The proposed former Governor William Guy documentary

26 November 2009
In his recent newspaper article my friend Clay wrote about the documentary he was working on about former Governor William Guy. I was intrigued. His tone struck me as overly respectful, even up looking. The article intrigued me because I had considerable interaction with Bill Guy back in the days when I was much more politically active. This was not my view of Bill Guy. I almost can’t think of a political issue where he and I were on the same side.

Yes he was one of the first elected Democrat governors in modern times. But, he was a conservative Democrat in a state run by the Republicans. He served two-year terms. The governor and lieutenant governor were on separate tickets so you could have a Republican lieutenant governor serving with a Democrat governor which I recall happened at least once.

During this period the real power over the state rested with the Republicans in the North Dakota Senate. The crucible of power was in the Senate appropriations committee. They created the state budget and decided when, where and why state money would be spent. Evan Lips of Bismarck, Bob Melland of Jamestown and a longtime legislator or from Grand Forks whose name I think was Longmire were the powers of that committee.

The most power a Governor had during those days was spending the large amount of federal money that came to the state for construction of highways. The governor was able to build roads across the state, and give thousands of jobs.

The governor also controlled the state water commission which in turn controlled water development in the state. I think people overuse adjectives, but Guy was an ardent supporter of the Garrison Diversion Project which was a plan to divert Missouri River water east for irrigation. The plan was supported by all of the politicians but it never made any sense to me or my friends. Good fertile land would be taken out of production by this project to irrigate, at great expense, marginal quality soil that arguably should never have been overturned and made crop land in the first place. If you plowed your way through the Garrison diversion environmental impact statement you would have found that the report estimated a cost\ benefit of $1 worth of benefit for every $1.50 expended.

I grew tired of hearing politicians tell me that the state of North Dakota was owed this unjustified project because of the state land that was flooded for Garrison dam even though the flooded land was Indian and not state land. As the cost of the project continued to escalate and the Canadian government objected to the project because of a treaty between Canada and the United States a group of eastern congressional members eventually scrapped the project. (it now appears that the state will send millions of acre-feet of Missouri River water to Fargo and the Red River Valley so the area can continue to grow. I believe this will probably be the biggest issue of my lifetime.)

When we were supporting a series of laws and regulations to control the environmental impact of lignite coal development and strip mining in western North Dakota, Guy was one of the many political leaders who opposed stringent regulation because they said it would have a negative impact on economic development and job creation. Somewhere in my Bill Guy file I have a copy of his interview with Bob McLeod of KFYR saying it was not justified to stop a proposed coal development project because a bird habitat was threatened.

Guy was also a supporter of the Vietnam War. He even agreed to be one of the people chosen by President Lyndon Johnson to go to Vietnam and oversee the fairness of elections or the Vietnam president we installed and propped up. Of course he returned and reported that the election was fair. As I recall he supported the war until after Walter Cronkite returned from a trip to Vietnam and said America should probably withdraw because the war was not worth the lives and other costs.

Clay used a quote from my friend Larry Remele where he describes Guy as having the charisma of competence. This made me smile. Larry and I talked about Bill Guy many times during our poker games. I remember talking about how boring his personality was. Larry lobbed the charisma of competence description and we all patted him on the back for his clever turn of phrase.

As I have written about before, the original creators of public electric power in North Dakota never cared for him much. He took the side of Andy Freeman at Minkota Power Cooperative to would serve as a conduit for low-interest federal loans so that private companies could generate electric power rather than have the cooperative power people build their own generating facilities to create power that was needed after agricultural consumption exceeded what was available from the Garrison dam generators. The cooperative power people won the day and Basin Electric Power Cooperative was formed.

All of this makes me want to see the documentary.

  1. Mitch Vance says:

    Regarding your interest in the Bill Guy documentary, I was interviewed for a brief segment about the Nekoma ABM Missile Site protest May 16, 1970. As a person who was in Kent Ohio on the day of the Kent State Massacre, I was asked to reflect on the way Bill Guy handled that situation in Nekoma versus Jim Rhodes in Ohio. I have researched the May 4 incident thoroughly over the years and shared my personal thoughts and experiences with Clay. I don’t know about Guy’s accomplishments or lack of them, but I believe his response to Nekoma was exemplary. I don’t know how much of what I said will make it into the documentary. However I think your curiosity will be rewarded. Thanks for your post. It always helps to hear from people who were there. Thanks for sharing.

  1. There are no trackbacks for this post yet.