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Holmberg resignation creates power void in North Dakota Legislature; committee replacements named

Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, has chaired the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee for nearly two decades.

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North Dakota Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, speaks on the Senate floor in November 2021.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
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BISMARCK — With North Dakota Sen. Ray Holmberg stepping down, legislative leaders are charged with replacing their longest-tenured colleague.

Holmberg announced last week he will resign on June 1 from the state Legislature following a Forum report that he exchanged text messages with a man accused of child pornography crimes.

The Grand Forks Republican had already said in March he would not seek reelection, leaving a vacancy at the top of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. Holmberg, who was first elected in 1976, has chaired the committee that oversees state budget-writing since 2003.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, told Forum News Service he selected longtime Sen. Karen Krebsbach, R-Minot, to serve as chairwoman of the interim Senate Appropriations Committee until the end of Holmberg's term in November. Krebsbach will also fill in for Holmberg on the Legislative Procedure and Arrangements Committee.

As the upper chamber's lead appropriator, Krebsbach will serve on the Emergency Commission, which allocates federal money between legislative sessions.

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Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown, will take Holmberg's spot on Legislative Management, which broadly oversees the Legislature's interim work, and the Legacy Fund Earnings Committee, which studies potential uses for the state's oil tax savings account.

Wardner, who is also retiring at the end of his term, said no one will replace Holmberg on the Legislature's Budget Section, a large committee that monitors the state budget. None of Holmberg's committees are slated to meet before he resigns.

The timing of Holmberg's departure during the long period between biennial legislative sessions means his stand-ins likely won't have much extra work on their hands.

If the Legislature were to convene for a special session before the end of the term, Krebsbach would wield considerable authority as Appropriations chairwoman, but Wardner said he doesn't expect lawmakers to return to Bismarck until after the November election.

Wardner said legislators will feel Holmberg's absence even during a period when not much lawmaking takes place.

After new lawmakers are sworn in on Dec. 1, the Senate majority party — almost certainly the Republicans — will elect a new leader, who will likely have significant influence in picking the next Senate Appropriations chairperson.

Republicans in Holmberg's district will appoint a temporary successor to fill the senator's actual seat in the Legislature.

District 17 GOP Chairman Josh Anderson said the district will choose someone to serve out Holmberg's term in the near future, but the local Republicans have already endorsed lawyer Jonathan Sickler for the upcoming election. Sickler is currently unopposed in the race.

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In the wake of The Forum’s story about Holmberg's text messages with the child pornography suspect, a 2020 Twitter thread making sexual assault allegations against Holmberg gained new traction.

Former North Dakota resident Caton Todd alleged he was sexually assaulted by Holmberg in 2010 after Holmberg invited the man to stay at his condominium in Florida. Holmberg's attorney said he and his client dispute any accusations of inappropriate behavior.

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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