Rick Berg sees future as ND investorBISMARCK — Come January, North Dakota U.S. Rep. Rick Berg won’t have a job or hold a public office for the first time in almost three decades. In an election where control of the U.S. Senate was thought to be at stake, the freshman Republican congressman gambled on winning an open seat and lost.
By: Dale Wetzel, The Associated Press
BISMARCK — Come January, North Dakota U.S. Rep. Rick Berg won’t have a job or hold a public office for the first time in almost three decades. In an election where control of the U.S. Senate was thought to be at stake, the freshman Republican congressman gambled on winning an open seat and lost.
He sees his future as an investor in North Dakota business projects, a possible consultant to nonprofit groups looking to raise money or increase their membership and as an outsider who wants to influence public policy.
But another run for public office?
“I certainly don’t see that as something that’s on my agenda,” Berg said in a telephone interview from his home in Fargo. “I’m looking forward to being back in the private sector.”
In North Dakota politics, it’s rare for a new congressman to do what Berg attempted — win an open Senate seat. Democrat Quentin Burdick was successful in 1960, taking over after GOP Sen. William Langer’s death barely a year after Burdick was first elected to the U.S. House. Many advisers, including Burdick’s father, former GOP U.S. Rep. Usher Burdick, cautioned him against running.
The pressure on Berg was intensified by the national Republican Party’s hopes of snagging a seat held by Democrat Kent Conrad for 26 years, knowing full well North Dakota has a tendency to vote Republican in open races.
But former Democratic Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp defeated Berg by about 3,000 votes. Among the top four candidates on North Dakota’s GOP ticket, Berg by far got the fewest votes — just 158,000 according to unofficial returns. That’s compared to about 200,000 for top GOP vote-getter Gov. Jack Dalrymple.
Berg said it was tough to “speculate” about the reasons for the drop off in support. He thinks former President Bill Clinton’s late visit to Fargo to campaign for Heitkamp may have boosted her prospects.
Mark Jendrysik, chairman of the University of North Dakota’s political science department, said he believed Heitkamp was more charismatic, her television advertising was superior and her supporters were more dedicated to turning out the vote.
“You get the feeling that she enjoys that sort of thing, and that Berg doesn’t take as much pleasure in the campaign process,” he said. “You get the general impression she enjoys it more in a way he really doesn’t, and maybe people pick up on that.”
Berg was first elected to the North Dakota Legislature in 1984. After 26 years in the Capitol — including stints as the North Dakota House’s Republican majority leader and speaker — he declined to seek re-election in 2010 in favor of a run for Congress, and beat longtime Democratic incumbent Earl Pomeroy.
As Berg saw it, “everything was running so well” in North Dakota that he announced his Senate run in May 2011, saying he wanted to help take care of the nation’s debt, unemployment and economic problems.
Berg says his future is “kind of an open slate.”
“I don’t have responsibilities in a business. I don’t have responsibilities in an elected role. I look at that as, really, opening another chapter. I’m excited about that,” he said.
Last year, Berg sold his interest in a commercial real estate development company in Fargo, where he made most of his money.
“My whole life has been involved in small business, and I think right now, there are so many opportunities in North Dakota,” he said, noting he’d also like to pursue what he calls a passion of his — nonprofit consulting.
“I don’t see myself ever running for an office again,” Berg said, “unless there’s something that I really feel I can have an impact, and change something for the better.”