North Dakota’s Lt. Governor enters race for state’s highest post

(Fargo, ND) -- North Dakota Lt. Governor Tammy Miller has had a front row seat to four years of the governor’s arena.  Now, she’s looking for a chance to play the game herself. 

Miller, former CEO of Fargo-based Border States Electric, announced February 15th that she hopes to succeed her current boss, Doug Burgum, who is not running for re-election. 

“I have been contemplating a run for a while and finally made the decision, and it's so exciting to make the announcement.  Leading up to this, I looked at my background as a CEO at Border States, where I served for 14 years.  I am a CPA, I have a strong financial background. I've created jobs, grown a business, know how to balance a budget, and maximize dollars, and I thought I need to take these skills to the citizens of North Dakota. I think my private industry experience will be very helpful to continuing the momentum in the state and taking it to the next level.”

Miller retired from BSE in 2020 to join the Burgum administration in Bismarck.  She served as chief operating officer from April 2020 through December 2022 working with cabinet agencies to foster innovation and improve the efficiency of government services.  Burgum appointed Miller to the role of Lt. Governor in late 2022, after Brent Sanford left the administration to enter the private sector.

“I am so fascinated by the vision of Governor Burgum and the direction of the state, and we’ve got such great momentum having been part of that administration for 4 years.  I just want to keep that momentum going and take North Dakota to the next level.  There is a lot of work that is still unfinished.  We need to completely eliminate the individual income tax, because there are so many opportunities to grow and diversify our economy, especially when you look at energy and agriculture.  We also have to keep fighting back against the Biden administration and its socialistic agenda, and then we want to continue to promote public safety, and backing the blue, the brown and the green, and help make ND the most military-friendly state in the nation.”

State leaders have been at odds with the Biden administration since its first days.  In particular, they cite Biden’s unwillingness to hold federally mandated land lease auctions.

In a recent lawsuit, Attorney General Drew Wrigley claimed that the BLM lease auction cancelations were costing North Dakota more than $100 million in revenue.  North Dakota would eventually win the case. 

According to the Independent Petroleum Association of America, in the Biden administration’s first 19 months, it fell behind the pace of past administrations, with only 0.13 million public acres under oil and gas lease.  This trails Trump’s 4.4 million, Obama’s 7.25 million, or Reagan’s 47.58 million.

As to the question of how to move the state’s oil and natural gas industry forward, Miller says there are 2 main paths.

“We continue to work on innovation versus regulation like we're doing right now.  Despite what's going on in D.C., we're still growing energy oil production in the state of North Dakota. I also think we need to get out and vote and make sure Donald Trump is our next president.  I think the opportunities there are really to increase and not stifle oil production.  And there are ways to enhance oil recovery in North Dakota. And we know that a lot of the proposed regulation coming out of the Biden administration is going to really shut down the oil and all energy production in the state of North Dakota if we don't change leadership in Washington D.C.  And I firmly believe that Donald Trump is our best choice for president and he will make it even easier to increase energy production in the state of North Dakota and also increase national security.  And we've proven we can do it in an environmentally friendly way. I mean, the best practices are right here.”

Donald Trump enjoys massive leads in every state where polling has been done for the Republican Primary.  Miller says the reason is because his policies and philosophies resonate well with the American people. 

“Well, he's good for business. He's good for North Dakota, and he is good for national security. Just think back to oil and ag and our national security when Trump was president. We need to get Trump back in the office, and we need to continue to focus on keeping our state and our country prosperous and safe.  We need his continued support to grow our ag and energy industries. We also need help at the border. We need to secure the border in the United States to keep the cartels and the drugs out of our country.”

As Lieutenant Governor, Miller says she’s talking with civic leaders and citizens all across the state, and the nation’s drug abuse problem comes up often. 

“I see the reports that every month from our Department of Health and Human Services, and last year through November, we had 55 citizens of North Dakota die of fentanyl overdose.  That number is down a little bit from prior years, but the number of overdoses is not down. The number of overdose deaths has been reduced because we have the availability of Narcan, which can revive folks that have been subject to an overdose.”

Should Trump become elected, and especially if the House and Senate are fully in Republican control, the party will have some large decisions about handling the influx of migrants seeking refuge in the United States, with many of them living in the U.S. while they await an asylum hearing.  Miller says the question is extremely important, considering that neighboring state Minnesota could become a sanctuary state in it’s current legislative session. 

“We cannot continue to support illegals in any state in the United States,” says Miller.  “We will not provide any benefits to individuals who are illegal in the state of North Dakota. And I would support deporting them.  There absolutely are illegal immigrants in the state of North Dakota, and I know our law enforcement is doing their best they can, but we know that a lot are being missed because the borders are so open in the southern part of the country.”

Miller has not yet been elected to any governmental position in her short public service career.  She does not believe it will work against her in the upcoming campaign. 

“Well, I think if we look at the history of North Dakota, the citizens like to have business leaders in the governor's office in Bismarck. Doug Burgum was a very successful businessman and a very successful governor. I believe I can keep that momentum going. And if we look beyond the state of North Dakota, look at Donald Trump, he was a very successful business leader and became a very successful president.”

Miller was born in the tiny town of Brocket, North Dakota, population 34, just north of Lakota near Devils Lake.  It was there, she says, that her core values of hard work, customer service, and respect for the 2nd Amendment and a free marketplace were forged. 

“My parents were in the lumber and hardware business. They had a business called Miller Shopping Center on the Prairie that was situated out of town.  And as kids growing up, we all worked there. I wanted to work at the Dairy Queen, but instead had to work at the store and as the boss's daughter, got to do a lot of the jobs that others didn't do, including cleaning toilets, stocking shelves, and all of those things. And with our business out in the middle of nowhere, we were often the victim of thieves. So, when the alarm went off, our house was only a mile away from the store and we would grab our shotguns and go and guard the store until the sheriff arrived. So that's a little bit of my growing up. Very much believe in the Second Amendment. Very much believe in family values, conservative values, learned a lot working at the store about customer service and giving back.

For those that consider her a political moderate, she offers a different description.

“No, I would call myself a conservative. I mean, if you look at what I believe, I’m very much aligned with conservative Republicans; less government, lower taxes, firmly believe in the Second Amendment, and keeping decisions very local.  I am pro-life. I do, though, believe we have to have some very narrow exceptions for women, especially young women and girls who are victims of rape and incest. Our current law that was signed by the governor last session has those very narrow exceptions, and I support that bill and I am pro-life.”

And what would she say when faced with the question about why the baby should have its life ended in those cases? 

“I certainly understand and respect that comment, but I also think about the traumatic situation that that young girl or young woman is put into when they are the victim of rape and incest.  I think during the last session we did deal with a lot of those more cultural issues. They're very important issues to the citizens of North Dakota, and I think we made good progress. I do hope moving forward into the next session, though, we can have even greater focus on growing the economy and taking the state to the next level.”

Miller says she did contemplate a run for U.S. Senate in 2018 and was “very curious” but the timing did not work because she had committed to her employer that she would continue in her role as CEO at Border States Electric until March 31, 2020.

North Dakota voters may have a large decision to make on property taxes, when they head to the polls in 2024.  Rick Becker’s group “End Unfair Property Taxes” is working on a petition that would eliminate property taxes, with the revenue being paid to municipalities with state funds.  She is not in favor of the idea as it’s currently structured.

“I am totally against eliminating property tax in North Dakota. I do think we need to work collaboratively to figure out a way to reduce property taxes. But if you eliminate property taxes, what services do you want to give up? Do you want to give up what your park is doing, what your school is doing? Someone has to pay for those services. And if it comes from the state government, we're not cutting property taxes, we're just subsidizing them.  But I do support property tax reform. We need to bring the parties together and figure out a solution because around the state, property tax is something that most people are talking about.”

Miller faces a formidable primary foe in current Congressman Kelly Armstrong, who is not seeking re-election in order to run for governor.  The matchup offers two political heavyweights with access to large sums of money.  But at least early in the election cycle, she’s not interested in finding fault with her opponent.

“I think we’ll have plenty of time to compare and contrast.  What I really want to focus on is growing the economy.  We need to grow ag and energy, and finish the job on individual income tax.  We know everyone wants to pay less income tax and we know that’s also going to hep with work force and growing the economy.”

The COVID 19 pandemic provides an often-discussed topic when it comes to the Governor’s race.  Burgum drew criticism from some fellow Republicans for having too strong a grip on the freedom of citizens during the pandemic.  Miller was asked what principles would guide her in the area of health freedom, in the event of another public health crisis.  

“We believe in a light touch and using innovation versus regulation to solve our problems and keeping those opportunities local as much as possible.  I do want to remind everyone that Covid was a 100-year pandemic.  No one received a playbook on the pandemic, and we did try to have a light touch of government on every decision that was made, and as we look back now and compare where we are at compared to a lot of other states in the nation, North Dakota came through COVID very well and the state is thriving now and not all other states are.”