Gov. Doug Burgum went too far when he appointed Wade Boeshans to the Legislature and should withdraw his action before he’s forced to do so. It’s a power grab that’s inappropriate, if not illegal.
It’s the latest twist in the governor’s efforts to get Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, out of the Legislature. Burgum blames Delzer for derailing his budget proposal during the 2019 legislative session.
Burgum helped engineer the Republican candidacies of David Andahl and Dave Nehring in District 8 and they ousted Delzer in the primary. Andahl died of COVID-19 before the general election, but it was too late to take his name off the ballot. Andahl and Nehring were the top vote-getters for the House in the district on Tuesday. Burgum donated heavily to the PAC that supported them.
Normally, when a vacancy occurs, the party holding the office can appoint someone to fill the seat or petition for a special election. Earlier this year when Rep. Matt Eidson, D-Grand Forks, resigned, the Democratic-NPL appointed Zac Ista to replace him.
Burgum said his office’s legal research indicated he had the authority to appoint a replacement in District 8. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem quickly challenged Burgum’s power to appoint Boeshans. Stenehjem noted that in an earlier opinion he had outlined the district’s options for replacing Andahl if he won the election.
Stenehjem also pointed out that the District 8 seat isn’t vacant yet because current office holders don’t complete their terms until Nov. 30. Secretary of State Al Jaeger intends to follow Stenehjem’s opinion and will do so unless a court intervenes.
The attorney general made clear his position in a statement on Wednesday. “The Governor has no authority to declare an election null and void, as alleged in his news release.” Burgum, Stenehjem and Jaeger all are Republicans.
Burgum’s attempt to appoint Boeshans has reignited an intra-party squabble that has pitted Burgum against Republican legislators in court before. The fight continued in the 2019 Legislature when Republicans basically ignored Burgum’s budget proposal. He placed a lot of the blame on Delzer.
The governor apparently carries a grudge to the point where he’s willing to tick off members of his own party. District 8 Republican officials and Republican Party Chairman Rick Berg said the governor didn’t give them a heads up on his plans for an appointment.
On Tuesday, Burgum and other Republican statewide candidates coasted to victory. Republicans also added to their supermajority in both the House and Senate. So with Democrats powerless, Burgum apparently decided it was a good time to pick a fight in his own party before the Legislature convenes in January.
That’s a mistake. Previous governors have discovered that when the Legislature is in session, it likes to rule. Governors have to develop a working relationship with legislators to get their agendas passed or reach an acceptable compromise. Burgum’s relationship with legislators has been prickly at best.
Burgum needs to withdraw his appointment and let District 8 fill the seat when it becomes vacant. The Democratic-NPL would like its candidate, Kathrin Volochenko, declared the winner. However, she lost to Andahl, and voters knew they were voting for someone who died, with the expectation that the Republican Party would fill the position.
Burgum trying to circumvent the process speaks badly for him. It casts him as vengeful and vindictive. The state doesn’t need a court fight between Republicans, and Burgum doesn’t have anything to gain by angering legislators before the session begins.
It’s going to be a difficult session, as legislators deal with the pandemic and revenue issues. Burgum needs to find ways to work with them, not challenge them.