District 36 representation: All Kelly Armstrong wanted was to get away, but Dickinson is home
Dickinson native Sen. Kelly Armstrong, R-Dickinson, couldn't wait to leave and move on with his life growing up.
"I moved to Grand Forks to get away from Dickinson, I moved to Virginia to get away from Dickinson, I moved to Norway to get away from Dickinson, and I'm back in Dickinson," he said.
But after spending some time on the other side of the state and the other side of the world, he came home, set up a legal practice in Dickinson after working for his best friend, Alexander Reichert of Grand Forks, and has taken an active role in the community by coaching baseball, working as a volunteer fireman and filling a gap as a criminal defense attorney.
He lives in south Dickinson with his wife, Kjersti, 5-year-old daughter Anna and 2-year-old son Elias.
Kelly grew up in Dickinson, was an athlete under the tutelage of fellow Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, District 37, and attended the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, where he majored in psychology.
He attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., for the first year of law school, but felt that while the education was great and the recruitment opportunities for East Coast law firms were tremendous, it was expensive when that wasn't Kelly's end goal. The next year he transferred back to his alma mater, UND, where he graduated in 2003.
It was at UND where he met his wife, who was attending law school in Grand Forks on an exchange program from her native Norway. Kjersti went back to finish her Norwegian law degree, and after graduation, Kelly came along.
Kjersti moved back to Grand Forks to earn an American law degree and Kelly began working for Alex Reichert. The couple decided to stay in America and, after convincing Reichert to open a practice in the west, moved to Dickinson.
"It was a pretty easy decision in that she speaks perfect English and I don't speak a lick of Norwegian," Kelly said.
In 2008 Rep. Mike Schatz, as executive director for the District 36 Republicans, tried to convince Kelly to run for the spot Schatz eventually ran for and won, but with a growing family '08 was not the year.
This year was different. Sen. George Nodland announced his retirement, leaving a seat open in District 36. Rep. Alan Fehr was the first to throw his at in for the GOP nomination for the Senate position.
"I was a little skeptical, just because it would mean several months away from the family," Kjersti said. "I know he's going to be incredibly good at it so I think it's for the best of the state."
Having dad away from home will be different, but with the time change and good roads, Kelly can be back home in half an hour for events. He plans to be back in Dickinson every weekend his family doesn't join him in Bismarck.
The upcoming biennium poses many challenges for a 70,000-plus square mile state, with infrastructure needs like roads and traffic signals in the west, and flood control still a major concern for the state's four largest cities.
"The impact needs in North Dakota are incredible," Kelly said. "The impact needs in the west are incredibly time sensitive. But we cannot forget that we are one big state. Water tragedies on drought are horrible, water tragedies on flood cost every citizen of the state money that could have been spent on something else."
His biggest goal as a state senator is to make sure good ideas turn into good laws.
"I think a lot of times really good ideas can turn into bad law," Kelly said. "I deal with laws people have passed and I win on them because even though they were good ideas they weren't necessarily written correctly."