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Senate Dems name floor leader

BISMARCK - Senate Democrats re-elected Sen. Dave O'Connell, D-Lansford, as their floor leader for the 2007 session, turning back a challenge from Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo.

Dave O'Connell

BISMARCK - Senate Democrats re-elected Sen. Dave O'Connell, D-Lansford, as their floor leader for the 2007 session, turning back a challenge from Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo.

In House leadership elections, the Democrats re-elected Rep. Merle Boucher, D-Rolette, who ran unopposed, but Rep. Kenton Onstad, D-Parshall, defeated Rep. Scot Kelsh, D-Fargo, as assistant floor leader and Rep. Joe Kroeber, D-Jamestown, as caucus leader.

Boucher has been leader since 1997. This will be O'Connell's third session as Senate minority leader.

The elections were held on the eve of the 2007 Legislature's three-day organizational session, which begins today.

O'Connell told his caucus, "As your leader I'd like to be that wind under your wing so we can fly in formation and do what's right for the people of North Dakota.

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The Senate caucus also elected Sen. Carolyn Nelson,D-Fargo, as the new assistant floor leader. The previous assistant, Mike Every, did not seek a new term in the Legislature this year. Another senator, John Warner, had sought the assistant leader job but withdrew before the vote, and Nelson was elected unanimously. The group then elected Warner as their caucus chairman.

Mathern is a former Senate floor leader and was perceived to be a strong challenger because there are nine new Democratic-NPL senators, two of whom are from Fargo.

The senators' meeting was particularly festive, as they increased their net number in the Senate from 15 to 21 in last month's elections.

"If you only knew how long we've been waiting for you all," said Sen. Joel Heitkamp, D-Hankinson. "The phone booth jokes are over," a reference to gibes that the Democrats' Senate caucus was so small it could meet in a phone booth.

Senate and House Republicans elected caucus leaders last month.

Readers can reach Forum Capitol reporter Janell Cole at (701) 224-0830

Dave O'Connell

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