5 Things to Know About Doug Burgum

Doug Burgum has at least a couple of things going for him: He is a sitting governor, which is the most common steppingstone to the United States presidency, and he has deep pockets.

But Mr. Burgum, the two-term Republican governor of North Dakota, nonetheless entered the 2024 presidential race on Wednesday with a notable disadvantage: The 99.8 percent of Americans who don’t live in North Dakota are unlikely to know much about him.

Here are five things to know about Mr. Burgum.

His election as governor was a major upset.

When Mr. Burgum began running for governor in January 2016, few people in North Dakota knew who he was either.

A poll conducted the next month found him running 49 percentage points behind the state attorney general Wayne Stenehjem, who was the chosen candidate of the North Dakota Republican Party, the departing governor Jack Dalrymple and Senator John Hoeven.

He ended up beating Mr. Stenehjem in the Republican primary by more than 20 points.

“Stand up if you saw this coming,” Mike McFeely, a columnist for The Forum, a newspaper in Fargo, wrote after the primary. “OK, now sit down. Because no you didn’t.”

Mr. Burgum, who had never held elected office, benefited from an anti-establishment campaign message — this was, after all, the year that Donald J. Trump showed Republican voters’ appetite for perceived outsiders — and from Democrats who crossed over to vote in the Republican primary, as state law allows.

He also benefited from millions of dollars of his own money, which allowed him to significantly outspend Mr. Stenehjem despite only slightly surpassing him in fund-raising.

He is a wealthy software entrepreneur.

Mr. Burgum was raised in Arthur, N.D., a tiny town about northwest of Fargo, and went on to earn a master’s degree in business administration from Stanford.

He then returned to North Dakota and bought a stake in a fledgling financial software company by mortgaging $250,000 of farmland that he had inherited. (His grandparents founded an agribusiness company that is still in his family.)

In the mid-1980s, he and his relatives bought out the founders of the company, Great Plains Software, and assumed full ownership. Over the ensuing years, it became a major supplier of accounting and record-keeping software for small and midsize businesses and grew to employ more than 2,000 people.

Mr. Burgum took the company public in 1997, and in 2001, Microsoft bought it for about $1.1 billion.

Since selling Great Plains Software, Mr. Burgum has founded two more businesses: Kilbourne Group, a real estate development firm, and Arthur Ventures, a venture capital firm that invests in software companies.

He supports fossil fuels and carbon capture.

In 2021, shortly after beginning his second term as governor, Mr. Burgum announced an unusual goal for a Republican: to get North Dakota to carbon neutrality by 2030.

However, he rejected transitioning to renewable energy, a central step that climate scientists say is needed to accomplish that goal. North Dakota is a major user of wind energy, but it is also heavily reliant on oil, natural gas and coal, and Mr. Burgum does not want to fundamentally change that. He argues instead that, by using new technology to capture carbon emissions, North Dakota can become carbon neutral while continuing to rely in large part on fossil fuels.

That is a politically appealing position in a place like North Dakota. Thanks to the Bakken oil field in the western part of the state, North Dakota is one of the biggest oil producers in the country. It is also one of the largest coal producers, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

But experts say that, while carbon capture may be a useful tool for combating climate change, it is unlikely to be sufficient on its own — in part because high costs have made it hard for the technology to gain traction.

Mr. Burgum has taken a number of steps to promote carbon capture, including signing a bill in 2019 that created a tax incentive for a particular form of it. More recently, local leaders and landowners have been fighting over a proposed pipeline that would funnel carbon from other states into underground storage in North Dakota.

He has signed eight anti-transgender laws this year.

North Dakota legislators have passed, and Mr. Burgum has signed into law, at least eight bills targeting transgender or gender-nonconforming people in recent months. That is more than almost any other state in what has been a record-breaking year for anti-transgender legislation.

Mr. Burgum signed a ban on transition care for minors, as more than a dozen other states have done this year. The ban — which runs counter to the consensus of major medical organizations — makes it a misdemeanor to provide puberty blockers or hormones to minors for gender transition, and a felony to provide surgery.

He signed one law defining sex as being determined by “sex organs, chromosomes and endogenous hormone profiles at birth”; one defining “male” and “female”; and another prohibiting most sex changes on transgender people’s birth certificates.

He signed a measure restricting transgender people’s use of bathrooms and showers in state facilities, and another one allowing public school personnel to misgender students and requiring schools to inform parents of students’ “transgender status.” (He vetoed a bill that would have gone further by mandating that schools misgender many trans students.)

He also signed two measures restricting transgender girls’ and women’s participation in sports — one applying to public schools and to private schools that compete against them, and the second applying to colleges with the same public/private criteria.

He signed one of the nation’s strictest abortion bans.

In April, Mr. Burgum signed a law banning almost all abortions. Exceptions for rape or incest are allowed only in the first six weeks of pregnancy, when many people do not yet know they are pregnant. After six weeks, the only exception is to prevent “death or a serious health risk.”

Previously, abortion had been legal in North Dakota through 22 weeks of pregnancy.

Like many other states, North Dakota had a “trigger ban” that was set to take effect when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year. But that law — under which doctors could have faced felony charges for performing an abortion even to save a woman’s life, and the burden would have been on them to prove an “affirmative defense” that the abortion was medically necessary — was struck down by the North Dakota Supreme Court.

The new ban that Mr. Burgum signed, which state legislators passed in response to the court’s rejection of the trigger ban, allows abortions in medical emergencies without the need for an “affirmative defense” — though in practice, fear of prosecution has stopped many doctors from providing abortions for medical reasons even in states whose laws have such exceptions.

Maggie Astor is a reporter covering live news and U.S. politics. She has also reported on climate, the coronavirus and disinformation. @MaggieAstor

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