North Dakota Governor Newcomer to Elective Politics

By: - January 2, 2001 12:00 am

North Dakota’s new governor, John Hoeven, had never before campaigned for elective office when he launched his successful bid to become the state’s 30th chief executive.

A Republican, he campaigned on a theme of bringing more and better paying jobs to the state through aggressive economic development policies. He also appealed to Democrats by promising raises for teachers and declaring his opposition to the federal “Freedom to Farm” legislation.

Hoeven, 43, grew up in Minot, a farming, railroading and Air Force base town in the northern part of the state, where his family owns a bank. He showed his belief in entrepreneurship early when, as a teen-ager, he and a friend ran the driving range at the Minot Country Club. He made $1,300 that summer, a princely sum for a 1970s North Dakota kid. The money went into his college fund.

Also during high school, he was brought in on the ground floor of the family bank to learn the business, working as teller and bookkeeper, among other positions.Hoeven applied to Stanford University, his mother’s alma mater, and Dartmouth College, his father’s alma mater, and was accepted at both. He chose Dartmouth because he could play on the golf team.

After graduating from Dartmouth and Northwestern University, where he earned his MBA, Hoeven returned home to start the family bank’s trust department. At the age of 29, he became the bank’s executive vice president, in charge of day-to-day operations. Hoeven also played a key role in Minot’s economic development efforts and served on a committee that worked to save Minot’s air base from closure in the early 1990s.

In 1993, Hoeven was named president of the state-owned Bank of North Dakota in Bismarck. The state officials who hired him and served as board of directors of the bank included his predecessor, Gov. Ed Schafer, and the woman he defeated in November in the gubernatorial race, Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp.

During the seven years Hoeven was at its helm, the bank’s loan portfolio grew five-fold and the bank’s profits became a regular source of revenue for the state’s general fund.

Until 1996, Hoeven avoided political party affiliations. That year, he briefly flirted with becoming the Democratic-NPL party’s candidate for governor against Schafer, who was seeking a second term. Instead, Hoeven reconsidered, declared himself a Republican and sat out the election that year.

After building his credentials within the state GOP organization, he launched his campaign for governor in November 1999, shortly after Schafer announced he would not seek a third term.

Hoeven started with 21 percent name recognition and a faced a contest for the GOP nomination from a longtime legislative leader. He began running campaign commercials even before the state convention met and hired the same media consultants and campaign staff Schafer had used.

Hoeven swamped his opponent in the vote at the state convention, resigned his job at the state bank and began campaigning full time. By late June, polls showed he had caught up to Heitkamp, a seasoned statewide campaigner. In the general election, he won with 55 percent of the vote.

Hoeven’s wife’s name is Mikey and they have a son and a daughter.

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