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Gov. George Sinner

Former Governor George Sinner gestures while reminiscing about his years as North Dakota's governor at an event in his honor in the Heritage Center in Bismarck. Sinner, who was governor from 1985-92 is the subject of a 52-page article in the new issue of North Dakota History, the quarterly publication of the State Historical Society.

Former North Dakota Gov. George Sinner died Friday at age 89 at Eventide Senior Living in Fargo.

Sinner, known as Bud, served as governor from 1985 to 1992, the most recent member of the Democratic-NPL party to hold the office.

“Bud was North Dakota,” recalled former Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., on Friday night after learning of Sinner’s death. “He cared deeply about the state and provided leadership throughout his lifetime in lots of different roles.”

Sinner, born in Fargo and raised in Casselton, was a farmer and political leader who served in the state Senate, the State Board of Higher Education and the state House of Representatives before he was elected governor.

During his term as governor, North Dakota experienced a farm crisis caused by the worst droughts since the Great Depression. Conrad said Sinner led North Dakota during a difficult time in the state’s history.

“He had the courage to do things to get us back on track,” Conrad said. “Bud was always one to be in the fight and to try to make a difference. I think that’s really what his career stands for, somebody that stood up, that cared deeply about helping the people of North Dakota and somebody who had real courage.”

Funeral arrangements are pending with Boulger Funeral Home in Fargo.

Funeral director Michele Walloch notified the Bismarck Tribune about Sinner’s death on Friday evening on behalf of the family. She said the family did not plan any additional statement Friday.

Gov. Doug Burgum said in a statement late Friday that North Dakota lost a great leader who was a “true champion for farmers and our rural way of life.”

“We are deeply grateful for his many years of dedicated service to the state, his community and farm groups, as he stayed true to his rural Casselton roots and worked across the aisle for all North Dakotans and the land he cherished,” Burgum said.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., called Sinner a “giant of North Dakota politics” who was passionate but never partisan. Heitkamp said Sinner’s mentorship inspired her to pursue a career in public service.

“I just love Bud. He was just about as real as anybody could be,” Heitkamp said Friday. “It’s kind of like losing a family member for a lot of us who knew him.”

Former Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said Sinner wanted to reach across party lines to find solutions to difficult problems.

“North Dakota is going to celebrate the memory of someone who did a wonderful job for our state,” Dorgan said. “Those of us who were his friends will miss him dearly.”

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Jim Fuglie, former executive director of the state Democratic-NPL Party who served as state tourism director while Sinner was governor, remembered Sinner for being “absolutely fearless” when it came to upholding his convictions.

“The defining moment of his governorship was his veto of what would have been the strictest anti-abortion bill in America, saying ‘Government must not play God,’” Fuglie recalled Friday. “He was a Catholic, once studied to be a priest, and was personally against abortion, but he thought the bill was government overstepping its bounds.”

Lloyd Omdahl, who served as lieutenant governor from 1987 to 1992, called Sinner “the most warm, personable governor in the United States.”

Omdahl said Sinner was compassionate and had the qualities of a priest.

“He was in seminary for two years, and then he decided that was not for him and went and had 10 kids -- he was Catholic -- and so I always thought of him as a priest with 10 kids, because he never quit being a priest. He was always kind and friendly, like a priest,” Omdahl said.

Blair Emerson contributed to this report.

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(Reach Amy Dalrymple at 701-250-8267 or