GRAND FORKS-North Dakota Democratic-NPL chairwoman Kylie Oversen is back on the campaign trail once again, announcing her run for state tax commissioner Wednesday.
"When I lost my re-election to the state House in 2016, I was disappointed, but I knew it wasn't the end of my political road," she told about two dozen attendees on the second floor of the University of North Dakota's Memorial Union. "Over the past year, as I have watched the last legislative session and the disappointing budgets cuts and have been having conversations with business and community leaders, I knew something had to change."
Oversen, an attorney, graduate of UND's law school and former Grand Forks legislator, said she's concerned about recent changes to property tax relief. Last year, the state ended payments that offset 12 percent of locally assessed property taxes-and, despite the state in return footing the bill for county social services, it placed a new budgetary burden on some local governments.
"We've been cutting our revenue sources-income tax, corporate tax, oil extraction tax-for a decade, and then appear to be surprised when we ran out of money and we had a budget shortfall," she said in an interview. "It doesn't add up."
Republican Ryan Rauschenberger has been tax commissioner since 2013, when he was appointed by Gov. Jack Dalrymple, and announced his re-election bid in January. He won his first election to the seat in 2014 with almost 57 percent of the vote.
Rauschenberger was arrested for drunk driving in September, and pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol-a misdemeanor. He had previously taken a 2014 leave of absence to seek treatment for alcohol problems.
Asked if she would refer to Rauschenberger's struggles with alcohol on the campaign trail, Oversen called addiction issues a serious matter, and said she hopes "he takes the time to get the help that he needs." She criticized his decision to drink and drive, but said she hopes to "focus on the issues at hand."
The biggest difference between her and Rauschenberger, Oversen said, is their vision for the tax commissioner's role-something she sees not just as overseeing tax collection, but also as being an advocate for taxpayers. She also criticized recent changes in a tax relationship with the Three Affiliated Tribes as a broken agreement.
Rauschenberger pressed back in a phone interview. He said more money will flow to local governments to offset property taxes during this biennium than the last, notably as the state assumes responsibility for county social services payments. He added that the state is maintaining education funding as well, and said he and other state officials are working hard on tax relationships with tribal groups.
"And I do think it's important to recognize that this is also an administrative office," he said, "where we make sure we're effectively administering the laws that are on the books."
Oversen's 2016 defeat came when a red wave swept across North Dakota, extending Republican control of the Legislature and ousting her and other colleagues from their seats-but she said she's undeterred.
"Anyone who's running for office, if you look at history there's been a lot of people who have won or lost at different times," she said. "The climate changes, the mood of voters changes-I accepted that loss with grace and I'm ready to jump back into the ring."
Herald reporter April Baumgarten contributed to this report.