BISMARCK - Roger Johnson, North Dakota's agriculture commissioner since 1996, said today he's a candidate for National Farmers Union president and, if elected next Tuesday, will resign his state office.
He said it was a difficult decision and was reached last night in response to encouragement that he run to replace the national president who resigned last week.
"I was recruited, strongly encouraged," he said. "This is not a position I sought."
Johnson said he has been active in the Farmers Union all his life.
"I grew up in this organization," he said.
State Farmers Union President Robert Carlson said there's one other candidate for the national presidency but believes Johnson is the front runner. The bulk of the National Farmers Union membership is in the Plains states and Rocky Mountain states, Carlson said, adding that Johnson is well known and respected in states surrounding North Dakota.
The NFU election is March 10, at the organization's national convention in Washington, D.C. If Johnson is elected, he would take office immediately.
If Johnson resigns as agriculture commissioner, it will leave North Dakota Democrats with just one statewide office holder in the Capitol tower. Gov. John Hoeven, a Republican, will appoint a successor to fill the Johnson's term, which concludes at the end of 2010.
The only other Democratic-NPL statewide officer holder is Superintendent of Public Instruction Wayne Sanstead, whose office appears on a nonpartisan ballot.
Johnson said that he spoke with Hoeven and asked him to appoint Deputy Agriculture Commissioner Jeff Weispfenning to fill out his term, but acknowledged that Hoeven can appoint anyone.
"Obviously, it's his choice," Johnson said.
Hoeven said that as he considers an appointee, "I think there will be a significant amount of interest."
Hoeven said Johnson told him Monday he was strongly considering making the run for the Farmers Union post.
The National Farmers Union president who resigned is Tom Buis ("By-us"), who announced Feb. 25 he will step down effective March 15 to become chief executive officer of Growth Energy, a bio-fuels organization. Buis was a grain and livestock producer in Indiana before joining the Farmers Union staff in 1998.