North Dakota lawmakers unanimously voted on Friday in a powerful committee to ask the attorney general to represent the legislature in Governor Doug Burgum’s legal battle for a seat in the House of Representatives won by a deceased candidate.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem told the Tribune he would accept the duty, saying he believed the governor was “overwhelmed”.
Legislative management, which guides lawmakers ‘work between sessions, met on Thursday and Friday at the State Capitol to finalize the lawmakers’ interim work ahead of the upcoming legislature. Chet Pollert, majority chairman, R-Carrington, put forward the motion, which the 17-member board quickly approved.
Burgum sued the state Supreme Court Thursday, asking him to approve his appointment as the District 8 seat of Bismarck District won by David Andahl, 55, of Baldwin, who died of COVID-19 on October 5. Andahl won with 36% of the vote. Oral arguments before the Supreme Court are scheduled for November 20th.
Burgum quotes a constitutional provision: “The governor may, after appointment, fill a post in an office if this constitution or the law does not provide for any other method.”
His lawsuit called on the Supreme Court to annul Andahl’s election. to exclude third-placed Democrat Kathrin Volochenko; prevent the secretary of state, the legislature and the republican chairman of the eighth district from occupying the seat; and to allow the governor through his “constitutional right” to appoint a new state representative.
The Supreme Court on Friday denied the governor an injunction that would prevent the others from filling the seat immediately.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem issued a statement last month that Andahl’s death, if elected, would create a vacancy for the Eighth District Republican Executive Committee.
Secretary of State Al Jaeger, House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, and District 8 GOP Chairman Loren DeWitz say they will stand by their opinions. The attorney general called Burgum’s November 4 announcement that his appointment of Washburn’s coal manager Wade Boeshans to the seat was “imprecise and out of date”.
Pollert’s motion on Friday was presented and swiftly adopted after lawmakers returned from a break in the morning session. The discussion was short and supportive.
“I don’t understand what scenario would play out where the executive might choose someone to sit on the legislative assembly,” said Rep. Mike Lefor, R-Dickinson. “There is clearly a separation of powers, and I … firmly believe that it is not the governor’s right to decide who sits in this chamber. It is the right of the people in District 8. “
Pollert and Stenehjem spoke on Thursday evening. The head of the house said Friday’s motion was to “send the message”. The attorney general told the tribune on Friday that he would represent the legislature and the state secretary, whose interests he described as “coordinated”.
He said Burgum had “a terrible case” and was wasting tax dollars on his litigation.
“Everyone in the legislature – Republicans, Democrats, House, Senate, Conservatives, Liberals – agrees that the governor is crossing the line,” said Stenehjem, who was a state legislature himself for 24 years.
Governor spokesman Mike Nowatzki said, “North Dakota law makes it clear that a deceased person is not a qualified voter. And the attorney general’s statement instructs the Foreign Minister to issue an election certificate to a deceased person.
“This is not about personalities. This is about defending the constitution and the rule of law, ”said Nowatzki in an email. “The governor is fulfilling his constitutional responsibility to occupy the seat in District 8 as there is no state law that applies to this unique situation.”
The North Dakota NPL Democratic Party could also go into battle. The party leaders believe that Volochenko, who received 11% of the vote, should sit down and they have consulted with lawyers about the best way forward.
House minority chairman Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, a member of the committee, said that while House Democrats “disagree with the majority party on the outcome and who (the representative) should be, we are in solidarity with the fact that the people of District 8 make a decision. “
Andahl and Dave Nehring von Bismarck, who received 41% of the vote, teamed up to win the endorsements of the 8th District Republicans and the voters’ nominations for the two seats in the House. They defeated longtime MP Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, in the June primary.
Delzer chairs the House Appropriations Committee and has argued with the first-time governor over budget issues. Burgum, a wealthy former software manager, gave more than $ 1.8 million to a former consultant-led faction that successfully targeted Delzer’s seat.
Political observers have drawn attention to the party’s internal republican policies at play in the struggle, including Burgum’s conflicts with Delzer and his one-off rivalry with Stenehjem in the 2016 gubernatorial primary when Burgum handily defeated the attorney general for the party’s nomination by voters. Burgum won a second term this month with Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford.
Stenehjem said “let’s not fool us” about Burgum allegedly trying to prevent Delzer from serving in the legislature.
The District 8 Republican chairman said some people had asked about the district party’s nomination process. Delzer “has shown interest,” DeWitz told the Tribune.
Delzer did not immediately return a phone message to DeWitz’s comments.
The State Canvassing Board met Friday afternoon and unanimously approved the results of the general election.
The Executive Director of the NPL Democratic Party, Michael Taylor, proposed a motion to “essentially separate the vote in the 8th House Race and vote on it separately from all other races.”
“My only concern is the implication of this vote, that it would signal that the two winners are those outlined here by confirming these results,” Taylor told the Secretary of State. Taylor represented NPL Democratic Party leader Kylie Oversen, a board member.
Jaeger told him and the board at the beginning of the meeting that “the only duty of this acquisition board is to certify the results”.
“Whatever is decided by others outside of this meeting is beyond the control of this body. We are only here to say that these are the results, ”said North Dakota best electoral officer.
DeWitz, the District 8 GOP chairman, attended the board meeting and scheduled a meeting with the attorney general afterward.
DeWitz, a former state official, did not yet know who would represent him in the lawsuit. It won’t be Stenehjem.
The legislature’s new four-year terms of office begin on December 1st.
The litigation is the second that Burgum and the legislature are involved in. In 2018, the state’s Supreme Court heard and settled disputes over executive and legislative powers under the governor’s veto rights and provisions set out by lawmakers in multiple budgets.