The wife of North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, a Republican presidential candidate, talks about her long battle with alcoholism, her road to sobriety and how the experience inspired her to become an advocate for ending the stigma surrounding addiction and mental health.
As part of ABC News’ “Running Mates” series, Kathryn Burgum sat down with Lynsey Davis for a wide-ranging conversation on ABC News Live Prime, along with her husband, who also spoke with Davis about why he’s running for president.
Burgum said her platform as first lady of the United States will be around the “behavioral health crisis.” She also talked about how she and her husband met and why she believes he would make a good president.
LINDSAY DAVIES: Catherine, do you remember the moment you thought, “I want to marry this man?”
KATHERINE BURGUM: We were together for a long time before we decided to get married. I was married, he was married, and we kind of thought maybe we’d try a relationship without marriage because it wasn’t working so well for us. But then there was a moment in time, actually, in a barn with our horses, where he completely surprised me and proposed, so it was easy to say yes.
DAVIES: What made you fall in love with him and what aspect of him do you think if they knew him they would fall in love with?
K. BURGUM: He’s so thoughtful. I mean, he remembers everyone’s birthdays, he remembers anniversaries, you know, he remembers kids’ names, he remembers your high school mascot. And yours is the fox, right?
DAVIES: Yes, my God. Wow, I’m impressed.
DOUG BURGUM: I had to look it up last night.
DAVIS: Talk to me about John Deere and working there for your first job.
K. BURGUM: Yes, my family is in the John Deere business. I really started working there when I was in elementary school. I come from a very hard-working family and, you know, [have] same principles as my husband, you know, trust. You have to build trust with these farmers because this is a generational transaction.
DAVIS: You’ve spoken quite openly and often about your struggles with alcohol and addiction, now 21 years sober. Do you remember the moment you realized “I’m an alcoholic?”
K. BURGUM: Oh, yes. I mean, I actually knew when I was in college. I tried to stop drinking and I couldn’t. There were two decades of struggle. I never sought help, or hardly ever, because of the stigma of addiction. But there was a point where I guess I was suicidal towards the end of the drinking. And there was a point in time where I just had faith that there was a God, but I wasn’t part of an organized religion. And I was on a walk. I always get emotional when I tell this story, but I just said, “If there’s anybody out there, I need help.” And I’ve been sober since I said those words. So, you know, it was a miracle for me because I spent many years relapsing and, you know, suicidal. So I’m so grateful to be here today.
DAVIS: What made you say those words?
K. BURGUM: Well, it was, you know, I had untreated depression, and alcohol is a depressant. So, I mean, I went to little depths that I never thought I’d go to. I knew if I didn’t do something, you know, because I was in treatment and so yeah, you know, it was kind of a miracle for me.
DAVIS: Which ended up working. You said you tried treatment before.
K. BURGUM: Yes. I had a good friend who was an addiction counselor and she said you should be with people who are like you. And so I found this great group of my tribe, you know, like this great group of people who were struggling with the same things that I was struggling with. we got together We spent a lot of time together. We focused on faith, service to others, truth, honesty, you know, all the things that are really important to being, you know, a human being who serves and honesty is a big part of that. So, I still have those friends today. They are deeply rooted in my life and dear, dear, dear friends.
D. BURGUM: What Catherine has that impresses me so much is her courage. I mean her willingness to come forward and tell her story changed lives and saved lives. I’ve seen it in action. I’ve seen it in the work she’s done here in North Dakota, and so many people have come up to me and shared that with me about how her courage has meant and inspired them. I love her now more than ever because it’s so impressive that people have the courage today, in today’s environment, to go out there and do that.
DAVIS: Do you still go on dates?
K. BURGUM: I participate in a community, yes, that is focused on helping each other.
DAVIES: If you were to become first lady, what would your platform be?
K. BURGUM: The behavioral health crisis. There is so much stigma around mental health, brain health, the disease of addiction. We need more services. We need insurance to change. We need to de-stigmatize healthcare.
DAVIES: Why do you think Doug would make a great president of the United States?
K. BURGUM: Because he is [an] an amazing leader. I mean, more than anything, he’s a leader in the community, he’s a leader in the business world, he’s a leader in philanthropy. He knows how to assemble teams. He knows how to bring people together to solve problems. He understands that our nation’s success begins one community at a time.