One of North Dakota’s latest COVID-19 fatalities was buried on Wednesday afternoon but remains on the ballot for the state legislature in the November elections.
Known in his motor racing days as “Dakota Dave,” 55-year-old David Andahl is on the ballot as a Republican candidate in the box marked “State Representative District 08.” His name is two inches to the right of the name Donald J. Trump in the adjacent box marked “President and Vice President of the United States.”
In a campaign TV ad, Andahl described himself as a Trump supporter. He was not dissuaded when it became known that Trump had been aware back in February that COVID-19 is deadly and yet continued to compare it to the flu, dismissing it as just another Democratic hoax.
“It’s going to disappear,” said the president whose re-election Andahl still supported.
Right around the same time Trump tested positive for COVID-19, Andahl also fell ill. They were both hospitalized over the first weekend in October. Both posted on social media that Sunday.
Trump tweeted a video, saying he was “getting great reports from the doctors” and was going to pay a surprise visit to the “great patriots” who were outside the hospital with Trump flags. He added that he had “learned a lot” about COVID-19.
“I get it, I understand it,” Trump said. “I’m going to be telling you about it.”
Andahl posted on Facebook, saying nothing of his illness, sounding not at all Trumpian. He suggested that the way to govern is not to incite and divide but to listen and unite.
“Election Day is fast approaching,” he noted. “I served on the Burleigh County Planning & Zoning Commission for 16 years, including chairing the commission for eight years during a time of rapid growth and change. I listened to my constituents and worked collaboratively with my colleagues to find solutions. I will bring this same approach to the legislature, representing your concerns in District 8. I appreciate your support!”
On Oct. 5, Trump was released. He tweeted another video after he returned to the White House that evening.
“One thing that’s for certain: Don’t let it dominate you,” he said of the virus. “Don’t be afraid of it. You’re going to beat it. We have the best medical equipment, we have the best medicines—all developed recently."
That same night, an announcement appeared on Andahl’s Facebook page.
“It is with heavy hearts we share that David Andahl passed away today. Our deepest sympathies to his family and friends.”
Andahl’s family posted on the page the following day.
“Our beloved son David passed away yesterday after a short battle with COVID-19. He was very cautious especially because he did have a few health challenges, but he was unable to fend off this disease. We are heartbroken, and we ask that he be remembered not by how he died, but by how he lived. David was a kind, caring man whose greatest joy was helping others. He gave generously of his time to his family, friends, neighbors and his community. He has been a public servant for many years and was looking forward to the opportunity to serve in the state legislature. We are sad that his wish will not come to pass. We thank all of you who have supported David in the past, and we ask for your continued support and prayers as we make arrangements to celebrate his life.”
Many of the friends and colleagues who commented in response used that same word, “generous.” And there is no reason to doubt that Andahl was indeed “very cautious” about COVID-19.
But too many people in North Dakota were not. The state had become a hotspot as Gov. Doug Burgum went through three state health directors in four months and refused to institute a mask mandate. He still talks about “guidelines” and offers such phony phrases as “the path to freedom is through self-discipline” as North Dakota reports the nation’s highest per capita incidence in both COVID-19 deaths and new infections.
At the start of this week, the five mayors of the state’s biggest cities released a joint letter calling for “increased diligence” in the face of what threatened to become a “second wave” of infections. They wrote:
“To get us through this wave of COVID-19 and to keep our communities open, it’s crucial to be aware of our behaviors: WEAR A MASK when distancing cannot be maintained, wash your hands frequently, and sanitize frequently used surfaces. We must keep our social interactions to small groups, social distance when out in the public, utilize testing events, and if sick stay home.”
The earnest-sounding missive became a joke when you saw the signatories. None of them have instituted a mask mandate extending beyond city employees. Mayor Tim Mahoney of Fargo is a physician who attended the Harvard school of public health, so it seemed only what was to be expected on Sept. 21 when he lodged his vote on whether the city board of commissioners should draft a mask mandate.
“Yes,” he said.
But when it came to a vote on Oct. 5 whether to take the first step toward the possible implementation of a mandate, the doctor became just another craven politician. Never mind that the science such as he studied at Harvard had proven the value of a mandate.
“No,” he said.
Mahoney made noises afterward about what an emotional issue masks had become and how difficult a mandate would be to enforce. He cited an instance when a Fargo public transit employee asked someone to wear a mask and got “coldcocked from behind,” and a security guard came over only to be similarly attacked. The lesson Mahoney offered from this was not that the assailant should have been arrested but that masks should not be required even if they have been proven to save lives.
At least Mahoney did not inflame the situation, as had Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski in late August.
“This isn’t Nazi Germany where we can bust into houses and force people to wear masks,” Bochenski declared.
Meanwhile, the virus has continued to surge and the death toll has mounted. The Good Samaritan Society long-term care facility in Bottineau reported that 14 residents and one staff member had died of COVID-19 as of Tuesday. The Somerset Court assisted living facility in Minot reported that 58 of its 137 residents and 11 of its staff had tested positive.
And then there were those who got sick and died in the course of going between work and home, or in the case of Andahl, the campaign trail. His run was bankrolled with big money from none other than Burgum, as part of the governor’s effort to exact revenge on a political foe.
The target was state Rep. Jeff Delzer of Underwood, the longtime chairman of the state House Appropriations Committee and perhaps the most powerful figure in the legislature. The house traditionally rubberstamps the governor's budget, but Delzer sought even more power by changing the rules. Delzer summarily rejected first-term Burgum’s 2019 fiscal plan.
As it happens, Delzer is a District 8 Representative, who are elected two at a time. The top two finishers from the particular party’s primary win. They then face the top two of the opposing party. And the top two of those four in the general election win.
Burgum, who got into politics after selling his software company to Microsoft for more than $1 billion, began by pouring more than $1.8 million into a political action committee backing Andahl and another political newcomer named Dave Nehring in a joint candidacy.
The “two Daves” got everybody they could muster to attend the local GOP convention and managed to secure the Republican endorsement over Delzer. Thanks to TV ads and fliers, along with genuine hominess and newbie enthusiasm, Nehring and Andahl come in first and second.
Delzer was out, and that would have been that if Andahl had not fallen ill and died from the virus Burgum has let run wild. The early voting had already commenced, and the state attorney general decreed that Andahl would remain on the ballot in the general election even though it could not be said he lives in District 8 or anywhere else.
Should the dead guy beat the live Democrat candidate, the new representative will likely be appointed by the local GOP committee. And that has some observers wondering if Delzer might end up keeping his seat after all. No doubt Burgum will do whatever he can to prevent that.
Burgum’s office did not respond to a Daily Beast query as to whether he planned to attend Andahl’s funeral on Wednesday at “Dakota Dave’s” ranch outside Bismarck, the state capital. If the governor did go, he would seem to have skipped the burial and gone straight to a “COVID-19 Response Press Conference” at 3:30 p.m.
There, Burgum blathered about guidelines rather than mandates. He again cited the question of enforceability. He then came closer to the real fear that seems to drive so many quaky souls such as himself to resist mandates.
“This is not the time for us to get fighting ideological battles,” he said.
Battles that Trump has incited almost from the start of the pandemic, rousing his base to join him in disguising reprehensible selfishness as freedom. Trump was out there there even now in other states, drawing crowds with no consideration for social distancing and inciting his followers by example not to wear masks. He did not just mismanage the pandemic. He stoked it by substituting rational public health for the basest of politics. And he thereby whipped up forces that Burgum and Mahoney (a doctor, no less!) and other cowards are afraid to face.
“Masks work and you don’t need a mandate to wear one,” Burgum told the press conference.
In the way of Trump, the governor sought to minimize the spike in infections by suggesting the high per capita rate was the result of increased testing in a state with a low population.
“The deaths, of course, again, also translate to that,” he continued.
Deaths translate? And this from a guy whose candidate for legislature died of COVID-19 and was being buried that very afternoon.
“As we’ve seen our deaths increase in recent weeks with the small population,” Burgum continued, “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.”
And in November, there will be a dead guy on the ballot two inches from the name Trump in a state whose population seems sure to get even smaller.