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ND agriculture commissioner: the race no one is watching and should

Next month, North Dakotans will go to the polls. What is one of the most influential elected positions that most voters know very little about? The agriculture commissioner.

My colleague, reporter Jenny Schlecht, recently published in Agweek an in-depth story on the importance of the North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner role. As a lifelong North Dakota resident and agriculturist, I was disappointed in both candidates’ responses to Jenny’s questions. When asked why they are running for the office, Democratic challenger and state legislator Jim Dotzenrod and Republican incumbent Doug Goehring said they want to “advocate” for the ag industry.

A decade ago, we needed advocacy. Now, we expect it. We need a leader who moves beyond advocacy. I want someone who helps create value-added production and processing opportunities for North Dakota crops and livestock.

North Dakota’s agriculture commissioner sits on the Industrial Commission with the governor and attorney general, overseeing numerous state programs, which Jenny details in her story. It is a critical reason why you should care who wins the agriculture commissioner race.

The agriculture commissioner has the platform to move agriculture forward. Instead, we have candidates using talking points from a decade ago, and neither is a true leader. I don’t see either as being able to take a stand and collaborate to create a stronger ag economy. So we have a race with little awareness and advertising and a warm body in a vitally important office.

On a personal note, it has been well-documented I worked for the current agriculture commissioner from January 2012 to March 2013. I resigned to start my own communications consulting and speaking business.

Goehring got into office with good intentions, except he’s not a leader and his track record and interviews have showcased that over the nine years in office. I’ve not met Dotzenrod, but based on what I’ve read, I don’t think he’s a good fit for the future of North Dakota agriculture either.

Neither party has put much money, time or effort into their agriculture commissioner candidates.

It’s disappointing. Our voters — and the ag industry — deserve more. But as it is with most politics, the best candidates aren’t running. Where are they? They are running businesses, including farms and ranches. Who are they? Leaders in agriculture creating change independently as best they can with the resources available to them.

When it comes to voting for agriculture commissioner or any office, your options are limited, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask the hard questions and demand answers. It doesn’t mean the winner shouldn’t be held accountable and doesn’t mean you have to sit back and accept the status quo.

You might relate to how I feel — conservative to most, liberal to some, but mostly I fall into the moveable middle — frustrated with my choices for an office that holds so much potential and power for an industry about which I am passionate.

This election and moving forward, demand more.

Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at kpinke@agweek.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.

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