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Guilty plea accepted in North Dakota attorney general candidate's speeding case

David Thompson

GRAND FORKS—A Grand Forks Democrat hoping to unseat the North Dakota attorney general said stories about his speeding ticket have helped his campaign.

Paperwork accepting a guilty plea from David Clark Thompson, 65, for the moving violation citation was filed Thursday, July 26, in Grand Forks District Court. Court records indicate the fine for the speeding ticket was $55.

The North Dakota Democratic Party endorsed Thompson, a Grand Forks lawyer, as its attorney general candidate against incumbent Wayne Stenehjem, a Republican. When asked how the speeding ticket would impact his campaign, Thompson said it has been "a great benefit" to him.

"It has given me a tremendous amount of name identification throughout the state," he said. "This story ran in every Forum Communications (Co.) publication in the state, and it ran on both its paper and digital platforms."

Thompson was cited April 13 south of Grand Forks on County Road 81, which has a speed limit of 55 mph. The law enforcement officer who stopped Thompson said he clocked the attorney at 85 mph, an accusation Thompson disputed.

"I would have paid this ticket immediately if the officer recognized that I was going at the most 80 mph," Thompson said. "I don't object ... that I was driving over the speed limit at all. I never did."

The Grand Forks County State's Attorney Office agreed to drop the ticket down to 80 mph in an amended order filed June 8. Paperwork to enter a guilty plea was filed June 20, more than a month before the order to accept the plea was finalized.

An administrative traffic hearing for the case wasn't canceled until Thursday. State's Attorney David Jones acknowledged the proposed plea acceptance order was filed last month but said he cannot control how quickly the court finalizes that document.

Judge Jay Knudson signed the order accepting the plea.

Thompson previously told the Herald he planned to take responsibility for the citation and watch his speed in the future. He said Thursday he thought the matter already was closed.

He noted the ticket was administrative and non-criminal.

Attorney general race

Thompson has been vocal against Stenehjem, claiming the attorney general is responsible for "corruption in the North Dakota Industrial Commission."

Stenehjem serves on the commission, which oversees the oil and coal industries in North Dakota. Thompson drafted a petition in 2012 accusing former Gov. Jack Dalrymple—North Dakota governors also serve on the Industrial Commission—of bribery in relation to campaign contributions from the oil industry. A judge dismissed the case in 2013.

Thompson also has criticized Stenehjem for joining 19 other states in a lawsuit aimed at repealing the Affordable Care Act. Specifically, Thompson questioned why Stenehjem would support a lawsuit that would repeal protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

Thompson filed a complaint last month with the Federal Election Commission against U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., that accused the Republican of corruption. Thompson claimed Cramer, who is running for a seat held by U.S. Sen. Heitkamp, D-N.D., improperly reimbursed himself with Senate campaign funds.

The FEC confirmed it received the complaint but could not disclose any actions or decisions until it is resolved, a spokeswoman said.

An Associated Press story reported in a fact-check article it was possible for Cramer and his wife to drive more than 3,000 miles in 43 days, contradicting Thompson's assessment that it was implausible to travel that much in that time period. The AP analyzed a schedule provided by the Cramer campaign showing trips for events, and it also interviewed event organizers and media reports as it mapped out Cramer's mileage, according to the article published July 4.

"The mileage reimbursements (Cramer) and his wife made to themselves were correct," the AP article said.

Thompson said the AP story was superficial, adding it was "not a real fact-check," he said. He said he wants the FEC to investigate the matter and come to a conclusion.

"We did a lot of research before we filed this complaint," he said. "The FEC is the one that does the investigation, not the AP."

Thompson said his primary focus in the campaign is Stenehjem, but Cramer is a subject of interest.

Cramer did not respond to a request for comment for this story by press time.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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