Forum Editorial: The North Dakota Legislature needs to crack down on its frequent fliers club

Leaders in the North Dakota Legislature need to crack down on excessive travel expenses — especially for lame ducks who take junkets before leaving office.

Editorial FSA

Dunbar Hall, which housed chemistry labs and hazardous chemicals, was for years a fire hazard at North Dakota State University. Fire crews were called repeatedly to the building.

In spite of the obvious safety need for a replacement, former Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, who for years was chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, in 2019 blocked funding for a replacement.

Ultimately, Dunbar was torn down and replaced, but the move was on brand for Delzer, who earned a reputation in Bismarck for being stingy with state dollars.

But that stinginess didn’t apply to Delzer’s travels. Over the last decade, he took 30 trips on the taxpayers’ dime amassing expenses of almost $26,000.

One of his most expensive trips, in fact, happened after voters gave him the boot in the primary election. Even though he was on his way out, he attended a legislative summit in Denver at a cost of $3,700.


Members Only
Since 2014, the North Dakota Legislature has spent more than $45,000 to send a dozen retiring and defeated lawmakers to out-of-state conferences, according to records reviewed by Forum News Service.

The hypocrisy of Delzer’s self-indulgent travel compared to his reputation for stinginess with state dollars is galling. He once balked, for instance, at allowing a transfer of $10,000 in the state poet laureate’s budget.

Delzer had plenty of company among the Legislature’s lame-duck frequent fliers caucus. Since 2014, taxpayers have spent $45,000 to pay for out-of-state travel for a dozen defeated or retiring members.

One of the most profligate travel spenders was former Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, who accumulated $125,810 between 2013 and April 15, 2022. That’s an obscene amount.

Holmberg, long-time chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, resigned after he came under scrutiny for exchanging text messages with a jailed child pornography suspect.

Globetrotter Holmberg made about 70 trips during the period, with stops in Canada, Puerto Rico, Europe and around the United States.

An indulgent culture has emerged in the Legislature that allows members to cater to their wanderlust. From 2013 to April 15, 2022, North Dakota legislators spent about $2.1 million on travel — an average of $9,200 per member.

Holmberg stood out, spending 14 times the average amount.

Since 2013, the state has spent an average of $450,000 each two-year budget cycle to cover legislators’ conference-related expenses, including airfare, lodging, meals and daily pay.


This level of wasteful spending shows a flagrant disregard for judiciously spending taxpayer dollars. Many of the worst offenders, as the Delzer example shows, exhibit a much more casual approach to spending when it comes to their travel than for other purposes.

Leaders should crack down with much more restrictive policies regarding travel, and absolutely no travel requests should be granted for legislators who are on their way out of office, through retirement or election defeat.

This wasteful, self-indulgent spending among Legislators is corrosive and undermines public confidence. Serving in the Legislature shouldn’t be used as an opportunity to travel frivolously on the public dime.

What To Read Next
Get Local