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District 14 legislators ‘disappointed’ by GOP board shift

By Sue Sitter - | Apr 24, 2021

North Dakota District 14 Representatives Jon Nelson, Robin Weisz and Senator Jerry Klein expressed disappointment with a shift to the right by local Republican Party members at a reorganization meeting held April 10 in Rugby.

“I’ve been serving the Rugby area for 24 years,” Nelson said. “We did redistricting 10 years ago and that’s when we became District 14. That’s when Senator Klein and Representative Weisz were made a part of this district as well,” Nelson explained.

“We have served in the same fashion,” Nelson said. “We have some of the most powerful positions from a rural North Dakota perspective of any district in the state of North Dakota. Representative Weisz is chairman of the Human Services Policy Committee; I’m chairman of the human resource section of the Appropriations Committee, which has the human service budget in it – the Department of Corrections budget, the Department of Health budget and many others. Senator Klein is chairman of the Industry, Business and Labor committee in the Senate as well as being the assistant majority leader. I think we’ve served rural North Dakota very well,” Nelson added.

“We serve the people of our district,” Nelson said. “We don’t serve the platform of the Republican Party, which is put together in a one-day meeting by one person per district.”

“When we’re elected to the North Dakota Legislature, we serve all the people of our district, not just Republicans. We serve Democrats and Independents in the best way we know how to do. We’ve done that for 24 years, each one of us,” Nelson said.

Nelson added, “Something tripped a wire here and I think it was somebody from outside of the area or social media that conjured up some survey to make us look bad.”

“If you look at our book of business, we’re pro-life, pro-gun and very pro-rural North Dakota. I’d say our record was totally misrepresented by people who came into our district and made this situation occur.”

Nelson said he had never met many of the new board members.

“Almost every one of the new board members have never been to a meeting before as long as I’ve been involved, and I’ve been involved for 24 years at least. I’ve never seen any of those people at a meeting, ever,” he said.

Nelson said one of the bills the group accused the legislators of not voting conservatively on “We had just heard on the floor that night.”

“(The conservatives) had a scoring sheet of where we ended up,” Nelson said. “We had no idea about this and no chance to respond to any of the bills that were drafted by one person in North Dakota. I was very upset that friends and neighbors were there that voted for censure,” Nelson said of the party’s vote to express disappointment in their representatives. “I haven’t heard from any of them during the session on any particular bill.”

“You’d think if they had such a problem with us, why didn’t we get an email or a phone call or two?” Nelson asked. “I’m home on the weekends. I get around and see people.”

One person at the meeting from outside of the district was Charles Tuttle of Minot.

“He’s got an agenda that is not North Dakota based in my opinion. He goes from district to district to try to disrupt the lives of people and get people upset over national events that have nothing to do with North Dakota in my opinion,” Nelson said.

District 14 Sen. Jerry Klein said in an email he appreciated the opportunity to respond to the conservatives’ complaints “but struggle for the right words. I have served the citizens of District 14 for nearly 25 years, and they have graciously elected me 7 times.”

“I was truly disappointed by the actions of the group on Saturday night, as none of the bills discussed were Senate bills. I am disappointed in myself, as I didn’t respond immediately to the actions being taken. There is often much more involved in a bill than what the title reads,” Klein added. “I want everyone to know that I am here continuing to work hard and proudly representing District 14 and the citizens of North Dakota.”

Outgoing District 14 Board President Ron Hofstrand said of the change, “This is part of politics.”

Hofstrand noted “several things” disappointed him at the meeting, particularly the large number representing the more conservative faction of the party. “They had enough people to do whatever they wanted,” Hofstrand said.

“Of that group, there were probably three or four of them that I had seen at other functions through the past 10 years or so but the rest of them were brand new. That’s the thing that upset me – that they felt they had to take complete control,” Hofstrand added.

“I felt they would’ve had control of the board anyway but it would’ve been appropriate for them to allow each county to caucus and elect their two representatives,” Hofstrand said. “And that was the thing that really disappointed me.”

The district includes Pierce, Benson, Wells, Sheridan and Kidder Counties, stretching from North Central North Dakota south to Interstate 94.

Hofstrand, who said his father and grandfather were also involved in politics, expressed disappointment with the tone of the meeting as well as representation for each county.

“I was at the sign in desk at the beginning of the evening and people were coming in early,” Hofstrand said. “I started seeing a lot of people I didn’t know and I said, ‘Hi, thanks for coming. We’re glad you’re going to be with us tonight.’ One gentleman looked at me and said, ‘Well, you won’t be later.'”

“Politics is politics but part of being successful at politics is being willing to listen to the other side. Nobody’s going to agree on everything 100 percent of the time. It would be a dull world if everybody did,” Hofstrand said, adding, “But, they came loaded for bear and I wish them well.”

“It’s a sign of the times, whether you’re talking about the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, state, locally or nationally,” Hofstrand added. “It’s almost toxic and it’s sad to see it that way. I realize those things happen but I’ve never seen it this bad in all my years.”

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