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Governor Sinner never left priesthood

By Staff | Aug 1, 2011

With the aid of his former press secretary, Bob Jansen, Governor George Sinner has recorded his life’s story in an autobiography titled “Turning Points,” now on sale at local book stores.

Political observers would think that a lieutenant governor who served with Sinner in the same suite of offices for five years would not find anything new in the book. But I did, and for good reason.

Because of the workload in the governor’s office, we divided the duties, with me serving as the floating chairperson of various committees and a leading member of the state welcome wagon.Rather than duplicating effort, we each went about our duties, making the necessary decisions on our own. I did learn many new details about our time together in Bismarck from the autobiography.

Because of his compassion and patience, I always suspected Governor Sinner was a priest disguised as a politician. “Turning Points” confirmed that suspicion.

One of his early statements explains most of the contents of the book.

“I always saw that the things I could do as the things that I should do,” he wrote on Page 5. The book indicates that there were a lot of things that he thought he could do and did, many of them outside of the purview of the governor’s jurisdiction.

I was not aware of the health problems experienced by the governor. Even though he had chronic headaches, he was always upbeat and cheerful. One would never know that he was experiencing pain.

Another thing I did not know was his reliance on the Holy Spirit for advice on major issues. He did not wear his faith on his sleeve, but he practiced it in personal ways. We never discussed theology and now I wish we had. I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit, but I never thought about His involvement in state policy.

In politics today, it seems that every aspirant for public office must pass muster when it comes to religion. Candidates are expected to confess their faith publicly. If they don’t, they’re suspect. As a result, all candidates are professing some kind of faith, whether they have any or not. Some even claim to be emissaries of God charged with transforming a secular democracy into some sort of theocracy.

Governor Sinner was wary about church involvement in state affairs. In “Turning Points,” he said that “if history is clear about anything it is that tyranny emerges when sectarian religious views dominate a government.”

Pursuing that point, he wrote that “when dealing with public policy you have to scrupulously avoid giving credence to the idea that the state can impose church opinions even when they are opinions of the majority.” Even though officeholders with independent minds chafe under the demands of partisan politics, there are only two parties in the American political system. To be a part of the game, it is necessary to be a Democrat or a Republican. Even though the system requires partisanship, Governor Sinner had a broad nonpartisan streak.

“I had learned a long, long time before I became governor that you couldn’t be very good if decisions were made based on partisan politics,” he wrote in “Turning Points.” He appointed a number of Republicans and would have named a few more if he had been free of other considerations.

The book is packed with inside accounts of gubernatorial decision-making and scores of anecdotes, all interspersed with tidbits of personal philosophy. Some autobiographies rewrite the activities of their authors but “Turning Points” is the real George Sinner.

Omdahl is a UND professor emeritus in political science and a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota.

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