BISMARCK (AP) - Arthur Link, a former North Dakota governor, congressman and longtime state legislator known for environmental stewardship and staying true to his rural roots, died Tuesday surrounded by family, a family spokesman said. He was 96.
Link wasn't feeling well after dinner Saturday and was taken to St. Alexius Medical Center in Bismarck, where he developed and was being treated for pneumonia, said Bob Valeu, a family spokesman.
''His five sons, along with his wife, Grace, and grandchildren were with him over the weekend,'' Valeu said. A funeral and public viewing will be held this weekend.
AP Photo •
Art Link is shown in this 1978 file photo. Link, a former North Dakota congressman, legislator and governor for eight years, has died. He was 96.
Link was born in Alexander in 1914, the son of homesteaders from Czechoslovakia and Germany, and was raised on the family farm. Friends said he never forgot his upbringing during his four-decade political career, which included only two lost races.
The Democrat advocated for allowing oil-producing counties to keep some tax revenues for road repairs and pushed for strong regulations for reclaiming land mined for coal.
Gov. John Hoeven said Link's environmental stewardship while governor left a lasting legacy on the landscape of North Dakota's reclaimed lands, and his ''deep faith and principled decision-making throughout his long life'' earned him widespread respect and affection.
Former lieutenant gov. remembers Link
"He was involved in everything, totally committed to North Dakota and that's what I relish and remember. He went way beyond politics. He was a straight arrow of the first order. That's what the public recognized in him," said
Wayne Sanstead, superintendent of public instruction, when asked what he admired about Art Link.
Link, 96, former governor of the state, passed away Tuesday morning at a Bismarck hospital. Sanstead served as Link's lieutenant governor from 1973-1980. According to Sanstead, Link was the "agricultural guy" from out west and Sanstead the "city guy" from Minot. Both were Democrats.
"There wasn't a public event that he didn't want to be at no matter what time of day or night," said Sanstead. "I learned more political science from Art than I ever did in the classroom. Art really molded me. I probably wouldn't be in office if it wasn't for Art."
Sanstead taught in the Minot Public Schools system for 18 years. He was a newly elected North Dakota house member in 1965 when he began working with Link. The two were elected by statewide vote seven years later.
Perhaps Link's biggest test as governor occurred when coal companies announced their intentions to "develop" North Dakota. Sanstead, then a young politician, remembers top coal company executives delivering their pitch to Link and wondering how the governor would respond to the pressure.
"Those guys came in wearing expensive suits, the captains of industry and finance. They had electronic pointers when the rest of us were still using those old wooden pointers we had in the classroom," laughed Sanstead. "They'd tell Art what they were going to do for North Dakota and their presentation would come to a roaring end. Then Art would say, "'Well, I have a few questions."'
Link stood firm against the big coal companies, insisting that any development would be orderly and that North Dakota's resources belonged to North Dakotans.
"That was Art's viewpoint. That was Art's conviction, that North Dakota clearly has its own future and that we don't need to be beholden to others. He'd tell those guys they couldn't run roughshod over us and that he didn't care what they were bringing in," recalled Sanstead. "I never worried about Art. He'd cut right through the pitch. Art believed North Dakota should determine its own future and was one of the great stewards of the land. He was just a born leader."
The Link-Sanstead era in the governor's office ended in 1980. Their bid for a third term ran up against a Republican landslide that delivered Ronald Reagan to the presidency and then-Attorney General Allen Olson to the governor's office.
"I'm biased, but I'd put him at the forefront of North Dakota governors," said Sanstead. "First and foremost as a leader for North Dakota. I had the wonderful opportunity of working with him. I remember so many times that people would come up and shake his hand and you could see that respect. They knew who they were dealing with. It was that quality of life that they saw."
''He was a remarkable man, a courageous leader and a dear friend,'' U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad said in a statement. ''He knew what he believed, he knew what he stood for, he knew the values that he had been raised with.''
U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy added: ''He approached issues with a strong conscience and the kind of common sense that you get growing up on the prairie. He was interested in results, not the limelight.''
After graduating from the country school in Randolph Township, Link completed a six-month course in farm husbandry at North Dakota State University before returning to the 2,100-acre farm to work in a partnership with his father.
He began his public service career in 1935 with election to the Randolph Township board, where he went on to serve for 28 years.
Link was elected to the state House of Representatives from McKenzie County in 1946, and served as a legislator for 23 years. He was the minority floor leader for 14 years, and was elected Speaker of the House during the 1965 session.
Link was elected to the U.S. House in 1970, and served one term before North Dakota lost a seat due to reapportionment.
Former Gov. William Guy's decision to not seek another term as governor in 1972 gave Link the opportunity to return home and serve his state in a new capacity. He became governor in 1973, and served for two four-year terms.
In the North Dakota House, Link wanted oil-producing counties to keep some tax revenues for road repairs, according to the State Historical Society of North Dakota. As governor, Link insisted on strong regulations for reclaiming land that had been mined for coal and collecting tax revenue from companies that were reaping a one-time harvest of minerals.
''As a Democrat facing a Republican Legislature, the partisanship can become very significant,'' Link said in an oral history of his life published by the society. ''However, if there is restraint and partisanship is set aside, there is much that can be accomplished.''
In 1980, Link lost the gubernatorial race to Republican Allen Olson - marking his first defeat in four decades of elective service.
Link re-entered the political arena four years later, saying he wanted to run for governor because of a ''lifetime of interest in public affairs and having been involved in the legislature.'' But he lost a three-way contest for the Democratic governor endorsement to George Sinner, a Casselton legislator who went on to defeat Olson for governor.
The Democratic convention defeat was difficult for Link, although he said he knew that anyone in politics had to be ready to face defeat.
''I frankly expected I would receive the nomination,'' he said at the time.
Link was married to Grace Johnson of Cartwright in 1939, and they had five sons and one daughter, who died of cancer in 1991.
A funeral will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Bismark, Valeu said. A public viewing will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Great Room at the State Capitol. Burial will follow on Monday in Alexander, Valeu said.