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Port: Lawmakers tacitly admit that Supreme Court got District 8 ruling wrong

House Bill 1461 was introduced by House Majority Leader Chet Pollert and co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, the bosses of the Republican legislative caucus and two of the loudest voices backing Delzer's not-at-all democratic return to their chambers. What does the bill do? It writes the statute the Legislature claimed, in their legal dispute with Burgum, already existed in the Century Code.

Photo: Rep. Jeff Delzer (R-Underwood) John Hageman photo
North Dakota Republican Rep. Jeff Delzer chairs a meeting of the House Appropriations Committee at the state Capitol on March 14, 2019. Forum News Service file photo
Forum News Service file photo
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MINOT, N.D. — Nobody elected Underwood Republican Jeff Dezler last year.

He ran for his legislative office three times and was rejected by voters in every instance.

He was defeated at the District 8 NDGOP's local convention.

He was defeated on the June primary ballot.

He was also defeated on the general election ballot when he launched a write-in campaign after the tragic death of his Republican primary opponent Dave Andahl .

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Yet despite these repeated rejections, Delzer is currently serving in the Legislature and wields, by dint of his committee assignments, an enormous amount of political power for the budget.

He was put there not by voters but by the state Supreme Court.

That bogus court opinion resulted from a legal showdown between Gov. Doug Burgum , who backed Andahl, and Delzer's friends in the Legislature. When Andahl died, Burgum argued, correctly, that state law did not address a situation where a vacancy in office was created because the person elected had died, thus a constitutional duty assigned to the governor's office to fill vacancies in elected office for which there was no statutory remedy kicked in.

The Legislature argued that the existing statute covered the situation, and the District 8 NDGOP leaders, who are Delzer loyalists, ought to decide.

The Supreme Court sided with the Legislature .

They, again, were wrong.

Even the Legislature seems to be admitting it now.

House Bill 1461 was introduced by House Majority Leader Chet Pollert and co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner , the Republican legislative caucus' bosses, and two of the loudest voices backing Delzer's not-at-all democratic return to their chambers.

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What does the bill do? It writes the statute the Legislature claimed, in their legal dispute with Burgum, already existed in the Century Code.

It states that if a candidate who has been placed on the ballot for the legislature dies, or becomes unqualified, yet received enough votes to win, a vacancy occurs, and it will be filled by the statutory process used for filling other legislative vacancies.

EMBED: Pollert bill on legislative vacancies

The bill also makes it clear that the Governor is not to be appointing people to the Legislature. "The governor may not fill a vacancy in the office of a member of the legislative assembly," it states in a later section.

This is good policy, filling a loophole in existing law. I hope it passes because I, too, do not think it's appropriate for the executive branch to be appointing members of the legislative branch.

It's a separation of powers thing.

The problem is, this legislation didn't exist last year. The Legislature and their lawyers pretended it did, and the Supreme Court went along with that argument, choosing to interpret the law into existence, but any literate North Dakotan could read the law and perceive its absence.

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This is why the law has to be created now - because Burgum was right and should have been allowed to exercise his constitutional duty to fill a vacancy created by a situation not addressed in the law at the time.

It's a moot point now. The court has ruled, however erroneously, and the Legislature will almost certainly pass this bill addressing any future situations.

The only people impacted are the voters of District 8, who made it clear they didn't want Delzer representing them in the state House but got him anyway.

To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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