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Heidi Shaffer, Published June 13 2010

Film focuses on former North Dakota Gov. Guy

New documentary, which looks at achievements of man who served more terms than any other ND governor, premieres Tuesday.

Fifty years after William Guy was first elected governor, North Dakotans are still reaping the benefits of what he accomplished in office, says filmmaker and historian Clay Jenkinson.

Jenkinson will premiere his new documentary, “The Charisma of Competence: The Achievement of William L. Guy,” on Tuesday at the Fargo Theatre.

Jenkinson, a North Dakota native and director of the Dakota Institute, said Guy was a hero of his growing up, and he wanted to make the film because the Democrat was one of the most important North Dakota governors.

“His achievement wasn’t dramatic or glamorous,” Jenkinson said. “He was a quiet and masterful administrator who understood the problem of North Dakota.”

The film is the follow-up to Jenkinson’s documentary on former Gov. Art Link, who died June 1.

Guy was assigned as Link’s assistant in 1959 when Link served in the state House.

“From that time on, I was not only the assistant to Art Link, I was also learning a lot about the Legislature and the state,” Guy said. “He was a good mentor of government to me.”

The next year, Guy won his first term as governor.

Guy served more terms than any other governor, winning the 1960 and 1962 races when the office had a two-year term. Guy was also re-elected in 1964 and 1968.

The years Guy served were a tumultuous time in American history, said David Borlaug, president of the Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation.

Guy was elected the same year as President John F. Kennedy and represented a modern era following World War II, Borlaug said.

Guy, who is now 90 and living in Fargo, remembers the time as a transformative era when the Democratic Party merged with the Nonpartisan League to form today’s Democratic-NPL party and voters were looking for a change in the state.

During his time as governor, Guy helped bring the state into the modern world by creating the economic and industrial infrastructure that enabled North Dakota to prosper, Jenkinson said.

“He understood that we would never become a stable state and a prosperous state unless we did more than just export wheat and corn and coal,” Jenkinson said.

Jenkinson has spent the past two years compiling more than 100 hours of interviews with almost 50 people for the hourlong documentary.

Guy and his wife, Jean, were interviewed about 35 times for the film.

All of North Dakota’s current congressional delegation was interviewed for the film, including Sen. Byron Dorgan.

As governor, Guy appointed Dorgan as North Dakota’s tax commissioner, beginning the young Democrat’s career in public service.

“I have great faith in Sen. Dorgan,” Guy said. “And he turned out to be one of the best senators we’ve ever had. And I’m so pleased that I had a chance to help him start his career.”

The Guys haven’t yet seen the film, which Jenkinson said will get some last editing touches Monday before the premiere the following day, but Guy said he’s excited to see what those interviewed had to say about his career.

“This man is not done yet trying to shape the future of North Dakota,” Jenkinson said. “He’s been out of office since 1972, and yet he continues to have a serious influence on North Dakota life.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511