On Friday morning, the ND Supreme Court will hear arguments on who has the authority to seat a legislator. Three parties are vying for one seat. What’s the big deal? At stake is the separation of powers and the will of the people.

Buckle up. The path to the Court was full of twists and turns. Recall, Republican Governor Doug Burgum has a rocky relationship with the Republican-controlled Legislature. They’re still a little salty he blamed them for the crumbling budget situation in 2016 when he won the Governor’s office. Burgum wasn’t entirely wrong to make the claim. Lawmakers subsequently took his budget recommendations and threw them in the trash.

Burgum figured the best way to get what he wanted from the state budget was to remove the biggest barrier, House Appropriations Chair Jeff Delzer. To do so, Burgum created the Dakota Leadership PAC headed by his former “yes-men” and funded primarily from his own checkbook. Hundreds of thousands of dollars focused on district 8 to defeat Delzer. It worked.

Tragedy Struck

David Andahl, one of Burgum’s preferred candidates, died from covid-19. His death came after ballots were printed and voting had started. Remaining on the ballot, and with an Attorney General opinion stating the district NDGOP would appoint a replacement, Andahl took second place. In House races, the top two vote earners win.

November 4th, Burgum issues an official statement saying he has appointed Wade Boeshans to fill the seat. The appointment left a lot of wrinkled brows across the state. “Who the hell does Doug Burgum think he is?” one Republican insider said following the announcement. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said the same thing but in a much more politically correct way. Not only was it a stretch in executive authority, the results hadn’t even been certified. New Legislators wouldn’t be sworn in until December. Delzer was still a Legislator when the questionable action was announced.

Enter the Court Battle.

Burgum files a lawsuit saying it is his seat to fill. The Legislature, Attorney General, and Secretary of State say it is the winning party’s seat to fill at the district level. Though both political parties agree this is beyond the Governor’s authority, they differ on how the seat should be filled. Enter the Dem-NPL into the Court fray.

The Dem-NPL is making the argument that since Andahl was no longer an eligible candidate, that the third-place vote earner is actually the second-place vote earner. Thus, Kathrin Vlochenko should be seated in the Legislature. The attorney making that argument, David Thompson, joined me on KFGO yesterday to discuss their position.

It will all play out in court tomorrow morning. Instead of Burgum buying the seat through his PAC, he is transferring the bill to taxpayers. I don’t believe the Legislature should be subject to the appointment of an Executive. Separation of powers. Perhaps worse, Burgum didn’t even bother to speak with District 8. Not only is he trying to impose his wishes on the Legislature, but also a legislative district. That may be the height of arrogance thus far.

Tyler Axness
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