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Bill seeks clarity on appointment process after fight following deceased candidate's win

Bill seeks clarity on appointment process after fight following deceased candidate's win

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North Dakota legislative leaders are proposing a bill for how to fill the seat of a victorious dead candidate after such a scenario unfolded last fall.

House Bill 1461 follows the Bismarck-area District 8 House win of David Andahl, 55, of Baldwin, who died Oct. 5 from COVID-19. Three factions sought to fill the seat, including Gov. Doug Burgum, who appointed Washburn coal executive Wade Boeshans. Political observers saw the governor's move as an attempt to head off Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, who was defeated in the June primary and has tangled with Burgum over budget issues.

The governor took the case to the state Supreme Court, which ruled against him. District 8 Republicans appointed Delzer, who continues to chair the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

The bill brought by six Republican majority floor leaders essentially would put into state law what justices decided last fall. The process to fill a seat would be the same as for filling legislative vacancies by office holders' death or resignation. District parties would name a successor.

The bill specifically outlines "The governor may not fill a vacancy in the office of a member of the legislative assembly."

House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, called that provision "pretty plain." 

"The governor brought up something that we felt was a reach, and the governor himself said this is a gray area, so he put it forward; of course the Supreme Court ruled in the Legislature's favor. We're just making sure that that's the way it will be," Pollert said.

Governor's spokesman Mike Nowatzki said Burgum "generally doesn’t comment on pending legislation." 

Following Andahl's death, Secretary of State Al Jaeger asked Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem for his opinion on how Andahl's seat would be filled, should he win. Stenehjem said the same process as for district party appointments would apply. 

Burgum sought to fill the seat by citing a constitutional provision that “The governor may fill a vacancy in any office by appointment if no other method is provided by this constitution or by law.” 

Democratic-NPL District 8 House nominee Kathrin Volochenko, of Mercer, finished third in the race with 11% and also sought the seat won by Andahl, who received 36% of the vote.

The bill will go before the House Government and Veterans Affairs Committee. A hearing has yet to be set.

Reach Jack Dura at 701-223-8482 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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