George A. Sinner

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George Sinner
29th Governor of North Dakota
In office
January 1, 1985 – December 15, 1992
Lieutenant Ruth Meiers
Lloyd Omdahl
Preceded by Allen I. Olson
Succeeded by Ed Schafer
Personal details
Born George Albert Sinner
(1928-05-29)May 29, 1928
Fargo, North Dakota, U.S.
Died March 9, 2018(2018-03-09) (aged 89)
Fargo, North Dakota, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Jane Baute
Education Saint John's University, Minnesota (BA)
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch  United States Air Force
Years of service 1950–1951
Unit Air National Guard
Battles/wars Korean 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 through 1992. He served two four-year terms as governor and is the most recent governor of North Dakota to have been from that political 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, Minnesota.[2] He served in the United States Air National Guard with the 178th Fighter Squadron[7] from 1950 to 1951 before beginning pursuit of 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 re-election.[8] He also ran in a failed bid 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 which was responsible for funding and construction of 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, the State Board of Higher Education and more. 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 colleges. This program allows students attending one of the schools to take classes not offered there at one of the other universities.[8]

Governor of North Dakota[edit]

Sinner was elected to serve as the Governor of North Dakota in 1984 and re-elected to a second term in 1988.[9] The starting date of Sinner's first term was disputed with defeated and outgoing Gov. 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 specific date was not clearly set forth in either state law or the state constitution.[9] The North Dakota Supreme Court settled the issue in favor of Sinner 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, Michigan in July 1991,[12] and was eventually succeeded by Republican Ed Schafer.[8]

During Sinner's term as governor, 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 called Turning Points where he admitted to picking up hitchhikers and punching a state legislator, among other facts.[13]

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

Personal life and death[edit]

Sinner was married to Elizabeth Jane "Jane" Baute on 10 August 1951 and had 10 children (six sons; Robert, George, James, Gerard, Joseph, Eric and four daughters; Elizabeth, Martha, Paula and Mary Jo).[7][12] He died on March 8, 2018, at age 89, at Eventide Senior Living Communities, in Fargo, North Dakota.[10]


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