Fargo leaders criticize bills on book bans, LGBTQ rights, approval voting at heated meeting

John Strand questioned if the city has to "sell its soul" to avoid punishment from the state Legislature

Fargo City Commissioner John Strand expresses concern that the North Dakota Legislature has bills that will damage local workforce development during a presentation of a legislative report to the City Commission on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023, in City Hall.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

FARGO — The city of Fargo is expecting to have a fight on its hands when it comes to the state Legislature, which has been pushing a bill that would strike down Fargo's approval voting system. City commissioners consider the pending legislation an attack on local control.

Fargo commissioners also expressed a desire to oppose many social issue bills that the current state Legislature has been debating, such as those that would limit books in public libraries, transgender rights, rights of LGBTQ populations and bills extending where guns are allowed.

Terry Effertz, legislative consultant for the city of Fargo, gave city commissioners Denise Kolpack, John Strand, Arlette Preston and Mayor Tim Mahoney an update on bills both chambers have taken up during the current session at a Tuesday, Feb. 28, meeting at City Hall.

The bill that would most directly affect the city of Fargo is House Bill 1273, which would prohibit ranked-choice voting and approval voting.

"I would call 1273 the biggest fight the city will have during the second half," Effertz said.


Lobbyist Terry Effertz presents a legislative report to the Fargo City Commission on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023, in City Hall.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

Approval voting, which was adopted by the city in 2018, allows Fargo residents to cast votes for all candidates they approve of in municipal races, such as the mayoral and city commission elections. The candidate with the most votes wins the seat.

"As far as local control, we have to say something; it's our way of voting," Mahoney said. "We may lose, but I'm hopeful in the courts we would win that one."

Mahoney pointed out that the state is also considering a bill that would help fund the F-M Diversion up to $175,000 to $200,000 per year versus the less than $100,000 the Legislature has provided under a loose timeline in the past.

While the bill would greatly benefit the city of Fargo, the commission was not inclined to allow that support to prevent them from speaking out against other bills that involve human rights.

Strand passionately said he would not compromise his values that support individuals, especially those who feel marginalized and attacked in today's political climate.

For years, Preston noted, Fargo officials have heard about how they need to be careful about approaching the Legislature in support of or in opposition to topics.

"The trouble this time around is we have a Legislature that is a lot more radical," Preston said. "My big concern is local control."

"So, in support of infrastructure, we have to sell our souls?" Strand said. "Why can't our legislators support human beings and human rights?"


Mahoney agreed that compromising individual rights would not help the state solve the growing workforce issue.

"We do not want to have a community that frightens people; we want a community that welcomes people," he said. "We should take a stand for people who are being marginalized. No, we don't stand for any of these bills."

"If they're going to keep us from getting water over human rights issues, that is on them, and good luck getting people to move to this state," Strand said.

Effertz said while she will lobby in the direction the City Commission directs, commissioners will have to look at what "fights they want to pick." She said an additional update will be coming before the city in the next few weeks.

The commission agreed that if HB 1273 is passed, the issue may ultimately have to be decided by the court.

Readers can reach West Fargo editor Wendy Reuer at or 701-241-5530 . Follow her on Twitter @ForumWendy .

As the West Fargo editor, Wendy Reuer covers all things West Fargo for The Forum and oversees the production of the weekly Pioneer.
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