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WDAY: The News Leader

Published May 01, 2010, 12:02 PM

Former ND gov: Smoking ban cost him top USDA post

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Former Gov. George Sinner believes his decision to ban smoking in the North Dakota Capitol almost two decades ago may have cost him a chance at being President Bill Clinton's first agriculture secretary.

By: DALE WETZEL, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Former Gov. George Sinner believes his decision to ban smoking in the North Dakota Capitol almost two decades ago may have cost him a chance at being President Bill Clinton's first agriculture secretary.

The Democratic governor, who served from 1985 until 1992, is featured in a new issue of North Dakota History magazine, which includes oral history accounts from Sinner and former first lady Jane Sinner.

The state Historical Society of North Dakota held a news conference Friday to unveil the issue, which includes the Sinners' recollections of their personal lives as well as their time in the governor's residence.

Sinner said Friday that he and Clinton, a close friend during his tenure as Arkansas governor, had discussed Sinner's possible agriculture secretary appointment after Clinton was elected president in 1992. Sinner was finishing his second four-year term that year, and wasn't seeking re-election.

Sinner, now 81, said tobacco interests — angered at his 1990 executive order to ban smoking at the Capitol — asked then-Arkansas Sen. David Pryor to oppose the idea.

"They all called Sen. Pryor, who was Bill's senator, that he respected and had a lot of confidence in," Sinner said. "Pryor vetoed my appointment."

Pryor couldn't be reached Friday for comment. An e-mail message was not returned, and a telephone number given for him rang unanswered.

Sinner's April 1990 decision drew national attention at the time.

The executive order, Sinner said, was influenced by the death of Lt. Gov. Ruth Meiers, a heavy smoker who died in March 1987 of lung and brain cancer.

"(Smoking) is a slavery that no one needs," Sinner said then.

The North Dakota History article was edited by Robert Jansen, who was Sinner's press secretary during his administration. Jansen and Sinner plan to publish the former governor's memoirs later this year.

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