The 2019 legislative session adjourned on the 76th day. In conversations with lawmakers and according to post-session reports in other media, a theme developed. Generally speaking, lawmakers felt the atmosphere was different this session compared to previous sessions. It begs the question, what changed this session?
Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner was quoted as saying this was, “one of the smoothest sessions I’ve been involved with in a long time.” He went on to say, “this will be a legislative session that will go down in history as one that can be characterized as cooperative, high work ethic, professional, integrity, and respectful.” Wardner was first elected to the North Dakota House in 1991. He’s been in the Senate since 1999. In other words, he has been involved in a lot of legislative sessions through good times and bad. What changed this session?
Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman told the Bismarck Tribune, “I think we had a lot more collaboration this session.” Heckaman has served in the Senate since 2007. Over a decade of service and this session the minority leader believes there was more collaboration. What changed this session?
Newly elected House Majority Leader Chet Pollert echoed Wardner’s sentiment that this session was, “smooth.” That demonstrates it isn’t just Senators who felt the atmosphere was different in 2019. Others I spoke with talked about the more cordial approach between parties and of legislative chambers. What changed this session?
It seems clear what changed is the leadership. Specifically, the defeat of former House Majority Leader Al Carlson in the 2018 election. Carlson’s leadership style in the House was that of conflict and intimidation. It drug out sessions repeatedly preventing a “smooth” close to the body’s work. It cost taxpayer money. The vindictive behavior made it difficult for the “collaboration” we are hearing about the environment this session.
It goes to show how one election result can have an impact. Following the session, the committee known as Legislative Management elected its Chair for the interim. The committee returned to the tradition of staying “loyal” to the chamber members represent. The House, having more members has more votes on the committee. That typically meant the House Leader would be Chair. That tradition changed in 2015 when House Democrats joined Senate members to elect Senator Ray Holmberg as Chair. They had with Carlson’s approach. After four years of rejecting Carlson, the committee elected Pollert as Chair.
Now, this isn’t to say everyone is thrilled about the product the Legislature produced. Some was good. Some was bad. ND xPlains will get into the “wins and loses” in an upcoming post. This is simply about legislative process and the impact even one election can have. Was it always cordial? No. Did House members storm out of a conference committee toward the end? Yep. But even after all that, members thought this was, “one of the smoothest sessions” in a long time. It comes down to leadership.