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Patrick Springer, Published February 12 2014

ND ag commissioner says he would run in primary if he doesn't get GOP endorsement

FARGO – Doug Goehring, who faces a challenger for the Republican endorsement to keep his job as North Dakota’s agriculture commissioner, will run for the GOP nomination in a primary if necessary.

Goehring said Wednesday that he will seek the Republican endorsement for a second term as agriculture commissioner, and hopes to be the party’s choice in its upcoming convention.

But if that bid fails, he plans to seek the Republican nomination in a primary, the route Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., took successfully, winning North Dakota’s lone congressional seat after failing to win the GOP convention endorsement.

“If I was forced to, I would seek the nomination,” Goehring told The Forum Editorial Board. “I would not run as an independent.”

Last week, the North Dakota Farm Bureau, which earlier supported Goehring, announced it is backing Judy Estenson for agriculture commissioner. Estenson lives in Warwick, where she and her husband farm and ranch.

In announcing support for Estenson, a North Dakota Farm Bureau leader said the organization had lost confidence in Goehring.

In a letter to supporters, Goehring said he had “spoke and acted in a politically incorrect manner” in remarks.

On one occasion, he introduced a new female employee as a “babe in the woods.” On another, he referred to a group of women as a “harem.” Both incidents took place in the summer of 2012.

The state’s Human Resource Management Services investigated the matter and took no action, though it suggested follow-up training. Goehring has said he apologized to employees and went through sensitivity training.

Goehring, who has a farm south of Menoken in Burleigh County, was named agriculture commissioner in 2009 and was elected to a four-year term in 2010.

He once served as president and vice president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau, but said current leaders have accused him of not being a forceful advocate of their positions.

On Wednesday, Goehring said he believes he fell out of favor with Farm Bureau leaders over personal differences that began several years ago, and that he must represent all of North Dakota residents and agriculture as agriculture commissioner, not just the views of one advocacy organization.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522