andrews’ father, Mark I, and uncle Arlo farmed it in a partnership. Mark I was trained as an opera singer and sang in the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He was dubbed the “singing sheriff” and died from injuries in an auto chase with a perpetrator. Mark II was 12.

Farming, politics

Mark II grew up in Fargo and was active in Boy Scouts and Republican politics, said his daughter, Sarah Andrews Herman. He started West Point, but resigned because of a back injury, and took up agriculture at what is now North Dakota State University. In 1948 he married his wife, Mary, a political science graduate of Smith College in Massachusetts, where Nancy Reagan, Gloria Steinem and Barbara Pierce Bush had graduated.


The Andrewses moved on the farm in 1949. With Mary at his side, in 1960 he ran unsuccessfully for governor against Bill Guy, an Amenia farmer and agricultural economist. It was the first year John F. Kennedy was elected president and the first year of the Democratic-Nonpartisan League party in North Dakota.

Standing 6-foot-4, Mark II went on to win a House seat in a special election in 1963. He became a member of the Appropriations Committee, and served as the chairman of the agricultural subcommittee, working with two North Dakota U.S. senators — Milt Young, a Republican, and Quentin Burdick, a Democrat.

Bob Christman, a former agricultural aide to Young (often dubbed “Mr. Wheat”) recalled that Andrews was always a “spokesman for, fought for agriculture.” Andrews was known for cross-party alliances, including with Burdick.

In 1980 Andrews won the Senate seat with 70% of the vote. Mary Ann Bond of Fargo, an aide to Andrews from 1964 to 1983 in the House and Senate, said Andrews was an advocate of sugar policies, but worked on other projects, including with then-University of North Dakota President Tom Clifford in establishing UND as an aviation education leader, which later paved the way for the state’s leadership in drone technology.

“Agriculture is what we worked on every day,” Bond said. “It was the one area he wasn’t willing to compromise on.”

‘A laser beam’

Clare Carlson, today’s state director of the USDA’s Rural Development agency in the Trump administration, worked for Andrews as an ag aide in the Senate as he contributed to the 1985 farm bill, at the height of the farm credit crisis.

“He was the master of staying on the outside of a deal until he was needed,” Carlson recalled.

Carlson said the 1985 bill offered benefits to the farm economy — including the Conservation Reserve Program land-idling program and strong increases in allocations to the Farmers Home Administration loan allocations. The help didn’t come quickly enough for some farmers.


Randy Russell, principal in the The Russell Group Inc., one of today’s top Washington, D.C., lobbying firms, was chief of staff to then-Secretary of Agriculture John Block for the 1985 farm bill, and was a deputy assistant USDA secretary of economics. Russell noted that agriculture faces its challenges today, but not like the 1980s when asset values declined by 25%. People simply couldn’t repay loans.

“He was a force to be reckoned with. He was tough,” Russell recalled, of Andrews. “He was a fierce advocate for rural development and sugar. He focused like a laser beam on things that he wanted.”

Andrews lost his seat in 1986 in a close election with Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., despite bringing in President Ronald Reagan and Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, R-Kan. Pundits speculated some voters were looking for different leadership. Others said Andrews hurt himself politically when his family sued St. Luke’s Hospital in Fargo, for $10 million, alleging medical malpractice in Mary’s meningitis case. The Andrews family won the suit in June 1984 but received no financial damages.

After his children were grown, the Mark and Mary Andrews lived in the famed Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., but his heart was on the farm, where the Hermans now live, retired from legal careers.

Progressive farmers

The Andrews family were progressive farmers. In the past, they’d fed cattle and raised sugar beets before and after American Crystal Sugar Co. became a cooperative. They built a grain elevator and were growers of certified seeds. In the later years, their crops were primarily corn, soybeans and wheat.

For many years, the senator’s son, Mark III, ran the operation until the land was rented out about five years ago. At its apex, the farm grew to 5,000 acres, including 3,000 owned acres. They raised corn, soybeans and wheat.

As the worldwide farm crisis deepened in 1986, Steiger went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization and emerged by selling to J.I. Case, which since the 1970s had owned half of J.I. Case. (In 1984 Case had acquired International Harvester assets, eventually marketed as Case-IH.)

Mark III said his father had used John Deere equipment, but also liked Steiger tractors, developed in the Red River Valley and manufactured in Fargo — high horsepower, four-wheel-drives with an oscillating, articulated design. Sometimes company engineers would test their prototypes on his farm — only about 15 miles from the factory.


In the 1990s, Mark III surprised his dad when he bought a Case-IH tractor and set of grain drills from Jim Williams, who ran Arthur (N.D.) Mercantile, the oldest one-family farm equipment company in the state. He remembers his father — flying in from Washington — wondering “what the hell I’d done.” But, in fact, the Andrewses had purchased Case equipment from the Williams family in earlier decades, so they shifted almost entirely to Case-IH. (Arthur Mercantile merged into Titan Machinery of Fargo in 2009 and Williams went on the board of Titan, the largest string of Case-IH stores in the country.)

Out of the Senate in January 1987, Andrews started a political consulting company in Washington. He connected with Jim Ketelson, Tenneco’s CEO, who invited him to run for the parent company’s board of directors.

Tenneco’s sold its ag interests to Fiat in 1999, which later merged the company with New Holland Agriculture to form CNH Global. Andrews stayed on at Tenneco until 2001.

Howard Dahl, chief executive of Amity Technology in Fargo, whose father, Gene, had been chairman of the board at Steiger Tractor, said Andrews had a “positive role, after the Tenneco acquisition, for keeping Steiger jobs in Fargo.” The company would go on to add construction wheel-loaders to its Fargo production line, adding to its stability.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Case-IH developed a “Quadtrac” tractor with four tracks to replace four wheels. Mark III said his father was a big fan of four tracks offering particular turning capabilities and traction in Red River Valley heavy soils that had turned wetter after 1993.

Titan CEO David Meyer said Andrews was a “gentleman” and big proponent of the Quadtrac. The Quadtrac went into production as a 360 horsepower tractor in 1996. Today there are eight models from 370 to 628 horsepower, including the 470, featured on a pedestal at the company’s factory in Fargo.

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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