BISMARCK — The race for state treasurer in North Dakota has generated more intrigue this year than any other in recent memory.
Thomas Beadle, a Republican state representative and businessman from Fargo, and Mark Haugen, a Bismarck Democrat and graduate advisor at the University of Mary, are the two names that appear on the November ballot. The winner will take over the smallest elected office in state government from longtime Republican incumbent Kelly Schmidt, who decided last year not to run for a fifth term.
The state treasurer is responsible for overseeing state funds and handling certain matters of accounting, tax distribution and collections. The treasurer also sits on six statewide boards, including the State Investment Board and the Land Board. In recent years, some lawmakers have made unsuccessful attempts to eliminate the position and absorb its duties into other arms of government.
Twists and turns in the GOP primary made it North Dakota's most watched race in June, and now political observers believe it to be one of the few competitive contests for statewide office.
Rep. Dan Johnston, R-Kathryn, was the first candidate to start a campaign for the office in January, but Beadle declared his intention to run just a few weeks later. It set off an unlikely battle for the party nomination that generated national attention.
As the primary election neared, Gov. Doug Burgum threw his weight and money behind Beadle, who has exhibited mostly moderate conservative voting tendencies throughout his decade in the Legislature.
Johnston, who is aligned with the ultra-conservative Bastiat Caucus, brought his own firepower to the race with the support and financial backing of U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and a surprise tweet endorsement from President Donald Trump.
In the end, Beadle prevailed in the primary race by about 5,000 votes to move on to the general election.
Haugen's journey to the Democratic-NPL's nomination was a lot simpler. The former paramedic was the party's lone declared candidate for the office and received its blessing before the primary election.
Observers have speculated that the highly contentious Republican primary race may have left some conservative voters less keen on Beadle, but the GOP has dominated every statewide office in recent years. Beadle, who has received more than $100,000 in campaign contributions, also holds an enormous fundraising advantage over Haugen.
Beadle says he's running to increase transparency of the office's business and hold state agencies accountable. The Republican also says he wants to put the office's bookkeeping on the cutting edge of technology.
Haugen says he wants to make the office more competent in handling state money. He said he decided to run because of a concern that the office had allowed for the "misallocation" of $262 million of oil tax revenue over seven years. The 2019 state Legislature passed a bill to reallocate some of the money after officials said three constitutional funds were shorted, with money flowing instead to other government sources. Legislators and others blamed "ambiguous" language in law for the confusion, and Schmidt said she was following legal advice on the allocations.