Wardner elected Senate majority leaderBISMARCK — Dickinson Sen. Rich Wardner defeated three GOP rivals for the job of Senate Republican majority leader Tuesday, almost two months after his predecessor, Bismarck Sen. Bob Stenehjem, was killed in a traffic accident.
By: Dale Wetzel, The Dickinson Press
BISMARCK — Dickinson Sen. Rich Wardner defeated three GOP rivals for the job of Senate Republican majority leader Tuesday, almost two months after his predecessor, Bismarck Sen. Bob Stenehjem, was killed in a traffic accident.
Senate Republicans took three ballots to settle the race. In the final vote, Wardner prevailed over Fessenden Sen. Jerry Klein, who has been the Senate Republican caucus chairman for a decade. The caucus chairman’s job entails providing campaign and fundraising help to Republican Senate candidates.
Bismarck Sen. Dick Dever and Fargo Sen. Tony Grindberg also competed for the job. Dever finished fourth in the first ballot and dropped out of the race, while Grindberg did likewise after finishing third in the second tally.
A retired Dickinson High School teacher and football coach and a former director of Dickinson’s chamber of commerce, the 69-year-old Wardner was first elected to the Legislature in 1990. He served four terms in the North Dakota House before he was elected to the Senate in 1998.
His voice quavered as he acknowledged the cheers of his colleagues.
“The people that were in this contest are very quality, and that’s what’s hard about this,” Wardner said in a brief victory speech. “It’s not about me. It’s about you, and this caucus, moving forward.”
In an interview afterward, he said his experience and willingness to be “a team player” helped him to win.
“You can talk about coaching and say, ‘Well, it doesn’t apply here,’ but it does apply here. It doesn’t matter whether you’re dealing with a bunch of ninth-grade football players or legislators. We all react the same to criticism, to motivation, to a pat on the back. I think I do have some of those personal skills in dealing with people.”
Wardner’s district includes almost all of the city of Dickinson in southwestern North Dakota. Although the Red River Valley in eastern North Dakota has most of the state’s population, the booming oil industry in the state’s western region has drawn an increasing share of the Legislature’s attention, and Wardner said he believed his western North Dakota base helped him win.
“I live in oil country and we do have a lot of issues,” Wardner said. “But I want to address them as beneficial to the whole state, not just for western North Dakota.”
Senate Republicans outnumber Democrats 35-12, and all 35 GOP senators turned up for the election, which was held Tuesday night in the state GOP headquarters, just south of the state Capitol.
Stenehjem died July 18 when the SUV he was driving went off the road and overturned on a highway in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. He had been on a fishing trip with his son and grandson. Senators said they wanted to choose Stenehjem’s successor with time to spare before a special session this fall.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple is expected to summon lawmakers to Bismarck in early November to debate a new legislative redistricting plan, health care legislation and the likely repeal of a bill that requires the University of North Dakota to keep its Fighting Sioux nickname.
Senate Republicans aren’t expected to hold another leadership election until December 2012. The 2013 Legislature begins in January.