Election Briefs

Tax commissioner challenger floats tax breaks for military

FARGO — The Democratic challenger for North Dakota tax commissioner is proposing an income tax break for all active-duty and retired military service members in the state.

Astrup calls it his “Saluting Their Service Tax Cut” proposal, which would provide an income tax exclusion for any portion of benefits and pay that are taxable on an active-duty military service member’s federal tax return.

It would cost the state about $1.8 million annually to exclude retirement benefits from taxation, and about $1.9 million annually to exclude the pay of active-duty service members.

(FF)

Challenger Sinner outraises Rep. Cramer in latest quarter

WASHINGTON – The Democratic challenger for North Dakota’s lone U.S. House of Representatives seat outraised Republican incumbent Rep. Kevin Cramer in the last quarter.

State Sen. George Sinner raised nearly $350,000 from April 1 to June 30 while Cramer raised about $236,000, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

Sinner also spent more in the three-month period, with expenditures totaling $109,160, while Cramer spent $86,852 from April through June.

Cramer brought in significantly more campaign cash in the first quarter, raising $270,000 from January through March. Sinner raised about $33,000 in the same time period, but he had only joined the race in mid-March.

Cramer’s total cash on hand was at about $653,000 by the end of June, and he started the year with about $293,000 on hand.

Sinner’s cash on hand by the end of June was at about $274,000.

(FF)

Democratic challengers to PSC accuse Republicans of ‘governing by emergency’

FARGO – Two Democratic challengers vying for seats on the state’s Public Service Commission are accusing the Republican incumbents of “governing by emergency” and of failing to lead when it comes to rail access and safety.

Sen. Tyler Axness, D-Fargo, and Todd Reisenauer were in Fargo on Tuesday promoting their RAILS Plan, or Railroad Access and Increased Line Safety, which they say would improve rail infrastructure, require railroads to submit commodity data to the state and create a state rail inspection program.

The two Democrats said incumbents Brian Kalk and Julie Fedorchak, both Republicans, lacked leadership, both before and after December’s fiery oil train derailment and explosion near Casselton.

“Try as they might, they cannot hide from the fact that the current commissioners were in office when that crude trail struck a derailed grain train and exploded near Casselton, causing prolonged fear in our communities across the state of North Dakota,” Axness said, “while 30 other states showed leadership to act and create a rail inspection program before an incident occurred.”

Axness, who represents District 16 in the state Senate, is running against Fedorchak for a special two-year term on the commission. Reisenauer, a Fargo-based independent business consultant, is campaigning against Kalk for a normal six-year term.

 (FF)

 

Public Service Commission candidates want oil spill oversight consolidated

By Michael Hricik
Forum News Service

BISMARCK — Tyler Axness and Todd Reisenauer, Democratic candidates for the North Dakota Public Service Commission, say too many state agencies investigate oil and gas pipeline spills, causing a “bureaucratic disaster.”

They would like to consolidate state oversight over oil spills to the PSC to eliminate confusion.

“The current system defies common sense,” said Axness, D-Fargo.

The PSC currently has general jurisdiction over pipeline utilities engaged in the transportation of gas, oil, coal and water, according to the North Dakota Century Code.

The federal government and five state agencies, however, investigate spills as they occur now, Axness and Reisenauer said.

PSC Chairman Brian Kalk said he had also expressed confusion on where responsibility lies in the investigation process.

During a presentation on Thursday morning in Bismarck, Axness and Reisenauer displayed a sign with an undated quote from a previous North Dakota Farmers Union meeting that Kalk attended.

“There is such a quagmire of jurisdictional responsibility for pipelines, it’s a challenge when an incident occurs and who is responsible to do the investigation to see what happened,” Kalk said, according to the sign.

Kalk added he worked with state legislators during the last legislative session to clarify pipeline regulation laws. He said his quote was correct, but he was quoted before meeting with the legislative assembly.

Now the state’s Industrial Commission investigates spills on gathering lines, which transport gas and oil to processing facilities, Kalk said. The PSC oversees investigations within the state’s borders, and the federal government guides interstate investigations on major pipelines.

Kalk also said he worked to increase maximum violation fines in the cases of pipeline spills and added a pipeline safety investigator to the PSC’s staff during the last legislative session.

If either is elected in November, Axness and Reisenauer said they would implement what they have dubbed the “VIP” plan, an acronym standing for the Verification of the Integrity of of Pipelines.

First, an audit would occur for all pipeline infrastructure statewide.

“If we can map out this infrastructure and make it an open database for people to search, we feel like we can drastically reduce the number of accidents that happen,” Reisenauer said.

Second, the Democratic candidates said they would ask the next Legislature to consolidate jurisdiction of all state pipeline infrastructure to the commission.

Kalk said he doubts the Democrats’ plan would pass through the Legislature.

“The service commission is not a dictatorship. There are legislative rules you have to follow,” Kalk said.

Third, Axness and Reisenauer said they would “improve partnerships with the federal government, private industry, landowners, and municipalities,” according to the plan.

Finally, the PSC would “exercise its existing jurisdiction and authority” under the plan.

Axness, who represents District 16 in the state Senate, is running against incumbent Republican Julie Fedorchak for a special two-year term on the commission. Reisenauer, a Fargo-based independent business consultant, is campaigning against Kalk, also a Republican.

Group claims signatures for conservation measure gathered illegally at polling sites

By Mike Nowatzki
Forum News Service

BISMARCK – A group opposing a proposed measure that would set aside millions of dollars in North Dakota oil tax revenue to create a conservation fund claims the petition’s sponsors had people illegally gathering signatures at polling places Tuesday — a claim the head of the sponsoring committee denied.

Jessica Mongeon of Grand Forks, N.D., collects signatures Tuesday, June 10, 2014, for a proposed Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment outside the Alerus Center in Grand Forks.

Jon Godfread, chairman of the opposition group North Dakotans for Common Sense Conservation, said signature gatherers for the proposed Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment were stationed outside entrances of voting locations at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks and at Horizon Middle School in north Bismarck.

North Dakota law prohibits signature gatherers from approaching people while they are in a polling place or trying to enter or leave a polling place. The ban applies within 100 feet of any entrance leading into a polling place while it’s open for voting. Violating the law is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $3,000 fine.

Godfread said he observed the signature gatherer outside Horizon Middle School.

“I didn’t get out a tape measure to see if they were 100 feet away or not, but if you look at the spirit of the law, there was kind of a bottleneck there. I think it was kind of tough for voters to avoid that,” he said.

Stephen Adair of Bismarck, chairman of the petition’s sponsoring committee, said its legal team looked into the law beforehand and all signature gatherers were instructed to be 100 feet or more away from the polling sites and to not talk to people until after they voted.

“We don’t have any indication that people did not follow those instructions. They were told to be as careful as they could be. They checked in with election officials at all the sites they were with to make sure they were comfortable where they were,” he said. “We kind of feel like this is a little bit of the other side trying to bully some of our volunteers that are out there gathering signatures.”

Godfread, vice president of government affairs for the Greater North Dakota Chamber, one of 30 groups opposing the proposed measure, said the coalition plans to file a complaint with the state’s attorney in Grand Forks County and has also reached out to the North Dakota secretary of state’s office and Burleigh County auditor’s office.

“We will certainly be following up as we move forward,” he said.

The petition’s sponsors need to collect at least 26,904 valid petition signatures by Aug. 6 to get the measure on the Nov. 4 ballot. Conservation groups supporting the proposed measure include Ducks Unlimited, the Audubon Society, Pheasants Forever and The National Wildlife Federation.

Signature gatherer Jessica Mongeon, a Grand Forks resident, said she’d been at the Alerus Center entrance since 7 a.m. At around 3 p.m., she said she had collected about 75 signatures. A polling judge at the Alerus Center was brought in to make sure she was set up at least 100 feet away from the building.

“We needed more signatures to get on the ballot for the November elections,” she said. “There are a lot of qualified voters here today to get our support. A lot of people have been positive, but there’s been a few negatives. If anyone asks us to leave, we will. We’re not interfering with people voting. We’re just trying to get this on the ballot.”

Godfread said the signature gathering was reminiscent of sponsors’ efforts two years ago, when their petition was rejected by the secretary of state’s office because it contained faked signatures collected by paid signature gatherers.

Adair said the opposition group was “grasping at straws.”

“That was certainly an unfortunate thing, and we’ve learned a lot from that,” he said. “Our people are very well coached and trained out there, and we’re doing all we can to be within the letter of the law.”

As proposed, the conservation fund would annually receive 5 percent of the state’s share of oil extraction tax revenue. Ten percent of the annual revenues would go into a trust, and the other 90 percent would be used to award grants for conservation projects, land acquisition for parks and outdoor education. At least 75 percent of the revenue would have to be spent every two years.

The two sides disagree on how much money the fund would receive, with supporters projecting $75 million to $100 million per year and the opposition group estimating $150 million to $200 million annually based on projected oil production rates.

Figures provided by the state Office of Management and Budget in February show that had the fund been in place for the 2013-15 biennium, it would have collected about $147 million, based on tax collections at that time and projections for the remainder of the two-year budget cycle.

Trent Opstedahl contributed to this article.

Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at mnowatzki@forumcomm.com.

North Dakota election briefs

N.D. voter turnout lowest for June election since at least 1980

BISMARCK – Voter turnout barely cracked 17 percent for Tuesday’s election in North Dakota, the lowest turnout for a June election since at least 1980.

With all 427 precincts reporting, voters cast 93,377 ballots for a turnout rate of 17.13 percent, based on the estimate of 545,020 North Dakotans of voting age used by the secretary of state’s office. North Dakota is the only state with no voter registration.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger said Tuesday that voter turnout in June elections has historically been around 20 percent, though it reached as high as 33 percent in 2012 when voters rejected a measure to abolish property taxes and approved a separate measure to retire the University of North Dakota’s “Fighting Sioux” nickname.

N.D. voters approve earlier deadline for filing initiated petition signatures

BISMARCK – North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger said a ballot measure approved by voters Tuesday that sets an earlier deadline for filing initiated petition signatures will strengthen the process for citizens trying to change state law or the constitution through the ballot box.

With 82 percent of precincts reporting, 53 percent of voters supported Measure 1 and 47 percent opposed it. There were 33,560 votes in favor of the measure and 29,752 votes against it with 350 of 427 precincts reporting.

The constitutional amendment was the lone statewide measure on Tuesday’s ballot.

It will change the filing deadline for petition signatures from 90 days to 120 days before a statewide election. Petition sponsors will still have one year to collect signatures as they do now.

Secretary of State Jaeger says servers to blame for website glitches on election night

BISMARCK – North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger said server problems were to blame for election results being inaccessible for periods of time Tuesday night on his office’s website.

Jaeger, who was in Fargo on Tuesday night, said he also had difficulty accessing results on the website at times, which he said “kind of caught me off guard.”

He said he spoke with his staff in Bismarck and was told the Information Technology Department’s servers weren’t functioning correctly.

“It apparently took a little time to make the correction and they had to reboot them,” he said, adding that he was “a little bit disappointed in that because we work very hard in preparing for these elections, and I’m not quite sure what happened. … We definitely will be having a conversation about that.”

Williston voters approve new high school

WILLISTON, N.D. – Voters in Williston approved a $34 million bond measure to finance a new high school for the rapidly growing school district.

In complete but unofficial results, 2,738 Williston voters, or 76 percent, supported the bond measure, with 879 voters, or 24 percent, opposing it.

The Williston Public School District plans to construct a new high school, which would allow the current high school and middle school to be renovated to house grades 5-8. The new building would relieve crowding at Williston’s elementary schools.

More than 700 Williston students attended class last year in 54 portable classrooms, and the district is projected to grow by another 1,300 students in the next five years.

Watford City voters approve sales tax for hospital, rec center

WATFORD CITY, N.D. – Voters in Watford City have overwhelmingly approved a 1.5 percent sales tax to finance a new recreation and events center, a new hospital and other community projects.

In complete but unofficial results, 364 Watford City voters, or 85 percent, said yes to the sales tax measure Tuesday and 63 voters, or 15 percent, opposed it.

The results mean the McKenzie County Healthcare Systems board can move forward with plans for a new hospital, clinic and nursing home.

The funds also would help finance a proposed $56 million indoor recreation facility and events center and support community needs such as airport projects and affordable housing for essential workers and seniors.

Without proper ID, students turned away at polls

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Three University of North Dakota students, confused by the state’s new voter identification law, were turned away at the polls Tuesday.

Laura Munski, an elections inspector at the polling station inside the Gorecki Alumni Center on the UND campus, said the voting process went fairly smoothly, but some voters were confused by the state law.

Three UND students had to be turned away because they did not have proper identification, Munski said.

They weren’t happy about it, she said, “They made the effort to come, but then they had to go home.”

Munski brought her own laptop and a printer to allow students to print their ID certificates, but the paperwork for that had to be filled out before Election Day, she said.

“I told them to make sure they visit the Campus Connection (online services) and fill it out before November (the next election),” Munski said.

Fargo commission to see familiar faces; Mahoney wins re-election, Piepkorn regains seat lost in 2012

FARGO – In with the old and out with the new.

That’s the message Fargo voters sent Tuesday night in a seven-way race for two seats on Fargo’s City Commission, granting incumbent Tim Mahoney a third term and ushering former Commissioner Dave Piepkorn back into office.

In complete but unofficial results, Mahoney held a healthy lead with more than 29 percent of the vote. Piepkorn won about 21 percent – an 8 percentage point lead over the next closest challenger, current Fargo School Board member John Strand.

After the results are confirmed, Mahoney and Piepkorn will be sworn in on June 23 for four-year terms, earning a $25,228 annual salary.

Walaker elected to third term as Fargo mayor

FARGO – Dennis Walaker had only one speech prepared Tuesday night, and it was a victory speech.

Voters for the third time chose Walaker as Fargo’s mayor on Tuesday. He’ll now serve a final four-year term.

“I can’t lose,” the mayor said in an interview before delivering that winning speech to a room of supporters at the Holiday Inn.

He’s proven that, winning handily in the 2010 election after beating back the historic flood of 2009, and winning his first term in 2006 despite being largely outspent.

After a contentious race that turned old friends into political foes, Walaker won again Tuesday with 56 percent of the vote, beating challenger and City Commissioner Brad Wimmer, who took 44 percent of the vote, in complete but unofficial results.

About 14,030 residents voted Tuesday, adding to 686 who voted absentee and 3,104 who voted early for a total of 17,820, said Cass County Auditor Michael Montplaisir.

That’s up from the 12,404 who cast ballots on Election Day in 2010, the last time there was a mayor’s race on the ticket. A total of 15,010 voted in that 2010 primary, including 473 who voted absentee and 2,133 who voted early.

Williston residents elect lifelong resident next mayor

WILLISTON, N.D. – Voters here chose City Commissioner and lifelong Williston resident Howard Klug as their next mayor.

In complete but unofficial results, Klug had 76 percent of votes, while entrepreneur Marcus Jundt had 19 percent and Jim Purkey had 5 percent.

The three candidates battled to lead the rapidly growing boomtown and succeed Mayor Ward Koeser, who is retiring after 20 years.

Klug, co-owner of the El Rancho Hotel, had 2,923 votes, while Jundt, who moved to Williston three years ago to open restaurants, had 735 votes. Purkey, also a new Williston resident, had 187 votes.

Valley City mayor wins four more years

VALLEY CITY, N.D. — Bob Werkhoven is a survivor.

The Valley City mayor overcame a recall election two years ago amid allegations that his administration ignored voter concerns. On Tuesday, he won re-election to another four-year term.

In complete but unofficial results, Werkhoven captured 55 percent of the vote in the mayoral race, with all five precincts reporting. Challenger Jeff Edwards, a business manager for a local developer, had 44 percent of the vote.

“I’m happy it turned out the way it did,” Werkhoven said Tuesday night. “We’re just going to move forward and put this other stuff that happened behind us.”

Years of political infighting have plagued Valley City, where a sitting city commissioner and former mayor implied in a newspaper ad last month that Werkhoven is racist and sexist.

North Dakota Election Day briefs

Turnout in city election steady, expected to top last Fargo mayoral race

FARGO – The city’s polling places were seeing a steady flow of voters Tuesday morning for an election that includes races for mayor, City Commission and school board as well as county primaries.

Cass County Auditor Michael Montplaisir described the turnout as good for a primary and city election, estimating that 15,000 to 20,000 ballots will be cast by day’s end. As of 10:30 a.m., 2,678 people had voted, the auditor’s office said.

“It’s a beautiful day,” he said. “People should vote.”

With a mayoral contest pitting sitting commissioner Brad Wimmer versus incumbent Dennis Walaker, turnout is expected to best the last election featuring a mayor’s race in 2010

Early Tuesday morning, some of the computers at polling places were not working properly, but those problems have been resolved, Montplaisir said.

Early Tuesday morning, some of the computers at polling places were not working properly, but those problems have been resolved, Montplaisir said. A few voters were turned away Tuesday morning because they didn’t have a valid ID under the state’s new voting laws.

The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. today.

To find your polling place, visit vip.sos.nd.gov/WhereToVote.aspx.

Voter turnout slow and steady in Grand Forks, no problems so far with new ID law

GRAND FORKS – Voting was slow, but somewhat steady in Grand Forks early today.

And election workers are finding few, if any, problems with North Dakota’s new voter ID law, which requires those showing up to the polls to have valid identification.

“It’s slow, but it could be worse,” said Election Inspector Bev Skelly, adding that there have been no issues with the new law.

In the past, residents simply had to show a current utility bill as proof of residency. Under the new law, passed last year, voters must show a valid North Dakota driver’s license, a non-driver’s identification card, a tribal government-issued identification card, a student identification certificate provided by a North Dakota college or university, or a long-term care identification certificate.

Grand Forks County Auditor Debbie Nelson said 202 county residents had turned in absentee ballots as of Monday, while another 759 voted during last week’s early voting period.

She expects final vote total remain under 10,000, as was the case in the last two non-presidential election year primaries. In 2010, 6,983 county residents voted. In 2006, the total was 5,225.

Voter information can be found at is on the secretary of state’s website at 1.usa.gov/1kP69dt.

South Heart candidates did not get to file

SOUTH HEART, N.D. — Candidates for the South Heart City Council weren’t sent filing papers in time and now must run as write-ins for three spots in today’s election.

Jamie Lefor, Chris Kanski and Quain Kudrna are running for re-election, but no names will appear on the ballot.

Fellow incumbent Chuck Andres has two years left on his term.

Auditor Renae Praus did not return a message left by The Press.

Lefor is running for a second four-year term while Kanski is running for a full term after being appointed to fill a vacancy on the commission.

Mayor Floyd Hurt said he’s supporting the incumbents, including Kudrna.

Hurt added the auditor thought election officials at Stark County would handle sending out the filing paperwork.

Stutsman county prepares for the election/ primary Tuesday

JAMESTOWN, N.D. – The election proper will be continue until 7 p.m. today.

Maps of Stutsman County’s rural precincts and other voting information is available on the Stutsman County website, www.co.stutsman.nd.us.

Stutsman County Auditor/Chief Operating Officer. Casey Bradley expects about 1,000 to 1,200 additional votes to be cast on Tuesday, he said.

So far, the change in voter identification requirements hasn’t led to anyone being turned away from the polls, Bradley reported.

In order to vote, people will need to provide an ID, typically a driver’s license or non-driver’s identification card.

Anyone who has moved since getting a driver’s license should update the address at the North Dakota Department of Transportation website, www.dot.nd.gov.

Once the polls close at 7 p.m., people will begin counting ballots for write-in races.

Bradley encouraged people to vote if eligible.

“In a small city, your vote really has an effect,” he said.

Voters in Williston, Watford City asked to fund major projects

By Amy Dalrymple
Forum News Service

 

WILLISTON, N.D. – Residents of two rapidly growing Oil Patch cities will vote Tuesday on using local tax dollars for major projects.

The Williston Public School District proposes a $34 million bond issue to finance a new high school to accommodate the district’s growth.

A new high school would allow the current high school and middle school to be renovated to house grades 5-8, which would relieve crowding at Williston’s elementary schools, district officials say.

More than 700 Williston students attended class last year in 54 portable classrooms, and the district is projected to grow by another 1,300 students in the next five years. The total cost of a new high school and other improvements is estimated to be $56.5 million.

In Watford City, voters will be asked to approve a 1.5 percent sales tax to finance a new recreation and events center, a new hospital and other community projects.

The city already has a 1 percent sales tax, known as the Roughrider Fund, which is set to expire this year. Voters will decide on continuing the 1 percent tax and adding an additional half-cent to support major projects.

If approved, the McKenzie County Health Systems board can move forward with plans for a new hospital, clinic and nursing home.

The funds also would help finance a proposed $56 million indoor recreation facility and events center, aimed at improving the quality of life in Watford City to attract and retain workers and families.

In addition, the sales tax dollars would support community needs such airport projects and affordable housing for essential workers and seniors.

“It’s very important for our future,” Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford said.

Among the other races on the ballot Tuesday, Williston has a hotly contested mayor’s race to succeed Ward Koeser, who is retiring after 20 years.

City Commissioner and business owner Howard Klug is running against entrepreneur Marcus Jundt, who moved to Williston to open restaurants, and archaeologist Jim Purkey, whose family moved to North Dakota after job layoffs.

New faces in District 43

By John Hageman
Forum News Service

 

North Dakota’s legislative District 43 will see at least one new face after the November election.

Republican state Rep. Curtiss Kreun moved out of his district, meaning he couldn’t run for re-election this year. Republican Sen. Lonnie Laffen and Democrat Rep. Lois Delmore, both incumbents, are running again.

Meanwhile, former state Sen. JoNell Bakke is making another run for the senate as a Democrat, and three newcomers, Republicans Rich Becker and Shelby Wood and Democrat Kyle Thorson, are running for the House.

District 43 covers a chunk of Grand Forks north of 32nd Avenue South and east of South 42nd Street.

The primary election for state legislative seats will be held June 10, followed by the general election on Nov. 4.

Legislators serve four-year terms. They are paid $453 per month for each month in office plus $162 for each day during the legislative session and for attendance at interim committees or other official meetings to which each legislator is appointed, according to the North Dakota Legislative Council.

House

Richard S. “Rich” Becker

Richard S. “Rich” Becker
Party: Republican.
Address: 3633 Lynwood Circle, Grand Forks.
Age: 71.
Family: wife Joanne, three adult children, four grandchildren.
Education: MBA, University of Minnesota.
 Occupation: management and marketing consultant, Becker Marketing Consultants.
Leadership Experience: management roles, including senior vice president level, in petroleum engineering software development; board member, Chamber of Commerce; board member UND Alumni Association and Foundation; board member, Grand Forks Regional Airport Authority; board member, Grand Forks Youth for Christ.
Why am I running for the state legislature? We are at an exciting and challenging time in our state’s history. We have been blessed with natural resource wealth, an expanding economy and thousands of new resident. I have the time to invest, the management and industry experience to understand our opportunities, and the willingness to listen and work with both parties.
What are the top issues facing state government? The management of our natural resources. I want to maximize our growth while being very conscious to minimize negative environmental effects on our land and water. Other issues I want to address are helping businesses grow and creating jobs, supporting the growth of UND, supporting continued property tax relief and finding ways to cut budget inefficiencies.
What are the top issues for my district? Basically those mentioned above. In addition, I think the voters of District 43 are very interested in K-12 funding and growth of Grand Forks Air Force Base, particularly with the unmanned aircraft industry there and at UND. I truly believe job creation and helping UND will improve Grand Forks more than anything else.
How would I address these issues? I have a lot of knowledge and understanding of most of these issues. I look forward to listening to fellow legislators’ views, talk to those who work or are involved personally with the issues and really try to find ways with those having opposing views to find the best solution.
What is my position on the constitutional amendment to restructure the SBHE? I have my thoughts on this matter, but my response is the same as for the preceding question. I do feel the SBHE cannot remain as is. It is currently just not working for the best interests of higher education in North Dakota.
What is my position on the proposed amendment to devote 5% of oil extraction taxes to outdoor conservation? I am against this amendment as proposed. Five percent, which could be as much as $50 million, is too high an amount mandated to be spent every year or even every other year on conservation. I’m sure we could find better uses for some of this money.

 

Lois Delmore

Lois Delmore (incumbent)
Party: Democrat.
Address: 714 S. 22nd St., Grand Forks.
Age: 65.
Family: married, one son Patrick.
Education: BS in education, UND.
Occupation: retired English teacher, Grand Forks Red River High School.
Leadership experience: served on House judiciary, transportation, education and higher education funding committees; chairwoman, interim judiciary committee; member, Crime Services Board; member, UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences Advisory Committee; member, North Dakota Drug and Alcohol Commission.
Why are you running for the Legislature? I am running for re-election because I have the experience, relationships, knowledge and skills to address the multiple opportunities and challenges facing the state. As a North Dakota native, a woman and a Democrat, I provide balance and a different perspective. And I have experience working with legislators from both sides of the aisle.
What are the top issues facing state government? Top state issues will include education funding, infrastructure, economic development and property tax relief.
What are the top issues for your district? Visiting with constituents in District 43, top issues include funding and maintaining quality schools, small business promotion, property tax relief, child care and safety concerns, and energy and infrastructure needs.
How will you address these issues? I will sponsor and support legislation to address these issues and use a common sense approach to resolve issues. I have always supported property tax relief and worked for quality schools, as well as other education needs. As we reduce property tax burdens, funding for all levels of education becomes more critical.
What is your position on the higher education amendment? Although the current board structure is not without its flaws, I believe that what we have works better than what this amendment proposes. I am also concerned with language in the amendment removing the missions of college campuses from the constitution and may have consequences that could be detrimental to our institutions.
What is your position on the conservation amendment? Although I believe we need to support conservation efforts more than the legislature has, measures like these don’t always provide the desired outcome. There is a concern from many as to the amount of funds and the disbursements. If the signatures are obtained, the voters of North Dakota will make the final decision in November.
 

Kyle J. Thorson

Kyle J. Thorson
Party: Democrat.
Address: P.O. Box 5321.
Age: 26.
Education: BA in political science, current student in Masters of Public Administration, UND.
Occupation: student, UND Financial Wellness.
Leadership experience: student senator; student representative University Senate; member Resource Management Board, Christus Rex; chairman, Graduate Student Experience Working Group; student senate representative; Student Fee Advisory Committee.
Why are you running for state legislature? I’m running for House because I believe we need to bring balance back to Bismarck and find solutions to create affordable housing and education, strengthen our infrastructure statewide, ensure the safety of our communities, and create opportunities for our young professionals and recent graduates to feel welcomed in our state.
What are the top issues facing state government? North Dakota is experiencing great financial prosperity because of the oil boom. With this benefit, it will be necessary to address the increasing crime, sex trafficking, housing/rental rates and deteriorating roads. These issues are complicated by the lack of both accountability and balanced politics in Bismarck.
What are the top issues for your district? The rising cost of apartments and housing is putting strain on many families and students who live in Grand Forks. Further, the improvement of our education system from pre-K to college is critical. Helping to create affordable housing and quality education will ensure a stable and innovative state.
How would you address these issues? Reducing property taxes by funding public education at the state level would be a start to accomplishing both goals. Implementing a renter’s tax credit will ensure that renters are also able to receive the benefit of a tax reduction.
What is your position on the constitutional amendment to restructure the State Board of Higher Education? The proposed amendment would potentially limit the academic freedom of a university by providing three full-time appointed members the right to restrict or deny certain classes. In addition to consolidating power, the student representative is entirely removed from the administrative process. I oppose this amendment.
What is your position on the proposed amendment to devote 5 percent of oil extraction taxes to outdoor conservation? North Dakota has a deep connection with the land and the outdoors. Agriculture, hunting, and outdoor recreation are a vibrant part of our history and this amendment would help preserve that for future generations. I support using money from an industry that is damaging the environment to help protect it for the future.
 

Shelby Wood

Shelby Wood
Party: Republican.
Address: 3850 Gardenview Drive No. 115, Grand Forks.
Age: 19.
Family: mother Daphne, stepfather Wiley and sister Macy.
Education: bachelor’s degrees in accounting and political science, UND.
Occupation: student
Leadership experience: chairwoman, UND College Republicans; vice president, UND Phi Beta Lambda; customer service agent, Bremer Bank.
Why are you running for state legislature? I am running for the state legislature because I believe that I can contribute a unique perspective while still representing the views of the people of District 43. I want to work for those who live in this community to ensure their voice is heard and their interests are represented.
What are the top issues facing state government? In the wake of recent economic success, North Dakota needs to focus on reinvesting in the state through efforts to lower property taxes for our residents. We also need to maintain a focus on oil development in the west with regard to the safety of our citizens and the growing population.
What are the top issues for your district? District 43 faces some of the same issues the state does, but the biggest concerns facing this district include the rising prices of apartment rent, continuing job growth, and maintaining quality and affordable education for all students.
How would you address these issues? The best way to address these issues begins with maintaining our great work ethic. We need to collaborate on the property tax issue, which will in turn help lower the cost of living. We need to continue to increase existing tuition grant programs for in-state residents while still spending within our means.
What is your position on the constitutional amendment to restructure the State Board of Higher Education? Ultimately, this decision is up to the people, but I am opposed to the amendment. The new Higher Education Commission would not maintain the current student position on the SBHE, and I believe it is important to have a student perspective on issues that affect them.
What is your position on the proposed amendment to devote 5 percent of oil extraction taxes to outdoor conservation? While it is vital to preserve our rich land and wildlife, this amendment is not the correct choice for North Dakota. The approval of this amendment allows conservation efforts to take legal precedence over other needs in our state, such as education spending and property tax relief.

 

 

Senate

JoNell A. Bakke

JoNell A. Bakke
Party: Democrat.
Address: 1498 Norchip Circle, Grand Forks.
Age: 62.
Family: husband Greg; children Rebecca Saari, Ralph, Matthew, Eric; grandchildren Ethan, Austin Saari and Payton.
Education: master’s degree in special education, UND.
Occupation: retired teacher.
Leadership experience: assistant caucus leader, North Dakota Legislature; president, Grand Forks Education Association; chairwoman, North Dakota Women’s Network; vice chairwoman, North Dakota Human Rights Coalition; chairwoman, Area Health Education Center Advisory Board.
Why are you running for state legislature? The legislature can do more to live up to North Dakota’s unlimited potential and address the challenges that have come with growth. I will be a voice for lower property taxes; college affordability; access to quality housing, education and childcare; and responsible energy development. This will maximize our state’s good fortune.
What are the top issues facing state government? Addressing oil impacts, improving education, and making permanent investments with one-time oil revenues should be the focus next session. This includes expanding our state’s supply of affordable housing, implementing early childhood education, and creating a permanent endowment to fund college scholarships for North Dakota’s young adults.
What are the top issues for your district? Tax relief, education and affordable housing are all important to District 43. Those who rent their homes have not benefited from past property tax relief. UND students have experienced tuition increases and rising debt. The low supply of affordable housing affects both renters and those looking to buy a home.
 How would you address these issues? I will sponsor legislation to extend property tax cuts to renters, freeze tuition at present levels while properly funding higher education and expand the Housing Incentive Fund to encourage the development of affordable housing not only in western North Dakota but here in Grand Forks as well.
What is your position on the constitutional amendment to restructure the State Board of Higher Education? The proposed amendment more than “restructure(s)” the SBHE, it also unwisely removes language in our state constitution that safeguards against legislative micromanagement and eliminates student representation in the administration of higher education that the present structure currently provides. I oppose the measure for these reasons.
What is your position on the proposed amendment to devote 5 percent of oil extraction taxes to outdoor conservation? I believe we must take action to preserve our outdoor heritage and expand access to critical habitat for hunters. No measure is perfect but, if necessary, concerns about the mechanics of the change can be addressed by the legislature as was done with the statewide smoking ban last session.

 

Lonnie Laffen

Lonnie Laffen (incumbent)
Party: Republican.
Address: 3549 15th Ave. S., Grand Forks.
Age: 55.
Family: wife Pam; children Jesse, Ryan and Christopher.
Education: BS in environmental design and bachelor of architecture, North Dakota State University.
Occupation: architect and president/CEO JLG Architects.
Leadership experience: vice chairman, Senate Industry Business and Labor Committee; vice chairman, Senate Political Subdivisions Committee; chairman, state Workers Compensation Review Committee; board member, Altru Health System; past chairman, Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce.
Why are you running for state legislature? I believe North Dakota has an incredible opportunity to create the best infrastructure and education system in the nation while, at the same time, permanently eliminating both income and property taxes. As bold as that sounds, we can make that happen.
 What are the top issues facing state government? Oil development will allow us to fund our current priorities while we build trust accounts that will permanently fund our future state and community spending needs. The issue will be local versus state control. We will want to maintain local control but the money will come from the state.
What are the top issues for your district? 1. Affordability to live, learn and raise a family. 2. Creating affordable housing and lowering tuition costs. 3. District 43 has a large employment base of education faculty and staff. If we want the best education system we will need to win the war on talent and a piece of this puzzle is improving salaries.
How would you address these issues? Cost of living: Continue lowering taxes. Housing: More funding for the Housing Incentive Fund, Flex Pace Program and Community Infrastructure Grants. Tuition: Expand the Student Incentive Grant Program. Our aim should be tuition-free college for residents. Salaries: Salaries are set by school boards, but we should tie some funding to improving salaries.
What is your position on the constitutional amendment to restructure the State Board of Higher Education? I voted against restructuring during the last legislative session.
What is your position on the proposed amendment to devote 5 percent of oil extraction taxes to outdoor conservation? I am an avid conservationist, a lifelong hunter, a member of Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited. That being said, I don’t believe we should tie the hands of future generations by putting spending mandates into our constitution. The state needs flexibility.

 

How to vote

Voting in North Dakota is as “easy as pie,” the secretary of state’s office says. Here’s what you need to know:
  •  When to vote: Election Day is Tuesday and polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  •  Where to vote: To find polling locations, enter your address into the secretary of state’s website listed below. To vote by absentee ballot, see your county auditor or go to the secretary of state’s website.
  •  Registration: Registration is not required but a state-issued or tribal government-issued identification card is. This includes driver’s licenses and identification certificates issued by North Dakota universities and by long-term care facilities. These are not the same as ID cards.

 

 

Valley City mayor accuses commissioner of trying to sabotage his campaign

By Kia Farhang
Forum News Service

VALLEY CITY – A city commissioner and former mayor here recently made public her support for the challenger in next week’s mayoral election.

In an ad placed in a local newspaper, Mary Lee Nielson said challenger Jeff Edwards has a strong background in human resources. She praised his work with the city’s housing task force.

Former mayor and City Commissioner Mary Lee Nielson

Nielson also said she believes Edwards “will work with everyone without using profanity or making sexist or racist remarks.”

When asked about the ad, Nielson declined to give specific examples of sexism or racism from Bob Werkhoven, the current mayor.

Mayor Bob Werkhoven

But Werkhoven, who defeated Nielson in the 2010 mayoral race, accused her of using cheap tactics to sabotage his campaign.

“In this political atmosphere, people make these statements,” Werkhoven said. “It just seems to me like they’re groping.”

The ad is the latest chapter in a years-long struggle among officials in Valley City, where the political climate has at times bordered on toxic.

The city administrator resigned in 2011 after voters narrowly chose to keep his position on the city payroll.

Dean Ross, the former police chief who fought publicly with that administrator, left office that year amid allegations he mishandled public money. A state investigation into the incident said there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Ross’s resignation didn’t stop him from running unsuccessfully against Werkhoven in a 2012 recall election. Werkhoven’s critics had accused him of ignoring constituents and stifling criticism.

Now, two other city commissioners have joined Nielson in backing Werkhoven’s challenger, a business manager for a developer in the area.

“I want a positive attitude for City Hall, and I think Jeff Edwards will supply that,” Nielson said.

Edwards said he plans to help the city oversee day-to-day human resources work until administrators can hire a human resources director.

He also said he’d stress the need for more housing development in the area if he is elected mayor.

As for Nielson’s ad, Edwards said he’s had limited contact with Werkhoven in the past and therefore couldn’t comment on possible racism or sexism on the mayor’s part.

“That’s not a direction I want to go down for my campaign,” Edwards said. “I’m not running against Bob. I’m running for my own views.”

Werkhoven said he has a history of promoting equal opportunity in his four years as mayor and in his previous job with the state Department of Transportation.

The mayor said no one has ever complained to him about his actions. He thinks the three commissioners backing his challenger are doing so because they’re “heavy-duty Democrats” and Werkhoven is a Republican.

“What bothers me about this,” Werkhoven said, “is that we’re not dealing in issues. It’s kind of lowball.”

Nielson denied being bitter over her 2010 loss to Werkhoven.

She said her support for Edwards “has nothing to do with that election. It has everything to do with moving forward.”

Nielson said Werkhoven doesn’t approach issues in a positive manner. Werkhoven called the commissioner’s ad a “low blow.”

“I wouldn’t make a statement like that about anybody,” he said.

Matt Pedersen and Dewey Magnuson, the other two commissioners supporting Edwards, are also up for re-election June 10.

Fargo police investigating Strand for water tower campaign projection

Erik Burgess
Forum News Service

FARGO – Police are investigating a City Commission candidate and School Board member after receiving a formal complaint last week that he violated state law by projecting a campaign ad onto a city water tower.

Lt. Joel Vettel said someone complained to police on Friday about John Strand projecting his blue “I Stand with Strand” campaign logo on the side of a city water tower near the 400 block of north Broadway last month.

Vettel declined to say who filed the complaint, citing an open investigation, but said the police report could be in front of Cass County State’s Attorney Birch Burdick for possible charges by the week’s end.

Burdick has said Strand’s projection appears to violate state law, which prevents the use of public property for the purposes of political campaigning. Those found guilty of such an offense could be stripped of their government job or candidacy in a public election.

Strand, a School Board member since 2008, is running for one of two open seats on the Fargo City Commission in the June 10 election.

He has maintained he has the legal right to use the projection – which he once called a “brilliant” use of new technology – but he disabled the projection late last month on the same day concerns were raised about its legality.

Strand said Monday he is aware of the complaint and doesn’t believe it was filed by another candidate.

“I got the impression it’s not, but I don’t know,” he said. “I just don’t know.”

He declined further comment and pointed to a written statement, which said in part: “Emptying the ballot of quality candidates over such frivolous and inconsequential trivialities is not in the public’s best interest.”

Strand also said in his statement that he has “numerous photographs” of other candidates’ political advertisements placed on public boulevards, which he argues is the same kind of infraction for which he is being accused.

Strand posted photos on his Facebook page of several yard signs staked in boulevards, including signs for mayoral, City Commission and School Board candidates.

John Goff, Strand’s attorney, said yard sign misplacement happens in “just about every election cycle.” Usually candidates are informed and fix the problem, just as Strand did by disabling the projection, Goff said.

“The situation is remedied and that’s kind of the end of it. Everybody just kind of moves on,” Goff said. “This is a little bit different technologically, but I really think it’s the same kind of thing.”

The water tower projection was used two nights over the span of about a week before being disabled, Strand’s statement said.

1979 decision

Vettel called it a “relatively simple investigation,” saying the facts of the case seem clear, and so it will likely come down to a legal interpretation of state law once in the hands of the state’s attorney.

Strand has been citing a North Dakota Supreme Court decision from 1979 to back up his campaign tactic. In that decision, the court decided that Justice Gerald VandeWalle was not guilty of corrupt electioneering, after the justice appeared in a TV campaign ad wearing his judge’s robe and seated at the bench of the Supreme Court.

The state Supreme Court decided there needed to be some kind of “misuse of public funds or a financial misuse of public property for political purposes” for there to be corruption under state law.

In VandeWalle’s case, the court decision said any “wear and tear” of the justice bench or the amount of electricity consumed while taping the 30-second TV ad would be “miniscule” costs.

In his statement, Strand said any costs from his projection should also be considered “inconsequential and harmless.”

“I’m not saying that (Supreme Court) case totally controls this, but I think it’s somewhat analogous, that this was not an impact directly on the taxpayer,” Goff said.

Burdick has referenced that same Supreme Court decision, but he said Strand still seems out of line.

“I don’t imagine that Strand’s situation has had financial impact on public services or building, but it, on its face, seems wrong,” Burdick said Monday.

Still, Burdick said he didn’t yet know the details of the police report, so he would not say if he would press charges. He said he is having a law clerk research more about the law and the Legislature’s intent in creating it.

With the election a week away, any possible penalties for a conviction under the corruption law wouldn’t come until well after Election Day.

Burdick pointed out The Forum has “informed the public of the situation multiple times” since last month. “So if voters wish to take that into account during their voting process, they may do so,” he said.

N.D. secretary of state challenger urges ‘no’ vote on June ballot measure

By Mike Nowatzki

Forum News Service

BISMARCK – The Democratic candidate for secretary of state joined a conservative activist Tuesday in urging North Dakota voters to reject a proposal that both said could have a chilling effect on voter-driven ballot measures.

North Dakotans will vote June 10 on Measure 1, a constitutional amendment that would move up the filing deadline for initiated measure petitions from 90 days to 120 days before a statewide election.

“This measure may seem benign enough, but it’s not,” said former state legislator April Fairfield, who is challenging North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger for the seat in November. “What this measure actually does is strike a blow at the heart of a longstanding North Dakota tradition.”

Conservative activist Dustin Gawrylow, managing director of the North Dakota Watchdog Network, called Measure 1 “simply a solution in search of a problem.”

This year, the 90-day filing deadline to get an initiated measure on the November ballot is Aug. 6. A 120-day deadline would have been July 7.

Moving up the filing deadline by 30 days would make it harder for sponsors to collect signatures at the North Dakota State Fair in Minot, which takes place during the last half of July and on average accounts for 25 percent of signatures gathered by sponsors, Gawrylow said.

Sponsors would have to collect signatures at the State Fair in the off-year before the election, before many are ready to start the process, he said.

“It simply is not a pro-voter or pro-citizen measure. This is designed to restrict the people’s ability to influence legislation,” he said.

Jaeger, who proposed the change last year and convinced lawmakers to put it on the ballot, said the State Fair “is not going to make or break” a petition drive. He noted sponsors would still have one year to collect signatures.

“My position is that this maintains the rights of all of the people, the (petition) circulators and everybody else out there who needs to have the assurance of knowing that the petitions were circulated in a lawful manner,” he said.

Under current state law, the secretary of state’s office has 35 days to review a petition to determine if it has enough valid signatures to be placed on the ballot.

However, the end of that review period butts up against the requirement that the ballot must be certified 55 days before the election, potentially leaving no time for the North Dakota Supreme Court to review an appeal filed by the sponsor if the sponsor is unhappy with the secretary of state’s decision, Jaeger said.

And because of the constitution’s wording, a ballot measure that’s under review by the Supreme Court at the time the ballot is being prepared must be placed on the ballot, even if it’s insufficient – though Jaeger acknowledged that hasn’t happened during his 21 years in office.

“It came very close in 2012,” he said, referring to a conservation measure that was disqualified from the ballot because of signatures forged by hired petition circulators.

Jaeger said moving up the deadline would give sponsors 10 days to file a challenge and the Supreme Court 20 days to render a decision. If approved, it also would set a new deadline requiring that any challenges must be filed with the Supreme Court no later than 75 days before the election.

Fairfield, a nonprofit executive director from Bismarck who spent 10 years in the Legislature, said she’s not unsympathetic to giving the Supreme Court more time to review a contested petition. But she noted it was Jaeger, not the high court, who requested the change.

“What is troubling to me is that the answer to every time management issue according to the secretary of state is how to take it away from the citizens of North Dakota,” she said, comparing it to Jaeger’s decision in 2012 to temporarily shorten his office’s window hours to allow his staff to catch up on paperwork – a decision Jaeger has defended as “one of the smartest things that I’ve ever done in this office.”

Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at mnowatzki@forumcomm.com.