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Cory Fong is among N.D.'s best

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editorials Jamestown, 58401

Jamestown North Dakota 121 3rd St NW 58401

Some North Dakota Democrats have short memories. When Republican Tax Commissioner Cory Fong submitted his resignation to the governor last week, Chad Oban, executive director of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party, couldn't resist lobbing a cheap shot. Oban said Fong's decision follows a trend among Republican officeholders. "... why they can't wait until their terms are done is beyond me."

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Really? Was it beyond Oban when Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson resigned in midterm to take the top job with the National Farmers Union? Johnson was arguably the most popular Democratic officeholder in the state, having won re-election several times in the face of Republican waves. Had Johnson stayed in the ag post and run for re-election, he likely would have won again.

Instead, a Republican governor appointed the man Johnson easily beat at the polls, Doug Goehring, who then went on to win election in his own right --effectively ending the Democratic hold on the state's top ag post.

How smart was that for Democrats? Cynics might even question Johnson's loyalty to the party.

Fong has served the state a long time, beginning when Secretary of State Al Jaeger hired Fong to work in that office. Give credit to Jaeger for seeing in Fong the potential to be the dedicated, effective office holder he became.

Quickly recognized as a competent, personable public servant, Fong was appointed tax commissioner in 2005, then elected on his own in 2006 and re-elected in 2010. His service at the Tax Department has been exemplary. He's been as nonpolitical as possible. His staff of professionals is among the best in state government, and the data they have reliably provided over the years has always been timely and accurate.

In other words, Fong did the job voters expected of him. That he's decided to leave government for the private sector -- as have Republicans and Democrats before him --speaks well of the dictum that elected office should not be a lifelong career.

Finally, political analysts could conclude Democrats have a good shot at the tax commissioner spot because there will be no elected incumbent in the November 2014 contest. Even Oban sees the opportunity. He said, "Actually, I think this is pretty good timing to make sure we have a good candidate ..."

So which is it: A bad thing because a Republican resigned, or a good thing because a Democrat might have a better chance at winning the office with Fong gone? Let Democrats wrestle with their contradictions.

Meanwhile, Fong will continue his good work for North Dakotans until he leaves office at the end of the year.

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