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North Dakota Rep. Marvin Nelson to join race for governor

BISMARCK - State Rep. Marvin Nelson of Rolla will launch a bid for governor on Wednesday, becoming the first Democrat to seek statewide office this election cycle.Nelson confirmed Monday that he will make the announcement after Kylie Oversen, the...

Marvin Nelson
Rep. Marvin Nelson

BISMARCK – State Rep. Marvin Nelson of Rolla will launch a bid for governor on Wednesday, becoming the first Democrat to seek statewide office this election cycle.

Nelson confirmed Monday that he will make the announcement after Kylie Oversen, the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party chairwoman, told the Grand Forks Herald she anticipated Nelson would launch his run. The time and location of the announcement weren’t released.

“We’re basically trying to have a North Dakota for all North Dakotans, as opposed to you’ve got to be the right guy or it doesn’t happen,” Nelson said by phone.

Nelson, 57, is an agricultural consultant who has served in the House since 2011, representing District 9 in north-central North Dakota. He won a second four-year term in November 2014.

If endorsed at the Dem-NPL convention March 31-April 2 in Bismarck, Nelson will face one of three Republican candidates for governor: Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, Fargo businessman Doug Burgum or state Rep. Rick Becker of Bismarck, a plastic surgeon and commercial real estate developer. Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple announced in August he would not seek re-election.


State GOP chairman Kelly Armstrong, a state senator from Dickinson, said the party welcomes Nelson to the race.

“I think two weeks before the (convention), they’ve got to be happy they have one statewide candidate,” he said, adding, “I like Marvin. He’s a nice guy.”

Armstrong said he’s not surprised that a state lawmaker emerged as the Democrats’ gubernatorial candidate, after U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and former state agriculture commissioner Sarah Vogel decided not to run and several other high-profile Democrats said they weren’t interested.

“I think at this point in time, it would have either been somebody from the Legislature or some complete unknown,” he said.

Nelson represents a heavily Democratic district that covers Rolette County and the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation. He and the district’s other two Dem-NPL legislators, Sen. Richard Marcellais of Belcourt and Rep. Tracy Boe of Mylo, ran unopposed in 2014.

Nelson has been critical of how the state Industrial Commission, of which Stenehjem is a member, has regulated the oil and gas industry, particularly with respect to its effects on landowners. The governor serves as chairman of the three-member panel. Nelson co-sponsored an unsuccessful bill in 2013 that would have required meters to detect leaks on saltwater gathering pipelines.

“Serving as North Dakota’s governor would be a huge honor as our state needs strong leaders in public office who stand up for all North Dakotans – and that’s exactly what I’ve worked to do in the state Legislature,” Nelson said in an emailed statement from the party.

Nelson successfully pushed for funding last session for a state-run rail inspection program in the wake of two fiery oil train derailments, and he co-sponsored a failed bill to legalize medical marijuana.


He has a bachelor’s degree in entomology from North Dakota State University and is a member of both the North Dakota Farm Bureau and North Dakota Farmers Union, according to his legislative biography. He and his wife, Susan, have two children and two grandchildren.

While knowing their opponent allows the GOP to start working toward defeating him, Armstrong said the party is focused on promoting its candidates and endorsing one at its convention April 1-3 in Fargo. Burgum says he will run in the primary whether he wins the nod or not.

Republican statewide candidates have “a tremendous advantage” of being part of the majority party and having a two-month head start in spreading their message, Armstrong said.

“I’m sure they’re working hard to fill all those slots,” he said of Democrats. “I mean, they have to try and remain relevant.”

Reporter John Hageman contributed to this article.

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