November has been a month of notable departures, each deserving reflection.
Two members of the North Dakota Senate said they wouldn’t run for reelection. Both are women, both are from Bismarck and both are public school teachers.
During a special session of the Legislature early in the month, state Sen. Nicole Poolman told the Senate she wouldn’t be back. Sen. Erin Oban made her decision public after the session ended.
They are from different parties, Oban a Democrat and Poolman a Republican. But both gave the same reason for departure: a decrease in civility in the Senate.
It’s notable that the regular session early in the year brought the expulsion of a House member who had been accused of sexual harassment so severe that he’d created a hostile work environment in the House. He was replaced by a woman.
Both Poolman and Oban suggested the Senate is a more genteel chamber than the House, and probably most observers would agree. But both of these senators found the atmosphere unpleasant enough to give up their political careers.
Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenbergr resigned after an incident in a Bismarck motel. He was taken to jail for detoxification, though he was not arrested. Apparently he’d taken a room as a place to sober up on his own, but the motel staff said the room wasn’t ready and he unwisely entered a different room and locked himself in.
This was a third instance of bad judgment induced by alcohol. In 2014, Rauschenberger loaned his car to a buddy he’d met in an alcohol recovery program. The buddy crashed it. In 2017, Rauschenberger was arrested for driving while drunk. North Dakotans forgave him both times, electing him in 2014, after a gubernatorial appointment, and reelecting in 2020. In his resignation letter, Rauschenberger said, “I don’t believe I can fully execute all of the duties of the office I hold while focusing on recovery."
Gov. Doug Burgum was gracious in accepting the resignation, stressing again that alcoholism is a treatable disease and praising Rauschenberger for seeking treatment. Burgum and his wife have undertaken a high profile campaign for recovery.
I have known Rauschenberger a long time, and I know him to be smart and capable, and I’m hopeful – confident, even – that he’ll have a successful recovery.
Full disclosure here: I’ve known Rauschenberger’s mother all my life. We grew up on adjoining farmsteads in Mountrail County, we rode the school bus together for a decade and she and I and quite a few others share an oil well. I think her share is larger than mine, because her farm was bigger and her family smaller than ours.
In Fargo, Birch Burdick said he’d retire after decades as Cass County state’s attorney, the busiest prosecutorial staff in the state. Burdick is the son of two U.S. senators and the grandson of a member of the U.S. House. The Burdick political dynasty began with Usher Burdick, who played a big role in the state’s politics for half a century. He was a populist who ran as a Republican. His son, Quentin Burdick, helped move the Nonpartisan League from the Republican to the Democratic-Nonpartisan League and served in the Senate for 32 years. When he died in 1992, his wife, Jocelyn Birch Burdick, was appointed to replace him. She passed away in 2019.
In Grand Forks, the North Dakota Museum of Art lost the only director it has ever had. Laurel Reuter announced her retirement. Her involvement with a gallery on campus began when the director of the Student Union asked her to take care of a small gallery. I used to hang around the gallery back in my student days. In the early 1970s, Reuter effectively appointed herself director to the North Dakota Gallery of Art, and she’s been in that position ever since. The gallery – the state’s official art gallery – is the city’s cultural center, home to a permanent collection and host to a succession of stunning exhibits addressing a wide range of topics and styles. No successor has been named.
Also in Grand Forks, death took Al Palmer, a brigadier general in the Air National Guard who was a flight instructor and later director of flight operations at UND’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences. He actually retired twice from UND. In his second stint he helped create a center for unmanned aircraft research and training. His wife, Peggy, told the Herald that “flying was a hobby that escalated.”
Palmer was also the driving force behind a Veterans’ Memorial Park just north of the roundabout on South 34th Street.
The cause of death was COVID. Palmer was 69.
Mike Jacobs is a former editor and publisher of the Grand Forks Herald.