Art Link: Agrarian as governor, last of real ones
In his tribute at Governor Art Link's funeral, Clay Jenkinson, a leading western historian, opined that the former governor was the last agrarian, the last agricultural icon of the rural west. People who knew Governor Link would agree that his character and demeanor supported this characterization.
The 1972 campaign photo that epitomized his agrarianism was taken in his hayfield where he was pictured throwing a square hay bale onto a rack. Folks said that anyone who personally did the meanest of chores on the farm had to be a person of real character and was qualified to be governor.
Farmers don't live by clocks like city folks. City people have clock minds - work is eight-to-five. Governor Link never had a clock mind. A true farmer, he had a chore mind. He focused on the task that needed to be done and not on a clock that did nothing but break chores into fragments.
Because he didn't live by the clock, he worked through days and nights without regard to time. At 2 a.m., he would seize every opportunity to have breakfast. At 3 a.m., he would brief himself on major state issues. When he ran into a blank, he would call staffers for the missing information, not realizing that they were clock people who slept from 10-to-six and did not appreciate office calls in the middle of the night.
This round-the-clock lifestyle often caught up with him. When he was in afternoon conferences, participants would sometimes discover that he had taken the opportunity to catch up on the sleep he missed in the night. It never bothered him but his staffers - all clock people - were embarrassed because most of the folks present didn't know that the conference was falling in the middle of Art's third shift of the day.
Not only are farmers not clock people, they are not even calendar people. They are season people, paced not by the clock or the calendar but by the season. It puts them on a path that cannot be rushed, e.g. the wheat is planted when the time is right. That partly explains why Governor Link could not be rushed into decisions.
His farm pace proved invaluable when it came to the sudden push for energy development. During his administration, as many as 16 coal-fired gasification plants were being proposed for western North Dakota.
While the developers wanted approval yesterday, Governor Link slowed the panic until the consequences could be carefully considered. As a result, development occurred but with reclamation requirements that left the mined land in better shape than before it was disturbed.
As chief administrator, he wanted to see orderly development of the energy west. However, underlying the paced decision-making process was Governor Link's determination to preserve the western countryside because it was home. That made it a sacred place not to be sacrificed to temporary economic demands.
Space does not permit further documentation of Professor Jenkinson's characterization but his assessment was correct. Governor Link was the last of the real agrarians and North Dakota benefited from his agrarian style.
(Lloyd Omdahl served as Director of Accounts and Purchases and State Budget Officer for 18 months in the Link administration.)