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North Dakota House leader to retire, leaving Legislature with vacancies at the top

For the first time since 2003, the North Dakota House and Senate will both have new majority leaders going into a new session of the Legislature.

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North Dakota Rep. Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, announces his retirement at a press conference on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
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BISMARCK — North Dakota House Majority Leader Chet Pollert announced Monday, Jan. 10, that he plans to retire at the end of the year after more than two decades in the Legislature.

The Carrington Republican’s announcement comes several weeks after Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, told reporters he won’t pursue another term in 2022.

First elected in 1998, Pollert has served as the lower chamber’s leader since 2018.

Pollert, who recently sold his retail agriculture business, said retiring wasn't an easy choice, but it's the right move for him and his family. In retirement, he hopes to spend more time riding his motorcycle, traveling with family and playing golf.

The 66-year-old said House majority leader is the hardest job he's ever worked, joking that it felt like he needed a doctorate in human resources to uphold relationships. Pollert said he hopes he will be remembered for treating lawmakers from across the political spectrum with fairness and respect.

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His time at the helm has been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic and growing divisions within the state Republican Party, but he has advocated for talking through difficult issues and arriving at compromises.

After sexual harassment allegations against former GOP Rep. Luke Simons became public last year, Pollert led a charge to take the unprecedented action of ousting the Dickinson lawmaker from the chamber. The expulsion vote laid bare the cracks in the Republican ranks, and some of Simons’ allies on the far right edge of the party still hold a grudge against Pollert.

Last year, Pollert’s name appeared at the top of a massive $680 million infrastructure bonding bill that will help pay for flood prevention projects in Fargo and Minot, road repairs and renovations to North Dakota State University’s agriculture building. He also supported putting $150 million of federal funds toward a trans-state gas pipeline during the November special session.

For the first time since 2003, the North Dakota House and Senate will both have new majority leaders going into a new session of the Legislature. Replacing Pollert and Wardner, who have more than 50 years of combined legislative experience, will serve as a political barometer for Republicans after the November election.

Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford, is also retiring at the end of her term.

Wardner said he wanted Pollert to stick around for another term because filling multiple leadership roles is a tough challenge, though he expressed confidence Republicans would find the right lawmakers to step in. The Senate leader spoke highly of his House counterpart, saying the two had built a relationship on communication, respect and trust that helped guide the Legislature through a tumultuous time.

House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, said he considers Pollert a friend who listened to his concerns even when the two didn't agree. Boschee, the only leader from either party seeking reelection, said he hopes Republicans will select lawmakers who focus on North Dakotans' needs rather than national headlines when filling the holes left by Pollert and Wardner.

Republican Gov. Doug Burgum said Pollert served as a strong advocate for the agriculture and business communities while championing important investments in infrastructure and education. Burgum added that Pollert's "principled approach to challenging issues and his lack of gamesmanship have earned him the respect of his colleagues."

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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