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Kalk is GOP choice for PSC

FARGO -- Political newcomer Brian Kalk of Fargo handily captured North Dakota Republicans' blessing to run for the Public Service Commission on Saturday, besting two others in the only competitive slot of the convention.

The retired Marine Corps major and North Dakota State University professor will seek to fill the seat being vacated by retiring commissioner Susan Wefald. Democrats will endorse his opponent next weekend.

The three-way race for the PSC endorsement ended with Kalk receiving 643 votes, Senate Majority Leader Bob Stenehjem of Bismarck with 398 and Fargo financial adviser and former Cass County commissioner Steve Risher with 29.

"I guess we're going to have our majority leader back (in the 2009 Legislature)," said Sen. Gary Lee, R-Casselton, as he listened to the tally from district after district come down solidly in Kalk's column.

Kalk bested the other two candidates in part thanks to a speech by the state's former adjutant general, Michael Haugen, who nominated Kalk.

Haugen tackled head-on the complaints by some that Kalk "hasn't paid his dues" in the party.

"I submit to you 20 years in the Marine Corps is plenty of dues for anybody," the general said.

Kalk, 42, was born and raised in Bottineau and, while serving in the Marines, acquired a masters degree in environmental engineering and a doctorate in natural resources, both from NDSU. His Marine Corps experience included logistics work, supervising a pipeline through Kuwait during Desert Storm and responsibility for Camp Pendleton's environmental compliance.

"Sounds like a perfect fit" for the PSC, Haugen said, echoing Kalk's campaign theme.

"Bob Stenehjem can win" was the Stenehjem camp's refrain, a reference to the strength of the family name thanks to the prominence of younger brother Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and other relatives active in state politics for the past several decades.

"It doesn't hurt that I come from a tireless hard-working family--a BIG tireless hard-working family," he joked to the delegates.

Stenehjem has been in the Senate since 1991 and has been majority leader since 2001.

Risher called himself "a new face with experience." A native of Montana, he moved to North Dakota in 1979 to manage an oil field service company in Williston. When the oil business slowed down, he moved to Fargo in 1983.

His strength for the party on the November ballot, he said, was that he would not have to defend a voting record (like Stenehjem) and wouldn't have to explain inexperience (like Kalk).

The contest required the endorsee to get at least 552 of the 1,103 credentialed delegates' votes and many in the Holiday Inn's Great Hall predicted more than one ballot would be needed to settle the race. Stenehjem was seen by many as the stronger candidate.

The final total was less than 1,103 because some districts reported delegates absent and not voting, and one district had a single vote recorded for "other."

Janell Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Dickinson Press.