February 4, 2023
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The year in North Dakota politics

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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) – The new year began with tragedy, as the state’s longest-serving Attorney General, Wayne Stenehjem, passed away just weeks after announcing he would retire.

”Wayne Stenehjem was the ultimate public servant. He was always calm, always kind, always respectful, and he looked at it as ‘This is my service to the people of North Dakota,’” said Former Gov. Ed Schafer in January.

Governor Doug Burgum appointed former Lieutenant Governor and two-time U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley to replace him.

”What a privilege,” said Wrigley in February.

Stenehjem’s death created controversy. Hours after his death, his assistant ordered the deletion of 20 years of his emails.

”They were, from the very beginning, like, ‘No, it’s actually gone,’” said Wrigley in November.

Then more controversy at the Capitol: the state’s longest-serving state senator, Appropriations Chair Ray Holmberg, exchanged texts with a man jailed for child porn. He resigned in April, just months before his term was up to avoid detracting from the work done at the Legislature.

”There would’ve definitely been some distractions,” said Senator Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, in April.

Holmberg is one of many leaders that are no longer in the Legislature. The House Appropriations Chair didn’t win re-election, the Senate Majority Leader, House Majority Leader, Speaker of the House, and Assistant Minority Leader didn’t seek re-election, and the Senate Minority Leader was redistricted out of the Legislature.

”I think a lot of institutional knowledge is going to be leaving the Legislature this year. When that knowledge isn’t there, we certainly know that other people will step up, but it’s going to take them a little while to get used to that, too,” said Senator Joan Heckaman in June.

Coincidentally, that was a talking point for those opposed to term limits, a measure that first received the most signatures in state history, then faced a court battle that made it to the state Supreme Court, before finally getting passed by voters in November.

”That’s why term limits was on the ballot, it was for the people,” said Senator Jeff Magrum, R-Hazelton, in November.

Harvard Law graduate and former Miss America Cara Mund challenged two-term incumbent Representative Kelly Armstrong for his seat as an independent candidate.

”I do feel like there is a silent majority here who feel like it is not the government’s business to be in your bedroom, to be in your doctor’s appointments,” said Mund in August.

Armstrong won on election day. So did Senator John Hoeven, who’s never lost a statewide race. Hoeven was challenged on the left by Democrat Katrina Christiansen and on the right by conservative Independent Rick Becker.

”We did the right thing, fighting for liberty. That’s why I keep going to that point. So, win or lose, we did the right thing,” said Becker on election night.

Republicans won every statewide office and grew supermajorities in the state Legislature.

”We’ve had a tremendous red wave in the state of North Dakota, so I’m very, very happy,” said NDGOP Chairman Perrie Schafer on election night.

Also on election night, recreational marijuana failed again and an 18-year-old dairy farmer was elected to the state House of Representatives.

”A lot of people liked the young blood, and they liked to see that there was someone new running and not the same old same old,” said Dawson Holle, R-Mandan, in December.

In recent days, Governor Doug Burgum has banned TikTok from being used on state-owned executive branch devices, and a federal committee reviewing a massive Chinese land deal in Grand Forks didn’t decide if the transaction should be allowed to go through yet, but North Dakota’s senators are still opposed to it.

”I am opposed to the Fufeng investment in Grand Forks, I’m opposed to the proximity to the Air Force base,” said Senator Kevin Cramer, R-ND, in December.

Just two weeks before the new Legislative session, Brent Sanford resigned as lieutenant governor, and Burgum appointed Tammy Miller to take his position.

”One thing that both Brent and Tammy share is that they both have a heart and passion for servant leadership,” said Burgum.

As for next year, expect a potentially record-breaking year of spending. The Governor’s proposed budget was more than $18 billion, which would be the most ever spent by the state.

Nationally, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Democrats far exceeded expectations in the Midterm elections, and former President Donald Trump has already announced his candidacy for president in 2024.



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