Olson suggests tapping former N.D. governorsNorth Dakota’s future governors should be paid a small salary when they leave office to teach and reflect on the issues they handled, former Gov. Allen Olson says.
By: Dale Wetzel, The Jamestown Sun
The Associated Press
BISMARCK — North Dakota’s future governors should be paid a small salary when they leave office to teach and reflect on the issues they handled, former Gov. Allen Olson says.
Olson, who was governor from 1981 to 1984, makes the suggestion in the newest edition of North Dakota History magazine. It includes an oral history account of the 69-year-old Olson’s life and his time as North Dakota’s governor and attorney general.
Olson said he thought of the idea when former Gov. William Guy left office in 1972, the same year Olson was elected North Dakota’s attorney general. Guy was articulate and “an extraordinary resource of experience,” Olson said.
“It occurred to me at the time that it was a failing of the state not to capture, when everything is relatively fresh as a governor leaves office, the unique experiences they’ve had,” Olson said in the article. “When I left office, I recognized that I didn’t have that choice, and I wish I had.”
At a state Heritage Center ceremony on Monday to mark the magazine’s publication, Olson elaborated on the idea, suggesting that a stipend be paid to a departing governor for a period ranging from 12 months to 18 months.
The former governor would then be available for college teaching and writing for State Historical Society of North Dakota publications, Olson said.
He thought of the idea when he left office, “but I had to take care of a family, and that was the priority,” Olson said. “Hopefully, some day, former governors will have that opportunity.”
Olson left North Dakota after he was defeated for re-election. He worked for a Minneapolis law firm and became president of the Independent Community Bankers of Minnesota, a position he held from 1988 to 2003.
Olson is one of three members of the International Joint Commission, a panel that referees U.S-Canada boundary waters disputes. An appointee of President George W. Bush, Olson has served on the panel since December 2002.
Previous North Dakota History issues have featured oral histories of former Govs. John Davis, William Guy and Arthur Link. Link and former Gov. George Sinner attended Monday’s ceremony, and Guy sent a letter in which he recalled meeting Olson as a “precocious” young boy on the family’s Cavalier County farm.
Olson defeated Link in the 1980 governor’s race, and Sinner beat Olson four years later, but the men said Monday they always regarded each other warmly.
“The man has absolute intellectual honesty,” Sinner said of Olson.
Link said he first met Olson when he was a legislative staff attorney. Later, the two men served on the state Industrial Commission from 1973 to 1980, when Link was governor and Olson was attorney general.
Olson was “very astute, very well educated, very precise, very determined if he thought he was right, as he should be,” Link said.
“I had to admit that while I was serving in office, he was attorney general, and his main objective was to keep me out of jail,” Link said. “Well, he must have done a good job.”
Olson said he did not enjoy his single term as governor, primarily because slumping oil prices and a weak economy forced him to propose cuts in the state budget, impose a hiring freeze and stop a scheduled pay raise for state workers.
“I was chasing my tail all the time,” Olson said in the article. “It was just because, first of all, people were used to having a fairly robust economy, and so their concentration was on the economic concerns.”
In October 1983, when Olson was attending a North Dakota Public Employees Association meeting in Jamestown, he was shoved into a hotel swimming pool by a state worker who was angry about the wage freeze.
Asked Monday about the high points of his administration, Olson joked that it probably was the night he was inaugurated.
“Boy, there weren’t many high points in those four years,” Olson said. “Look, you don’t get pushed into the swimming pool in North Dakota unless somebody is really upset.”
Olson, who was at the time North Dakota’s first Republican governor in 20 years, also took criticism for proposing to buy a new state airplane — the idea was later dropped — and for continuing to live in his Bismarck home instead of moving his family to the governor’s residence.
He considered not running for a second term, but he eventually sought re-election, only to be defeated by Sinner, 55 percent to 45 percent.
“It was the negative economy,” Olson said in the article. “I couldn’t point to anything positive and say, ‘Re-elect me.’ All I could say was I tried to do the best I could under the circumstances.”
The 34-page article was edited by Gerald Newborg, who recently retired as the Historical Society’s archivist, based on Newborg’s six hours of interviews last year with Olson and former first lady Barbara Olson.
Al Olson grew up on a farm near Sarles, in northeastern North Dakota, and attended undergraduate and law school at the University of North Dakota. He was an attorney in the Army’s Judge Advocate General corps until April 1967.
He worked for the Legislative Council, the Legislature’s research and support agency, and as a private attorney in Bismarck before announcing in the spring of 1972 that he would run for attorney general.
His father, Elmer, had served on the school and township boards in his home community, and his grandfather, Martin C. Olson, had served one term in the North Dakota House. Al Olson had been active in Boys State, a leadership program for high school students.
“I’d looked at (running for attorney general) as getting to sort of scratch the itch,” Olson said. “If you win, fine. If not, at least you’ve done it, and can set that aside. I was fortunate enough to win.”