George A. Sinner

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George Sinner
29th Governor of North Dakota
In office
January 1, 1985 – December 15, 1992
LieutenantRuth Meiers
Lloyd Omdahl
Preceded byAllen I. Olson
Succeeded byEd Schafer
Personal details
George Albert Sinner

(1928-05-29)May 29, 1928
Fargo, North Dakota, U.S.
DiedMarch 9, 2018(2018-03-09) (aged 89)
Fargo, North Dakota, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Jane Baute
EducationSaint John's University, Minnesota (BA)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Air Force
Years of service1950–1951
UnitAir National Guard
Battles/warsKorean War

George Albert Sinner[1] (May 29, 1928 – March 9, 2018) was an American Democratic-NPL politician who served as the 29th governor of North Dakota from 1985 to 1992. He served two four-year terms and is the most recent governor of North Dakota from his party.

Early life[edit]

Sinner was born on May 29, 1928,[2][3] in Fargo and was raised in Casselton, the youngest of four children to Albert Francis Sinner (1893–1965), a farmer and bookkeeper for Ford Motor Co.,[4] and his wife, Katherine Augusta Wild (1886–1981).[5][6]

Sinner attended Saint John's Preparatory School, a college prep boarding school in Collegeville, Minnesota, graduating in 1946.[2] In 1950, he received a degree in philosophy from Saint John's University in Collegeville.[2] He served in the United States Air National Guard with the 178th Fighter Squadron[7] from 1950 to 1951 before beginning a career in politics in the late 1950s.[6]

Sinner received honorary doctorate degrees from North Dakota State University, University of North Dakota and his alma mater, St. John's University.[8]

Early political career[edit]

Sinner was elected to the North Dakota Senate in 1962.[8] He served one four-year term until 1966, and failed to win reelection.[8] He also ran for United States Congress in North Dakota's 1st congressional district against Mark Andrews in 1964.[6]

Coming from a background of farming, Sinner served as president of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association Board from 1975 to 1979. During that time, he chaired an ad hoc farm commodity group that was responsible for funding and constructing the greenhouse complex and the Northern Crops Institute at North Dakota State University in Fargo. He served as a member of many other boards and organizations, including the North Dakota Broadcasting Council and the State Board of Higher Education. During his time on the State Board of Higher Education, he helped craft the "Tri-college" system currently used by NDSU, MSUM and Concordia College, Moorhead. This program allows students attending one of the schools to take classes not offered there at one of the others.[8]

Governor of North Dakota[edit]

Sinner was elected governor of North Dakota in 1984 and reelected in 1988.[9] The starting date of Sinner's first term was disputed with defeated outgoing Governor Allen I. Olson.[10][9] Sinner held that the term started January 1 and Olson held that the term began on January 6, four years after his own term began.[9] At that time, the date was not clearly set forth in either state law or the state constitution.[9] The North Dakota Supreme Court settled the issue in Sinner's favor on January 5, 1985, one day before Olson would have vacated office anyway.[9] Olson failed to comply with the decision and did not vacate the governor's office until the following day, but Sinner's term was retroactively recognized to have begun on January 1.[9][11]

During Sinner's governorship, North Dakota suffered through the 1980s Midwestern farm crisis and in 1989 celebrated the state's centennial.[6] The North Dakota National Guard was also called to serve in the Gulf War in 1991 as part of Operation Desert Storm.[10] He did not seek a third term as governor as he was suffering from chest pain at a conference and had a heart bypass surgery at Rapid City, South Dakota in July 1991,[12] and was succeeded by Republican Ed Schafer.[8]

While Sinner was governor, U.S. Senator Quentin N. Burdick died.[10] He temporarily appointed Burdick's widow, Jocelyn Birch Burdick, to the seat and encouraged outgoing Senator Kent Conrad to run for the remainder of Burdick's term.[6]


Following his second term, Sinner served as Vice President of Public and Government Relations for the Crystal Sugar Company in Moorhead, Minnesota.[10] Throughout his career, he remained active in his farming operation near Casselton.[6]

In 2011, he wrote a book, Turning Points, in which he admitted to picking up hitchhikers and punching a state legislator.[13]

Sinner's son George B. Sinner served in the North Dakota Senate from 2013 to 2017.[10]

Personal life and death[edit]

Sinner was married to Elizabeth Jane "Jane" Baute on August 10, 1951, and had 10 children (Robert, George, James, Gerard, Joseph, Eric, Elizabeth, Martha, Paula and Mary Jo).[7][12] He died on March 9, 2018, at age 89, at Eventide Senior Living Communities, in Fargo, North Dakota.[10] At the time of his death, he was the last surviving North Dakota governor from the Democratic-NPL party.

Sinner's brother Richard, who became a Catholic priest, was later listed among Diocese of Fargo clergy who were accused of committing acts of sex abuse.[14][15] He was an outspoken activist for aiding Central American refugees, abolishing nuclear weapons, and promoting music and song, and died in 2004.[16]


  1. ^ "George Sinner Papers at The University of North Dakota". Archived from the original on June 25, 2010. Retrieved December 29, 2006.
  2. ^ a b c Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1983–1988
  3. ^ Exhibits – North Dakota Governors
  4. ^ "Albert Francis Sinner". Wild Roots. He worked as a bookkeeper for Ford Motor Co. in Fargo before coming here to farm in 1920.
  5. ^ "Katherine Augusta Wild". Wild Roots.
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Former North Dakota Gov. George Sinner dies at age 89". Wday. March 9, 2018.
  7. ^ a b "George Sinner". NNDB.
  8. ^ a b c d e George A. Sinner – North Dakota Governors Online Exhibit – Exhibits – State Historical Society of North Dakota Retrieved January 18, 2010.
  9. ^ a b c d e f "North Dakota Dispute – Who Is the Governor?". The New York Times. AP. January 3, 1985. Retrieved January 18, 2010.
  10. ^ a b c d e f "George Sinner, North Dakota governor, in tough times dies". Sunherald. March 9, 2018.
  11. ^ "North Dakota Justices Back New Governor Over Old One". The New York Times. January 5, 1985. Retrieved January 18, 2010.
  12. ^ a b "George Sinner, former North Dakota governor, dies at 89". Newsday. March 11, 2018.
  13. ^ "Former Gov. George Sinner opens up in memoir". The Bismarck Tribune. May 22, 2011. Retrieved December 24, 2015.
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
Arthur A. Link
Democratic nominee for Governor of North Dakota
1984, 1988
Succeeded by
Nicholas Spaeth
Political offices
Preceded by
Allen I. Olson
Governor of North Dakota
Succeeded by
Ed Schafer