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North Dakota Republicans increase supermajority in Legislature

North Dakota Republicans increase supermajority in Legislature

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North Dakota Republicans in Tuesday's general election grew their power in the Legislature, where Democrats have dwindled to one of their smallest minorities.

Three Senate Democrats lost their reelection bids to Republicans, who also picked up an open House seat, increasing their supermajority to 40-7 in the Senate and 80-14 in the House. Republicans won 65 of 69 races. 

Among the losses were longtime Sens. Jim Dotzenrod, D-Wyndmere, and Larry Robinson, D-Valley City. They served during the only period in state history when Democrats controlled the Senate, from 1986-1994. Sen. John Grabinger, D-Jamestown, first elected in 2012, also lost his seat. He is the assistant Senate minority leader. 

The new Senate majority is the chamber's greatest divide since 1969. Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said the gains surprised him.

"It's really tough to run against incumbents who have been there a while," he said. "I was hoping that we'd be able to maintain what we had." 

The new "super supermajority" signals that "the Republicans are all going to have to work harder than they have before," Wardner said.

"We just need to make sure we facilitate that everybody is on the same page, moving in the right direction, the same direction," he said.

Mandan-area voters elected a new District 34 senator, Republican Doug Larsen, who bested Democrat Adam Michal 73% to 27% for the seat left open by retiring Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan.

Larsen said he is happy to have won and to see other GOP wins in the Senate, but that his priorities remain the same regardless of how many seats Republicans control. He pointed to challenges including the coronavirus pandemic, how to balance the state's next two-year budget and how to use the $7.4 billion Legacy Fund oil tax savings. 

"It's nice to have a bigger majority, but I don't think anyone's priorities changed because of it," Larsen said.

Party Chairman Rick Berg attributed the GOP gains to voters' satisfaction with "how state government's been operating."

"In the Legislature in North Dakota, it's never been about who spends the most money in the campaign or the campaigning," he said. "It's are people, average public satisfied with what the state's doing?"

Democratic-NPL Party Chairwoman Kylie Oversen in a statement praised the record turnout in Tuesday's state election, "even when the votes don't go our way."

"Although the results are disappointing, the Dem-NPL will always fight for working families all across the state," she said. "We will continue to hold the governor, statewide officials, and the NDGOP-controlled Legislature accountable, especially as North Dakota faces the deepening public health and economic crisis."

The pandemic probably contributed to Democrats' losses, according to University of Mary Associate Professor of Politics Mark Springer. Republicans canvassed more effectively during a time when public appearances were limited, he said.

A trend of tying national politics to state and local races also put Democrats at a disadvantage in Republican-majority North Dakota, he said. 

To win seats in the future, state Democrats should reexamine their methods of sharing candidate information and cultivate more candidates from "some fresh blood" to build from local to state levels with experience, according to Springer.

With such a large supermajority, Republican party leaders should be concerned about a split among factions of the GOP and potential future primary challenges, he said.

The Grand Forks-area District 18 House race appears headed for a recount; 19 votes separate incumbent Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, and Republican challenger Cindy Kaml.

County canvassing boards will meet Monday. The State Canvassing Board will meet Nov. 13 to certify the state's election results.

New and reelected state lawmakers take office Dec. 1 for four-year terms. The Legislature's organizational session is set for Dec. 1-3. 

The 2021 Legislature will see all incumbents return but for five senators and seven representatives.

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

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