Gov. John Hoeven (R)
Elected: 2000, term expires Dec. 2012, 3rd term.
Born: March 13, 1957, Bismarck .
Education: Dartmouth, B.A. 1979; Northwestern U., Kellogg Grad. Schl., M.B.A. 1981.
Family: Married (Mikey); 2 children.
Professional Career: Exec. V.P., First Western Bank, 1986-93; Pres. & CEO, Bank of ND, 1993-2000.
North Dakota’s John Hoeven is the longest serving governor in the United States. The Republican was first elected in November 2000 and was sworn into office on Dec. 15, 2000—six days before the second-longest serving governor, Republican Rick Perry of Texas, who took office from then President-elect George W. Bush. Hoeven (HO-ven) was born in Bismarck and grew up in Minot. He graduated from Dartmouth College and received an M.B.A. from Northwestern University. In 1981, he entered the family business, First Western Bank in Minot, and became executive vice president. In 1993, he was chosen to be head of the state-owned Bank of North Dakota—a creation of the democratic-socialist Non-Partisan League—by a board that included his predecessor as governor, Republican Ed Schafer, and his 2000 Democratic opponent, Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp. Under Hoeven’s stewardship, the bank’s worth rose from $990 million to $1.6 billion, and its loan portfolio increased from $200 million to $1 billion. In 1996, Hoeven considered running as a Democrat against Schafer, but after Schafer announced his retirement in October 1999, Hoeven decided to remain a Republican.
|John Hoeven (R)||235,009||(74%)|
|Tim Mathern (D)||74,279||(24%)|
|DuWayne Hendrickson (I)||6,404||(2%)|
|John Hoeven (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2004 (71%), 2000 (55%)
His 2000 contest with Heitkamp was relatively civil. The two candidates knew each other well; Bismarck is a small town, where officeholders can scarcely avoid each other, and North Dakotans generally are a civil people. Hoeven cited his work in attracting jobs by founding Minot’s Magic Fund, a city sales tax used for business development, and by organizing to keep Minot Air Force Base off Congress’ base-closure list. He called for economic development with an emphasis on the technology industry and on improving education; he pledged more money for teacher training and salaries. Heitkamp, who grew up in the town of Mantador (population 77), was elected tax commissioner in 1984 and 1988 and attorney general in 1992 and 1996. She said she would try to keep young people in the state through a recruitment and mentoring program, by reinstating a living wage for employees of companies receiving financial assistance and by giving tax incentives to companies that guarantee high-wage jobs.
As the fall campaign heated up, Heitkamp announced in September that she had breast cancer. She underwent a mastectomy the same month, and Hoeven suspended his ads for two days. Quickly, she returned to the campaign trail. For several weeks, she led in polls, but the momentum went back to Hoeven, and he won 55%-45%. Voters over the age of 60 backed the Democrat, voters under 60, the Republican, which is a familiar North Dakota pattern. North Dakota’s skyscraper Capitol, towering over neatly kept Bismarck and the rolling plains beyond, now contained more Republicans in high office than at any time since the NPL allied with the Democrats around 1960.
As governor, Hoeven has used North Dakota’s burgeoning revenues to fund programs to stimulate economic development. In his first years, he combined several state agencies into a Department of Commerce. In 2002, he presented a budget that drew $50 million from two trust funds and borrowed $20 million to complete the state telecommunications network and to fund teacher salary increases. He promoted the use of ethanol fuel and required it in state vehicles. He brought a lawsuit to roll back the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad’s rate increases and eliminated the sales tax on used farm machinery and parts.
In 2002, Hoeven announced an ambitious research and development program, borrowing $50 million to generate $150 million for university projects that would help commercialize new technology. From 2005 to 2007, more than $40 million in state funds, combined with double that in private funds, were invested in the Center of Excellence in Life Sciences and Advanced Technology and other new research centers devoted to developing technology and making greater use of North Dakota’s natural resources. These included research facilities for hydrogen technology, crop oils and petroleum, aerospace science, electronics, and biopharmaceuticals.
Much of this was aimed at exploiting North Dakota’s considerable energy resources, including oil, coal, ethanol and other biofuels, wind and hydrogen. In 2002, Hoeven announced his Empower North Dakota energy plan, which aims to build three new biodiesel plants by 2015, to have wind supply 10% of electricity by 2015 (up from 5%), to require that ethanol account for 75% of gasoline consumption by 2015 and to build at least one coal-to-liquid energy plant by 2012. Other projects include commercializing hydrogen by using wind power to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen.
Water is a controversial issue in river-crossed North Dakota. For years, there was concern about the rising water level in land-locked Devils Lake, which was submerging farmland and houses after heavy rains and threatening local roads. The three North Dakotans in Congress tried to get the federal government to act. But when progress was slow on that front, Hoeven stepped in, and construction began in 2003 on a channel to divert the water through the Sheyenne River, which drains into the northward-flowing Red River of the North. The move generated loud protests from Minnesota and Manitoba officials, worried about water quality and invasive species. The two sides battled in court, but a 14-mile channel was opened in 2005 and drainage began. Hoeven and North Dakota ultimately agreed to install filters to prevent invasive species and pollutants from moving downstream.
Hoeven has had one of the highest job-approval ratings of any American governor. In 2004, he was re-elected, 71%-27%, over former state Sen. Joseph Satrom, who opposed the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage that was approved by 73% of the voters. Hoeven’s percentage of victory was the largest for a North Dakota governor since Republican C. Norman Brunsdale was re-elected in 1952. In 2005 and 2007, Hoeven submitted budgets with big increases in education spending targeted at teachers’ salaries and with reductions in local property taxes. His budgets have also included the largest tax-relief measure in state history, the biggest increase in higher-education funding in state history, a renewable-energy package, and a landmark K-12 education bill that featured a more equitable school-aid formula and funding for statewide all-day kindergarten. He negotiated with Manitoba Premier Gary Doer to develop “enhanced” state and provincial driver’s licenses to avoid the need for passports for locals crossing the U.S.-Canada border. He responded in spirited fashion to a 2008 National Geographic article on “The Emptied Prairie” by saying North Dakota has “a growing economy, well-educated citizens, low crime, great infrastructure, and one of the cleanest environments in America.”
Taking note of Hoeven’s high approval ratings, national Republicans have hoped that he would run against one of North Dakota’s two Democratic senators. He was pressed to run in 2006 against Kent Conrad by top Bush political adviser Karl Rove. Conrad took Hoeven’s potential candidacy seriously: He raised $2.7 million by June 2005, more than he had ever spent over the course of an entire election cycle, and began running ads in September 2005. Later that month, Hoeven announced he would not run. In 2007, he announced he would run for a third four-year term, and in November 2008, he defeated state Sen. Tim Mathern, 74%-24%, as Republicans dominated all the down-ballot offices. He is now set to equal Democrat William Guy’s record of serving 12 years as governor. Guy won two-year terms in 1960 and 1962 and four-year terms in 1964 and 1968. Before the 2008 election, Hoeven brushed aside speculation that he would run against Sen. Byron Dorgan or Rep. Earl Pomeroy in 2010, but did not pledge to serve out his third term. “I’m focused on what we are doing now, working to serve the people of North Dakota,” he told the Bismarck Tribune. “I’m not ruling anything out or in.”