FARGO, N.D. — The chancellor of the North Dakota University System on Monday called for the state to investigate what he calls attempts by people to pressure him to influence the 2016 primary election for governor.
Chancellor Mark Hagerott said earlier this week that he received multiple phone calls before the June primary pressing him to disavow or fire former Gov. Ed Schafer after Schafer endorsed former computer software executive Doug Burgum over Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. Schafer was interim president of the University of North Dakota at the time. He finished out his term.
Hagerott declined to tell The Associated Press Monday who pressured him about Schafer’s endorsement. The chancellor earlier told KFGO radio that some people threatened retribution against the campus and students if the chancellor failed to act.
“The investigation will have to bring this out — I can’t respond through the press,” Hagerott said. “These calls were made but I can’t say any more. There needs to be an official investigation.”
Hagerott said he would like the Board of Higher Education and a special assistant attorney general to investigate, since Stenehjem is still in office. Late Monday, Chief Deputy Attorney General Troy Seibel wrote to Hagerott to decline the request, saying it was outside the scope of the office’s role and suggesting he work through the Board of Higher Education.
Burgum easily won the primary and the general election. Stenehjem, a former legislator, received the state party’s endorsement. During the campaign, Burgum painted Stenehjem as part of an establishment that had done a poor job at managing money and has put the state’s future in doubt.
Schafer was a popular governor who was U.S. agriculture secretary under George W. Bush from 2008-2009. He did not respond to a phone message seeking comment.
Don Morton, president of the state Board of Higher Education, said Hagerott told him Monday afternoon about his request for an investigation.
“We certainly want to be supportive of the chancellor,” Morton said. “We just need more information. We will certainly discuss this at the appropriate time.”
Hagerott, a longtime Navy cybersecurity expert, was named chancellor in 2015.
Associated Press writer James MacPherson reported from Bismarck.