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North Dakota Democrats endorse new insurance commissioner candidate, sparking new lawsuit

North Dakota Democrats endorse new insurance commissioner candidate, sparking new lawsuit

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North Dakota's Democratic-NPL Party on Friday endorsed a new candidate for state insurance commissioner, days after the state Supreme Court ordered the party's nominee removed from the ballot.

The party's Executive Committee endorsed Mutual of Omaha insurance agent Jason Anderson, of Fargo, to replace Bismarck critical care respiratory specialist Travisia Martin, whom the court found "not eligible to hold the office of insurance commissioner" as she has not lived in North Dakota for the five years required of executive branch officials.

North Dakota's Republican Party challenged Martin's residency, based on her 2016 vote in Nevada. Republican Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfread is seeking a second term, currently unopposed. 

The Democratic-NPL Party on Monday also sued Secretary of State Al Jaeger, asking the high court to compel him to include Anderson's name on the November ballot, about a week before he must certify the ballot for county auditors. Jaeger did not accept the party's filings for Anderson.

In emails included in court filings, Jaeger and Party Chairwoman Kylie Oversen disagree as to whether a vacancy exists on the ballot for the party to fill. 

"The Supreme Court determined your candidate was not qualified when she was on the June ballot," Jaeger emailed Oversen. "Therefore, she cannot cease to be qualified because she was not qualified when she was on the ballot. Therefore, no vacancy exists according to the law."

"We believe that because Ms. Travisia Martin was on the ballot in June, per your approval of her candidacy finding her eligible to be on the ballot, and that she was only removed pursuant to an order of the Supreme Court, a vacancy does in fact exist," Oversen replied. 

Oral arguments are set for Wednesday morning. Jaeger declined to comment on the lawsuit.

"We'll let the judicial process take place," he said.

Oversen told the Tribune the party believes “voters should have options” and not have an uncontested race for insurance commissioner.

“We believe that we have a right under state law to put forward a replacement candidate for insurance commissioner because of this vacancy, and so we want the Supreme Court to validate that, hopefully,” she said.

Democratic-NPL Party attorney David Thompson said Jaeger had "qualified" Martin for the June ballot, and the Supreme Court subsequently finding her ineligible creates a vacancy allowed to be filled by state law.

Deputy Secretary of State Jim Silrum told Oversen that the office “only accepted (Martin’s) paperwork in which she declared that she was qualified to serve if elected.”

"We are simply complying with existing, applicable law that says in a situation like this, if a candidate ... 'ceases to be qualified,' then we can substitute a candidate," Thompson told the Tribune.

Anderson is a McHenry native, a Bismarck State College alumnus and a former vice chairman of the party's District 11, in south Fargo.

“People in this state are hurting, and I’ll bring to this office not only a strong understanding of the insurance industry, but also some much-needed humanity," he said in a statement.

Republicans hold all of North Dakota's statewide offices and congressional seats, and control its Legislature.

A Democrat last ran the Insurance Department in 2000. The annual salary is $110,582.

Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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