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June 01, 2020

Equine veterinarian runs for governor in North Dakota

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Dr. Shelley Lenz didn’t set out to be a veterinarian. Neither did she have aspirations for high office. Yet now Dr. Lenz is an equine practitioner and owner of two mixed animal practices in western North Dakota. She’s also the North Dakota Democratic–NonPartisan League candidate running to unseat the Republican gubernatorial incumbent this fall.

Dr. Lenz
Dr. Shelley Lenz

Although originally from Ohio, Dr. Lenz has deep roots in North Dakota, where her great-grandparents were original NPLers during the early part of the 20th century.

Dr. Lenz won’t be pigeonholed by party labels and identifies with certain aspects of the political platforms of Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump. She describes herself as an independent who combines the good ideas of the Democratic and Republican parties into a platform unique to North Dakota, the nation’s largest producer of cereal grains.

“I like serving rural people because they’re so practical,” Dr. Lenz said. “You can’t be a poser here, right? They don’t care if I have a DVM or PhD. They sit, and they watch, and when you prove yourself to them—when you win the hearts and minds of a rural community—you did something right. That’s what I did with my practice.”

Dr. Lenz actually has dual degrees, a doctorate in neuropharmacology from the University of Pennsylvania and a veterinary degree from The Ohio State University.

It was while working in Venezuela during the ’90s as part of an international project to identify the gene that causes Huntington’s disease that Dr. Lenz got her first taste of clinical experience. “That’s where I first realized that I wanted to add that clinical aspect to my life,” she explained. “Most PhDs would go get an MD, but I chose to get a veterinary degree because the field is more analytical, there’s a lot more independence, and is so multileveled—from pet and livestock medicine to public health and international outreach.”

After receiving her veterinary degree in 2001, she treated Thoroughbred racehorses at what is now Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, Kentucky. She went on to work in California and South Dakota before moving to North Dakota, where she opened a practice in Killdeer in 2007. Five years later, Dr. Lenz opened a second practice in Dickinson.

In 2014, Dr. Lenz founded Sustainable Vets International, a nonprofit working to create sustainable local economies in underserved regions in such countries as Nicaragua, Uganda, and Pakistan. The organization focuses on veterinary care, agriculture, and skill development such as vocational training.

Dr. Lenz’s platform as a candidate for North Dakota governor is workforce development and recruitment; affordable and accessible college and vocational education; balanced support between energy and agriculture economies and lifestyles; accessible quality health care for all; advocating for all North Dakotans and ensuring that the voices of both urban and rural communities are reflected in the statewide policies and fund distributions; and community development for quality of life of the state’s workforce and families.

For Dr. Lenz, the road to the governor’s house in Bismarck won’t be easy. North Dakota is very much a red state, with the GOP holding every state office for the last decade. She believes she and her running mate, Ben Vig, a fifth-generation farmer, can tap into the populist energy that is unique to North Dakota.

“Ben’s a millennial farmer, and I’m a Gen X veterinarian,” she said. “Who better to serve the people of North Dakota into the future?”