‘Responsibility Is Not Applicable’

Only the most cynical among us could have come up with a scenario for the game that played out in the election of Legislators from Legislative District 8, a scenario which came to an end Tuesday when the North Dakota Supreme Court settled it.

Final score:

Jeff Delzer 5 

Doug Burgum 0.  

            It started in the spring of 2016, when Fargo businessman Doug Burgum deposited a few million dollars of his own money into a campaign account which he then spent to wrest the Republican nomination for Governor of North Dakota from Wayne Stenehjem, the party’s endorsed candidate, in a successful Primary Election challenge.

As the party’s convention-endorsed candidate. Stenehjem had the support of most of the party regulars, including most of the Republican Legislators, many of whom he had worked with side by side as both the Attorney General for 16 years but also about the same length of time as a State Senator. Including a powerful longtime House member and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Jeff Delzer.

Oh, they put up with Burgum after he won, because he kept the office in Republican hands, but conservative old men, like the bulk of Republican Legislators, have long memories, and led by Delzer, they trashed his budget in the 2019 Legislature (although nothing like they’re going to do in the 2021 Legislature).

Fast forward to the Spring of 2020. I don’t know exactly who engineered it, but Burgum was surely behind it, when a pair of relative political unknowns named Dave stacked the District 8 Republican convention and stole the nomination for the House from Delzer. So with the backing of the party’s establishment, Delzer filed in the Primary, and surely would have won the nomination back, but for the largest infusion of cash ever in the history of North Dakota by Burgum. Delzer lost.

And then one of the Daves died before the election.

That’s when cynicism really kicked in. Stenehjem jumped back into the fray, using the powers of his office to tell the naïve voters of District 8 to vote for the dead Dave in order to keep the Democrats from stealing the seat. He said they could then pick another Republican to take the seat.  So they did that. And then the party bosses picked Delzer, who the voters had rejected at the June Primary.

As a friend of mine said today, “Pretty poor logic, but pretty good cynical politics.”

The Legislature convenes in its organizing session next Tuesday. Delzer has already received his Certificate of Appointment and filed his Oath of Office. He’ll be back in his chair next week. And he’ll be chairing the Appropriations Committee in January.

It’s a good thing Burgum is rich, because he’s probably going to be paying his own travel expenses for the next two years. And those of his staff and appointees as well. You think I’m kidding? Nobody’s talking very nice around the Capitol right now.   

 Burgum, in a statement released today: “The Supreme Court determined that responsibility is not applicable in this case . . . we disagree with the findings . . .”

Yikes.

Stenehjem, in response: “This entire exercise was a waste of taxpayer dollars and time, all of which could have been avoided had the Governor came across the hall to receive legal advice from the person who was elected by the citizens of North Dakota to provide legal advice to state officials.”    

Ouch.

Stay tuned. This is just starting to get interesting. There’s nothing much more fun to watch than a Republican food fight. Of course, that’s about all the North Dakota Democrats can do is watch. This coming Legislative Session, they can’t even field a full team to fill committee assignments. We’ll see if they can find a way to take advantage of the mess the Republicans make in their food fight.  

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