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With top North Dakota lawmakers retiring, who will lead the Legislature?

The Republican representatives and senators considering a run for majority leader come from all over the state and have a variety of professional backgrounds.

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An emerging field of prospective candidates for the majority leader positions in the North Dakota House and Senate includes (from top left, clockwise) GOP Sens. David Hogue, Don Schaible and Ron Sorvaag and GOP Reps. Kim Koppelman, Mike Lefor and Robin Weisz.
Images courtesy of North Dakota Legislature
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BISMARCK — North Dakota's two most powerful state lawmakers will retire later this year, leaving voids at the top of the House of Representatives and the Senate. But a field of prospective candidates for the leadership roles has begun to take shape.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, and House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, recently announced they will not seek reelection in 2022.

After the November election, Republican members of the House and Senate will select replacements for Pollert and Wardner from their own ranks, and for the first time since 2003, both chambers will have new majority leaders going into a legislative session when lawmakers convene in Bismarck next January.

The Republican representatives and senators considering a run for majority leader come from all over the state and have a variety of professional backgrounds.

In the upper chamber, Minot Sen. David Hogue said he plans to pursue the position this fall. First elected in 2008, Hogue works as a lawyer and served in the North Dakota National Guard for more than two decades.

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Hogue has sponsored legislation to eliminate taxes on Social Security income and to give lawmakers more authority to divvy up federal funds. A member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he also backed a failed ballot measure to give lawmakers a say in amendments to the state constitution.

Fargo Sen. Ron Sorvaag said he's seriously considering a run for majority leader but has to win reelection first. The small business owner and former Fargo park board member was first elected in 2010.

Sorvaag, who also serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, played a major role in redrawing Cass County's legislative districts last year. Sorvaag told Forum News Service the Senate has thrived under Wardner, and he would continue to emphasize the education of members and team concept promoted by the longtime leader.

Mott Sen. Don Schaible said he has not yet made a decision about running for majority leader, noting that he's got an election to win in November to keep his seat. The farmer and former school board president was first elected in 2010 and now chairs the Senate Education Committee.

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Jerry Klein, of Fessenden, and Senate Appropriations Chairman Ray Holmberg, of Grand Forks, have said they will not pursue the chamber's highest position.

In the House, Hurdsfield Rep. Robin Weisz told Forum News Service he intends to run for majority leader in November. The farmer began serving in the House in 1996 and has long chaired the House Human Services Committee.

Weisz, who recently backed legislation to limit employer-issued COVID-19 vaccine mandates, said he wants to continue Pollert's good work, adding that he thinks he's got the experience and temperament to serve as majority leader.

Dickinson Rep. Mike Lefor said running to keep his seat will be his first priority, but if reelected, he intends to seek the top post. The real estate company president and former park board member was first elected in 2014.

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Last session, the House Industry, Business and Labor Committee chairman sponsored legislation to create a plan for spending future earnings from the Legacy Fund, the state's oil tax savings account. Lefor said North Dakota is full of potential and he wants to do his part to make government more efficient, cut public spending, invest in infrastructure, develop a qualified workforce and alleviate pressure on localities to fund K-12 education.

House Speaker Kim Koppelman, of West Fargo, said he has not yet decided whether he will compete for majority leader but noted he has received a lot of encouragement. The advertising agency president and former House Judiciary chairman has been a member of the lower chamber since 1994.

Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, ran against Pollert for the post in 2018, but he said he won't put his name in the running this time. Assistant House Majority Leader Scott Louser, R-Minot, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The two lawmakers who assume the top positions will be responsible for making committee assignments, directing bills to committees and deciding when the chambers vote on legislation. They will also serve as the de facto spokespeople for the majority party in the Legislature.

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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