FARGO – Fresh off his decisive Election Day victory, Governor-elect Doug Burgum announced his transition team chairperson on Wednesday and said he won’t second-guess departing Gov. Jack Dalrymple on his handling of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.
Burgum, who cruised to a 57-point win over Democratic state Rep. Marvin Nelson of Rolla, named former Great Plains Software and Microsoft executive Jodi Uecker to lead his transition team.
Uecker also served as an adviser to former Gov. John Hoeven’s transition team in 2000. She worked in operational and leadership positions at Great Plains from 1984 to 2001, helping then-CEO Burgum grow the company to more than 2,000 employees and lead it through its 2001 sale to Microsoft for $1.1 billion. After the merger, Uecker served as corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Business Solutions division. She most recently was interim president for Sage Business Solutions.
“She’s got true tech experience, true global experience, true leadership experience,” Burgum told reporters at Fargo’s Radisson Hotel.
Uecker said it’s a tight time frame before Burgum takes office Dec. 15, and they want to build a “high-performing team.”
“And we’re going to do that based on certainly the strength of existing leaders and certainly looking for additional people that want to join the journey,” she said, pointing to the website joindougburgum.com for those interested.
Burgum wouldn’t speculate on how many members of Dalrymple’s cabinet will stay or go, saying the transition team will meet with all agency heads.
At least one cabinet spot will already be open: Labor Commissioner Troy Seibel has taken a job as chief deputy attorney general effective Dec. 1, in a move announced Wednesday.
Burgum also was asked about the Dakota Access Pipeline protests that have drawn thousands of Native Americans and other pipeline opponents to camps on or near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Protesters, tribal leaders and the American Civil Liberties Union have criticized the militarized law enforcement response as authorities have arrested more than 400 people so far for criminal trespass, disorderly conduct and other charges.
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Burgum stressed that Dalrymple is still governor until Dec. 15.
“We’re not part of that decision-making chain until Dec. 16,” Burgum said. “And so we need to give our full support to the … current administration and not second-guess any decisions that they might be making at this point in time.”
Burgum said he didn’t want to make a political statement about whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should issue the easement Dakota Access needs to finish the $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile pipeline by drilling through corps land under and bordering the Missouri River at Lake Oahe. The Obama administration has been withholding the easement since September for further review, and Burgum said he would leave the issue to the corps’ engineers, “because meeting the criteria for the easement should be a black-and-white decision.”
He said it wouldn’t be fruitful to speculate on what will happen if protests are ongoing when he takes office.
“We could have a completely different situation on our hands there than now,” he said, adding he hopes for “a peaceful and legal dialogue, as opposed to having something tragic happen here in North Dakota.”
Following up on a campaign promise, Burgum said he still fully intends to give his $132,964 governor’s salary back to taxpayers, though it’s unclear whether state law allows it.
“We’ll figure out a way to get it done, and even if it means I’ve got to take the salary and then donate it, we’ll do that,” he said.
Lt. Gov.-elect Brent Sanford also addressed his transition away from the mayor’s position in Watford City, saying the City Council could nominate one of its members for the post or pass a resolution for a special election.