District 14 features 9 candidates seeking 3 legislative seats
Long-time Republican incumbents face challenges from a couple of fronts in this year’s District 14 legislative election.
Sen. Gerald “Jerry” Klein and Reps. Jon Nelson and Robin Weisz are opposed by Democratic-NPL candidates Dave Anderson for the Senate and Bonita Lindseth and Mark Nelson for the House. Also making a run are Republican write-in candidates, Glen Baltrusch for the Senate and Dennis Fred and Albert Krueger for the House.
Anderson is a retired agricultural loan officer in Rugby. Also both of Rugby, Lindseth is a teacher and Mark Nelson works as a soil tester.
Klein, who owns a Fessenden grocery, was first elected to the state Senate in 1996. He is as assistant majority leader in the Senate, where he chairs the Industry, Business and Labor Committee, and was president pro tempore in 2009-11. Jon Nelson, a Rugby farmer, was first elected to the House in 1996. He has served on the House Appropriations Committee. Weisz, a Hurdsfield farmer and businessman, was first elected in 1996 to the House, where he has served as chairman of the Human Services Committee.
Baltrusch of Harvey, a former trucker and former USDA wildlife service employee, along with Fred, a camp caretaker and former Rugby business owner, and Krueger, who operates an accounting and tax consulting business in Harvey and Minot, had unsuccessfully challenged the endorsed Republican candidates in the primary. They certified with the Secretary of State as write-in candidates in the general election.
District 14 includes portions of Benson, Kidder, Pierce, Sheridan and Wells counties.
The candidates provided their responses to the following questions.
Q: What qualifications would you bring to the office if elected/re-elected?
Klein: I spent 35 years owning and operating the grocery store in Fessenden. I have served as president of Kiwanis, Jaycees, Civic and Commerce, served on the park board, the hospital board, the church council and county Job Development Authority. I have also been a member of the Fessenden Volunteer Fire Department for 37 years. I have learned to work with people, who both agree and disagree, to get the jobs done. I have learned that there is a fair amount of listening before taking action. It’s this background that has certainly helped as I have served the citizens of our district and of our state.
Anderson: I have lived and worked in Rugby and District 14 my entire life. I was a Vo-Ag teacher, lumberyard manager and an agricultural loan officer for the last 28 years at a credit union and a bank. I have served on numerous boards and committees many times as president or treasurer. Currently retired.
Baltrusch: I am quite knowledgeable and understand what it takes to get bills introduced, moved and passed. I have over two decades in reading and writing legislation. I have drafted and have had legislation introduced promoting fundamental rights of North Dakota citizens. I have testified hundreds of times, promoting and defending fundamental rights of North Dakota citizens. As part of the Republican State Resolutions Committee, I was able to assist in the preservation of our conservative values within the GOP platform.
J. Nelson: I have been involved in my community my entire life. Prior to serving in the Legislature, I served on my local school board as well as a township officer. I currently serve as chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Heart of America Medical Center in Rugby and as president of North Dakota Rural Water Association. I currently serve on the House Appropriations Committee and am a former House Natural Resource Committee Chairman as well as having served on the House Education, Human Service, and Agriculture Committees.
Weisz: I am a lifelong resident of this district. I am a fourth generation farmer and have farmed here my whole life. I also owned an ag-related business for 15 years. I have served in the Legislature for 20 years and was chairman of the Transportation Committee for four sessions and have been chair of the Human Services Committee for the past four sessions. I am currently the longest serving chairman in the House. I have gained a lot of knowledge and experience, which I use to further the needs of our rural district.
Lindseth: I believe I am qualified to be a representative for a number of reasons. First, I am lifelong teacher. I have a background in speech, history and English. I know how organize, articulate. present and solve problems. I understand challenges from a historical perspective. I will seek bi-partisan solutions. I will leave my ego at home in order to benefit North Dakota. I am accountable only to the people of my district.
M. Nelson: I’m just a regular guy who has followed N.D. politics his whole life and I am running because Bismarck is broke, our state’s budget is broke and my district is not actually represented in Bismarck because my opponents just do what they are told.
Krueger: 49 years living and working on the family farm south of Kief and 46 years of owning my own income tax and accounting service, along with being an active member of the North Dakota Society of Accountants and the National Society of Accountants for 32 years, I understand the opportunities facing our state and district today. Our state has a huge budget shortfall, which needs to be adjusted with cuts in areas even if it is not popular. Our current legislators are running on the slogan of “proven leadership.” Unfortunately, 20 years of the current leadership has created our current deficit. A few quick facts since the 2003-05 session: welfare spending has increased 185 percent; general government has increased 526 percent; education has increased 179 percent. Our District 14 representatives have lost touch with the people of our district.
Fred: Growing up on a farm, spending 24 years in the workforce and owning my own business for 11 years, I understand the needs facing our state and district today. Our state has a huge budget shortfall. I know how to make adjustments and cuts in areas even if it is not popular. Our current legislators are running on the slogan of proven leadership. Unfortunately, their leadership has grown government and irresponsibly increased spending over their last 20 years. Since the 2003-05 session, welfare spending has increased 185 percent, general government has increased 526 percent, education has increased 179 percent. Our District 14 representatives have lost touch with the people of our district.
Q: Given the state’s budget constraints, what are your spending priorities and where do you feel spending can be cut?
Baltrusch: My spending priorities are simple. My interests lay with our families, schools and businesses, not bigger government, high taxes and special interests. I will promote legislation to use our School Lands Trust, $3.5 billion, to fund construction of our K-12 schools and provide for K-12 education as required by the Constitution of North Dakota. Because of the reckless spending that has been initiated and supported by District 14 incumbents as well as the Legislature over the past 10 years, there is no choice but to bring the budget spending back to levels of 2007-09. I would not look at huge budget cuts in regulatory, public safety and natural resources. Now let’s look at general government, including the executive, legislative and judicial branches. Spending over the past 10 years increased 927.5 percent, with an average spending increase of 526 percent among the three branches.
Education needs to be closely scrutinized as the Legislature has aggressively supported spending millions of dollars to impose federal Common Core curriculum standards on our children. They also have voted to spend almost a half a billion of your tax dollars every biennium to subsidize the college education of more than 14,000 non-resident students attending our colleges and universities. No other state does this! I will take action to end this irresponsible spending.
Health and Human Services needs serious scrutiny and some departments need serious reductions in spending. Human Services (Welfare) budget has increased from $400 million to $1.4 billion dollars, an increase of 224.07 percent since 2003-05. The incumbent legislators in District 14 have created an unsustainable Welfare State.
Another budget item that must be eliminated is $573,734 of your tax dollars to subsidize the State Horse Racing Commission. I oppose supporting gambling at taxpayer expense.
Anderson: I will have to deal with these issues as they come up and as I learn more about them.
Klein: Certainly balancing the budget will be our priority and a big job. We are not like the federal government, where we can deficit spend. When the Legislature adjourns, we need a balanced budget for the next two years. In the past few sessions, many budgets have been enhanced. Buildings have been built and much has been done for our roads and highways. Many budgets will see some reductions to the increases we have provided. We, however, need to do everything we can to provide the needed funding for our K-12 school system. We need to continue our help for our elderly and disabled, and we need to be sure our EMS, fire departments and local hospitals continue to thrive in our rural communities. This needs to be done without a tax increase.
Fred: We must look at every dollar of proposed spending. Then be willing to cut spending in order to reduce the tax burden on our citizens. It’s time to stop spending our money (half a million dollars every biennium) to subsidize horse racing! Unnecessary and irresponsible special interest spending wastes more than a billion dollars every biennium of our money. I had to do this in my own business throughout the years and I pledge to you that this is an agenda that needs to be tackled in the Legislature and would be a priority of mine if elected.
Krueger: Every dollar of proposed spending must be reviewed. Then we must be willing to cut spending in order to reduce the tax burden on our citizens. It’s time to stop spending our money on such areas as subsidizing out-of-state college students. This won’t stop unless we take the painstaking time and effort to weed out unnecessary spending for special interest groups.
M. Nelson: My spending priorities are nursing homes, hospitals, education and infrastructure. Spending cuts can be made in oil impact funding and road construction. Most departments will see some cuts, realistically.
Lindseth: Two sections of the population of our state are most vulnerable – the elderly and our children. I would not vote for cuts in early childhood education, long-term care and nursing home assistance. Other cuts would have to be carved out piece by piece. We wouldn’t have to cut as much if we revoke the huge tax cuts the oil companies received. Those cuts cost us many millions per month.
Weisz: Certainly our priority will be to make sure our elderly and vulnerable citizens are taken care of. Also it is important that we continue our support of K-12 education. Certainly spending can and will be reduced on one-time spending projects such as buildings and water and other infrastructure. We were able to catch up a lot on infrastructure so we can reduce that spending going forward.
J. Nelson: The main area of spending reductions will most likely come from the one-time spending category. We have been quite fortunate the past three legislative sessions to provide additional funding for infrastructure improvements as well as a number of other programs on a one-time funding basis. We will most likely not have those additional resources this session. In the Appropriations Committee, we will make every effort to make state government as responsive as possible and as efficient as possible.
Q: What changes would you like to see in the state’s correction system?
Klein: Like it or not, our prison population continues to grow. Even with the slowdown in western North Dakota, the bad guys are sticking around. There has been a lot of work since the last session to try to address our growing prison concerns. One of the findings is that we need more behavioral and mental health counselors. If they do the crime, they need to do the time, but can we find them help in the prison to get their lives in order and become productive citizens? The work the interim committee has done seems to indicate if they receive the proper counseling, they can become productive and not return to prison time after time.
Anderson: I would like to see as much rehab for criminal offenders as possible to make them contributing community citizens.
Baltrusch: Mandatory sentencing is an area that needs to be reviewed. Today we have a bursting prison population and major increases in costs to families for incarceration of non-dangerous prisoners. This situation must be carefully reconsidered. Mandatory sentencing was a knee-jerk legislative move to make voters think they were concerned about crime and they are doing something to stop it. Clearly that belief has been debunked.
M. Nelson: We need intervention to prevent incarceration. We can’t afford to just keep building prison cells. We have to provide drug treatment, and drug court should be used with first time offenders. Drug treatment is money well spent while jailing re-offenders again and again is expensive. Really expensive.
Lindseth: Our ultimate goal for those in prison is to integrate them into society as productive citizens. There are a number things that can be done to help people recover, especially those who are there for drug-related offenses. I believe that education is a great equalizer, motivator and job optimizer. Non-violent offenders should be given opportunities to be released as they prove their ability to be good citizens.
Weisz: While it is true our corrections system is becoming stretched, I think the answer lies in looking at the reasons people are entering into the system, which is often due to behavioral health issues or addiction issues. We will have to take a hard look at dealing with those issues to keep people out of the corrections system.
J. Nelson: I served as vice chairman of the Incarceration Committee in the interim. The committee makeup included legislators, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Attorney General, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, law enforcement, judicial judges, state attorneys and defense attorneys. Through this collaboration, the recommendations of this committee will create better outcomes for those entering the corrections system for nonviolent crimes by increasing treatment options, as well as more supervision upon release. As a result, the state penitentiary would continue to house those more violent offenders and do so in a more efficient manner. Without these potential changes, the state of North Dakota will need to seriously consider another massive building project at the state penitentiary or contract prisoners to out-of-state facilities. The primary focus in this discussion, though, will center around increased public safety and better outcomes for the offenders.
Fred: I would like to see our courts use more of the proven rehabilitation places like Teen Challenge for the non-violent crimes. I think that the judicial system itself should be looked at as to how the sentencing process is being handled in similar cases. If we have a fair judicial system, shouldn’t the sentencing phase be comparable in similar crimes?
Krueger: The judicial system itself should be looked at with regard to how the cases are being handled. There are many cases being run through our court systems that should not be. I have observed this by going to the county court once a month and listening to the cases that appeared before the judges. In my observations the judges interpret the law differently for the same type of case. This does not give us the same justice. The programs that the current legislators are introducing are not necessary to correct our current judicial system. We do not need more judges to correct the system.
Q: What other issues are on the top of your agenda to address next session:
Anderson: Ethics committee establishment, WSI improvement (it appears that they are not covering some of the injuries and health issues for our volunteer fireman and EMTs that they should be covering) and deal with TFFR and PERS issues. Teachers’ Fund for Retirement and Public Employees Retirement System suffered huge financial losses in the 2009 stock market crash due to mishandling of investment funds and fraud. All of the fraud may not have been uncovered and that needs to be investigated yet. They are trying to get these funds solvent again by increasing contributions to these funds by employees and employers from 16 percent to 24 percent of their wages. This is very unfair to the younger and beginning employees especially. The program needs to be overhauled to make it better for all involved.
Klein: As I travel around the district, there are many ideas and concerns for certain legislation that have been suggested. I would say my main focus that is at the top of my agenda deals with radioactive waste. There needs to be a better approval process, which would include the counties and water districts, when any nuclear waste is proposed to be deposited in our state. I have tentative language drafted, have sponsors and hope to make it part of the Century Code.
Baltrusch: I oppose and will seek to repeal Senate rules allowing governmental agencies and departments to introduce legislation without an elected legislator’s sponsorship. Preventing government from introducing legislation is key to “representative governance.” Reduce actual, real property tax by 40 to 60 percent across the state by properly funding education and school construction as provided by the Constitution of North Dakota with billions we already have to do so. I will actively support North Dakota developing its own K-12 academic curriculum and standards, which will surpass any in the nation. I will continue to support, promote and fight for our fundamental rights. I will not support special rights for anyone. I will support, promote and fight for states’ rights and sovereignty against an overbearing federal government. Examine agency and department budgets, eliminate duplications of services and eliminate FTE slush funds for unfilled positions. And the best for last! I will not support legislation that is contrary to traditional Christian and North Dakota values.
M. Nelson: We have so many problems that have been created by one-party rule in North Dakota that it is difficult to know where to start. One-party rule has taken prosperity and turned it into a budget crisis. My nearest hospital is happy to show a one-and-a-half percent profit and yet, by not acting, the special session let the cut in the Medicaid reimbursement rate stand. The cut is 32 percent, retroactive to July 1. This will close most of our hospitals and all of our nursing homes. By the way, our nursing homes are understaffed and the remaining workers are stressed enough to quit at the rate of 40 percent a year. Understaffing means that when your grandmother needs bathroom help, she will not get it in a timely manner. Every nursing home employee I have talked to has said the same thing, “Please help our nursing homes.” Our state Legislature has been very foolish with our money and I’m being nice. I want to take care of our most vulnerable citizens. I want the state to face its responsibilities and not push things down to the local level so that our property taxes can skyrocket, which is the situation we find ourselves in today. The agenda I have is very simple: Let’s Fix Bismarck.
Lindseth: We need to keep our young people here in North Dakota. One way to do this is to offer world-class daycare at affordable prices. High quality, affordable daycare will allow more young North Dakotans to fill some of the thousands of job openings that are available. North Dakota needs to improve mental health care. Many drug addicts can be rehabilitated. Many suicides can be prevented, but we must help people going into mental health care with their schooling if they stay in North Dakota to help with our challenges. We need to better educate all North Dakotans in order to de-stigmatize mental health.
Fred: Tackling the budget deficit created by the current legislators. Protecting the rights of Christians. Our country was founded on Christian values and those values still need to be protected from government imposition and mandates. Property tax relief. We cannot continue to tax our families out of their homes. Our legislators need to stop funding special interest wants and start to make our state government lean and prudent. Put a stop to government control of our schools and kids (Common Core, need I say more). It is dangerous when your government has more control over your kids than you do as a parent
Krueger: Ensure we uphold the Second Amendment with the right to keep and bear arms by working to ensure gun control is not oppressing this right. Balance the budget deficit created by the current legislators. Protect the rights of Christians’ values and our citizens. Reduce property taxes. Within the past four years we have seen our property taxes increase, which is a direct contradiction of what the current legislators said they would do. Put a stop to government control over our schools and kids, such as Common Core or anything similar. Term limits for legislators. We need to remember they work for the people of North Dakota and not their own interests or special interest groups.
Weisz: My issues into this next legislative session are to have a balanced budget without raising taxes while funding the needs for our state and our district. I have never been a one-issue person but listen to my constituents on what their issues may be. I do my best to let the people in our district have their say at the Legislature.
J. Nelson: We have made great progress in recent sessions in rebuilding our rural roads and highways, city streets and other infrastructure needs. Although funding in the next session will not provide as much ability to do as much, we must leverage with partners from federal sources, as well as private sources, to do as much as possible with the funds we have. I am in a very strong position to make sure that rural North Dakota is included in the mix of funding options in the area of water development, road construction, healthcare delivery and care for our senior citizens. I firmly believe that our best days are ahead of us and by working hand in hand we will be successful in continuing to make North Dakota the best place to live in the country.
Schramm is a staff writer with the Minot Daily News
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