North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem dies aged 68 after falling, possibly due to inflammation from an ulcer, brother says: Was longest-serving AG in state history

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Wayne Stenehjem, 68, died on Friday. His cause of death was not released but he was reportedly dealing with an ulcer that may have inflamed He passed around 6.20pm in a Bismarck hospital after being taken there by ambulance Friday morning His brother Allen reported his death was not related to COVID-19Stenehjem was elected attorney general in 2000 and went on to win the position five more times and held the position for 21 yearsHe announced last month he would not be running for another term, instead had planned to travel more with his family  

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, a former legislator and the state’s longest-serving attorney general, died aged 68, his office announced Friday, just hours after he was taken to a hospital.

Stenehjem died about 6:20 p.m. at a Bismarck hospital, his spokeswoman Liz Brocker said. His cause of death was not released. 

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Stenehjem’s brother, Allan, told KFYR-TV that Stenehjem had been taken to a hospital Friday morning after calling an ambulance to his home after falling.

Allan Stenehjem told KFYR that his brother had been dealing with an ulcer that may have become inflamed, possibly leading to the fall, and that his brother’s condition was not related to COVID-19.

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Stenehjem spent 24 years in the Legislature before being elected attorney general in 2000, then winning five more times and holding the position for 21 years. 

In that long career, he supported an overhaul of North Dakota’s court system, laws against domestic violence, consumer protection measures and legislation to keep North Dakota’s government meetings and records open to the public.

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North Dakota's Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem died at 68 on Friday. He was the longest-serving AG and held the position for 21 years

North Dakota’s Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem died at 68 on Friday. He was the longest-serving AG and held the position for 21 years 

He won the position in 2000 and held it six terms. He was taken to the hospital on Friday morning after reportedly falling and was dealing with an ulcer. His brother said his death was not COVID-19 related

He won the position in 2000 and held it six terms. He was taken to the hospital on Friday morning after reportedly falling and was dealing with an ulcer. His brother said his death was not COVID-19 related

Governor Doug Burgum said his fellow Republican ’embodied public service’ both as a legislator and as the longest-serving attorney general in the state.

‘Like so many North Dakotans who treasured his friendship and admired him for his more than four decades of exceptional service to our state, we are absolutely devastated’ by Stenehjem’s death, Burgum said on Twitter.

More tributes poured in for the AG, with Senator Kevin Cramer wrote on Twitter: ‘I considered him a close friend and trusted colleague. Wayne was a true patriot, dedicating his life to public service and our great state. He always fought for what was right.’ 

Reuters correspondent Ernest Scheyder wrote: ‘This is horrible news. Wayne Stenehjem was one of a kind & truly cared about North Dakota. When I was based in Williston, we would run into each other more often than not in the Minneapolis airport and catch up on oil industry gossip. My condolences to his entire family.’

Former US Senator Heidi Heitkamp, who knew the AG back in college, wrote on Twitter: ‘I have known Wayne since our time together as students at UND. I can only imagine how tragic this is for Beth and Andrew, his amazing extended close family, and the staff at the AG’s office.’ 

Stenehjem had announced last month he would not seek another term. He said he wanted to spend more time traveling and with his family. He echoed concerns from several other retiring politicians about an increase in vitriolic social media criticism of politicians.

Stenehjem told the Tribune at the time that fighting illegal drugs was a top challenge of his tenure. Among his proudest accomplishments, he cited getting a $30million settlement following a diesel spill in Mandan in 1985, establishing a 24/7 sobriety program for people convicted of subsequent DUIs, establishing the state crime lab and improving the training of state crime bureau agents. 

Many tributes poured in for the AG, with many remembering him as kind and for his dedication to public service

Many tributes poured in for the AG, with many remembering him as kind and for his dedication to public service 

Stenehjem ran for governor in 2016 and was his party’s choice to replace Jack Dalrymple, who didn’t seek a second term. But Burgum, a wealthy former Microsoft executive, bucked party tradition to challenge him and won the primary easily, then went on to win the general election.

The intraparty battle between Burgum and Stenehjem featured a spirited and expensive debate about which candidate was better suited to revive a state economy that was slumping due to depressed oil and crop prices.

Burgum tried to paint Stenehjem as part of an establishment that had done a poor job at managing money and put the state´s future in doubt. Stenehjem argued that North Dakota was well-positioned to handle the downturn in oil and farm prices and the state needed an experienced hand at the helm.

Stenehjem was born in Mohall. He attended high school in Bismarck and graduated from the University of North Dakota and received his law degree from the UND School of Law in 1977.

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