Posted 11/14/18 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
If the results of last Tuesday’s General Election in the races for McKenzie County Sheriff and the Board of County Commissioners are any indication, it appears that McKenzie County voters wanted a change in how things are being done. They wanted to see the bickering and the in-fighting that has been going on in the county for the past four years to finally come to an end.
And when they went to the ballot box in a record number for any county mid-term election, they brought about that change by choosing challenger Matt Johansen over incumbent Gary Schwartzenberger as their sheriff and choosing challenger Howdy Lawlar over incumbent Vawnita Hovet Best to represent them on the Board of County Commissioners, while giving Kathy Skarda another four-year term as county commissioner.
For the past four years, the county commissioners and the sheriff’s office have been embroiled in a controversy that deeply divided the county. The trouble for Schwartzenberger began almost immediately after he took office in 2015 and culminated with the commissioners asking then North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple to remove him from office based on a variety of charges.
Those charges were ultimately dismissed and Gov. Doug Burgum reinstated Schwartzenberger as sheriff.
In his reinstatement announcement, Burgum said Schwartzenberger’s reinstatement “presents a crossroads for McKenzie County” after division and power struggles between the sheriff and county commissioners.
“Either it will be an opportunity for a fresh start or a continuation of local conflict, angst and contention,” Burgum wrote. “Understandably, a fresh start will be difficult and will require introspection, humility and forgiveness by many parties.”
Unfortunately, what Burgum had hoped would happen, didn’t occur. The damage had been done in McKenzie County with many county residents continuing to blame the county commissioners, while others said the blame rested with Schwartzenberger for the four-year mess.
And so in the Nov. 6 General Election, McKenzie County voters brought about the changes in the local political landscape that they believed to be right. It was their choice and they made it.
That is not to say Schwartzenberger and Best were not good people and good candidates for re-election. They had their supporters as did all of the other candidates that appeared on the Nov. 6 ballot. They just didn’t get the votes they needed. That is the democratic process.
The healing process that McKenzie County has for long needed, must continue. That is going to be the challenge that Johansen and all of the county commissioners will face as they move forward.