The dead guy on the ballot in North Dakota won, and now the state’s governor has started a court battle over who gets to appoint a live replacement.
In a suit filed this week, Gov. Doug Burgum asks the North Dakota Supreme Court to affirm his right to name who fills the state House of Representatives seat won by David “Dakota Dave” Andahl even though he died of COVID-19 a month before the election.
Burgum said in court papers that he was seeking “immediate injunctive relief” before the State Canvassing Board complicates things by certifying the election.
Too bad he has not moved with similar urgency in addressing the virus that killed Andahl in October while making North Dakota the hottest zone in the nation, with more new infections per capita than any other.
Late Friday night, Burgum finally imposed a mask mandate as COVID-19 raged out of control. It was one of four measures he implemented after months of suffering, including a 50 percent capacity limit on bars and restaurants, a 10 p.m. curfew for indoor dining, and a halt on high school sports.
In contrast, Burgum has proven capable of lightning-quick action when seeking to preserve what appears to be a big-money political revenge plot.
The apparent scheme began in the spring, before the Republican primary, when Burgum poured $1.8 million out of his own pocket into a political action committee to back Republican newcomers Andahl and Dave Nehring, who were running as a pair for the two House seats in District 8. The way it works in District 8, the two top vote-getters are the winners of the two seats.
Thanks to the big money in the little race, the two Daves finished first and second in the primary. That meant the two Republicans incumbents were out. And the incumbents included GOP Rep. Jeff Delzer, the longtime chairman of the state House Appropriations Committee. Delzer had incurred Burgum’s wrath by summarily rejecting the governor’s 2019 fiscal plan, which traditionally would have just been rubber stamped.
With the primary results, what was widely recognized and reported as Burgum’s revenge scheme seemed complete. He was just in his first term, but he had proven capable of conceiving and executing an apparently perfect plan.
But Burgum demonstrated considerably less foresight and decisiveness when pandemic hit and the challenge was saving lives, not just getting even.
Had Burgum not uttered such phony phrases as “the path to freedom is through self-discipline” and followed the successful example of states that instituted mask mandates, his state’s record number of new infections might not have come to include Andahl.
The 55-year-old motor racer turned rancher and real estate developer was hospitalized on the same weekend as President Trump. Andahl died the same day Trump was released.
Burgum did not attend the funeral, which was held at 2 p.m. on Oct. 14 on Andhal’s ranch just outside the capital city of Bismarck. The outdoor service was preceded by a viewing in which the coffin stood open before a tractor that had and had an American flag hanging from its upraised front loader. Andahl lay as a silent mandate to those in attendance. They wore masks and sat in socially distanced folding chairs as the coffin was closed and country music played and a pastor spoke. A series of friends and relatives offered memories of a man with qualities shared by the best of us, whatever our politics.
“Rest in peace, brother,” his twin sister Darci Andahl when her turn came to speak. “I will think of you with every birthday we have.”
Burgum also made no mention of Andahl at a COVID-19 press briefing he held in Bismarck at 3:30 p.m. that day. He spoke only in general terms of the fatalities that accompanied the spike in cases. His tone was spookily detached for somebody whose candidate for legislature was being buried at just about that moment.
“The deaths, of course, again, also translate to that,” Burgum said of the infection stats. “As we’ve seen our deaths increase in recent weeks with the small population. We have in fact had a high number of deaths per capita, and that’s obviously something we take super seriously and we’re trying to prevent.”
He acknowledged the efficacy of masks in preventing infections and therefore deaths, but said there remained “enforceability issues.” And, rather than addressing masks as a simple issue of public health during a pandemic, he further politicized them by saying they should not be politicized.
“This is not the time for us to get fighting ideological battles,” he said.
He once again proved himself as something between a shirker and a coward in the battle to save lives being fought by medical workers risking all on the front lines.
“Masks work and you don’t need a mandate to wear one,” Burgum said.
Never mind that various states have shown that masks mandates also work, making people more likely to wear them. Had Burgum insisted on one in North Dakota, Andahl might have remained a live candidate rather than a dead one who remained on the ballot because early voting in the state was already underway.
The story of the dead guy on the ballot was so widely reported that the voters of District 8 were almost certainly aware of Andhal’s change of address to Baldwin Cemetery. Enough of them proved more willing to vote for a dead Republican than for a live Democrat that Andahl came in second, right behind Nehring.
The problem for Burgum was that North Dakota law allows for the dead to be on the ballot, but not to take office if elected. The result was a vacancy.
North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem took the opinion that the District 8 Republican Committee could pick the replacement. And that raised the possibility the spot could be taken by Delzer, who had been the target of the Burgum’s scheme to begin with. Burgum would then have spent $1.8 million only to see his enemy back in power just in time for the next budget.
Even as he let COVID-19 cases continue to mount with no mask mandate, Burgum took immediate action to fill the vacancy made by the virus.
So, Andahl had no sooner been elected from the grave than Burgum boldly went ahead and appointed a coal company executive named Wade Boeshans as his replacement. Burghm made sure to offer condolences to Andahl’s family and spoke as if he were stepping in on behalf of the constituents whom Dakota Dave had looked forward to representing.
“Our hearts continue to go out to David Andahl’s family and friends,” he said in a statement. “There is no doubt he would have served the state well in the Legislature. The people of District 8 are entitled to full representation in the next legislative session, and Wade Boeshans is uniquely qualified to serve their needs.”
Stenejem offered an immediate opinion regarding Burgum’s appointment.
“Inaccurate and untimely,” he said.
Stenejem charged that Burgum had sight “to sidestep the statutory processes and the state Constitution.”
On Thursday, Burgum filed suit, seeking to have the North Dakota Supreme Court upheld his appointment of Boeshans. Burgum was anxious to prevent the State Canvassing Board from complicating matters by certifying the results at a meeting scheduled for later in the week.
"Immediate injunctive relief is necessary," Burgum said in court papers.
As he awaited the outcome of what had spurred him to immediate action, Burgum continued to dither about a mask mandate that could have saved Andahl and many more.
It came, at last, on Friday just in time to save lives not yet lost.