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The North Dakota legislature will be under new leadership. Here’s who will take the reins

Conservative lawmakers elevated several of their own on Monday to guide the House and Senate into a new era. After a rout of the Democrats on election night, Republicans hold massive majorities in both chambers. 

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North Dakota Sen. David Hogue speaks at GOP headquarters in Bismarck before his election as Senate majority leader.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
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BISMARCK — A slew of notable retirements and electoral defeats set the stage for a near-total overhaul of leadership in the North Dakota legislature.

Conservative lawmakers elevated several of their own on Monday, Nov. 14, to guide the House and Senate into a new era. After a rout of the Democrats on election night, Republicans hold massive majorities in both chambers.

House Republicans elected Dickinson Rep. Mike Lefor to serve as the chamber’s majority leader after two ballots.

Lefor beat out Reps. Jim Kasper, of Fargo, and Robin Weisz, of Hurdsfield, for the position left open by the retirement of Carrington Rep. Chet Pollert, who assumed the top spot in 2018.

Lefor, the owner of a property rental company, has risen up the House ranks quickly since his first successful campaign in 2014. Last session, he served as the chairman of the House Industry, Business and Labor Committee.

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In the Senate, Republicans gave Minot Sen. David Hogue the nod to serve as majority leader over Mott Sen. Don Schaible. Hogue will take over for retiring Dickinson Sen. Rich Wardner, who has led the upper chamber since 2011.

First elected in 2008, Hogue sat on the Senate Appropriations Committee last year. He works as an attorney and served many years as a Judge Advocate General's Corps for the North Dakota National Guard.

Hogue told Republican senators he will promote respect and decorum in the chamber while working toward solutions for the state's greatest challenges, like workforce development.

GOP representatives also selected Rep. Dennis Johnson, R-Devils Lake, to serve as House speaker and Rep. Glenn Bosch, R-Bismarck, as assistant House majority leader.

Republican senators unanimously reelected Fessenden Sen. Jerry Klein as assistant Senate majority leader.

Pollert and Wardner, well-regarded by most conservative lawmakers, led the legislature through ups and downs in the oil market and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hogue called his predecessor "a gifted teacher" and acknowledged the huge hole Wardner leaves.

"Don't think I don't know how big the shoes are that I'm trying to fill," Hogue said. "We all know that."

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Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, right, hands his successor, Minot Sen. David Hogue, the "legislative alligator whacker," which he jokingly described as a tool for keeping senators in line.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

The upper chamber Republicans allowed members of the press to attend the leadership elections. The House GOP initially consented to letting reporters into the meeting but later reneged on the agreement.

The changes at the top of each chamber are compounded by the resignation of former Senate Appropriations Chairman Ray Holmberg and an electoral loss by House Appropriations Chairman Jeff Delzer. House Speaker Kim Koppelman opted for retirement after failing to receive local Republicans' endorsement of his reelection bid.

Appropriations leaders, who wield significant influence over the state’s purse strings, will be selected from the Republican ranks next month when the legislature convenes for its organizational session.

Going into next year's regular session, Republicans will hold an 82-12 advantage over Democrats in the House of Representatives and a 43-4 majority in the Senate.

Democratic lawmakers will elect their own leaders Tuesday.

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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