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Vacated Senate seat up for grabs on Friday

Kelly Armstrong visited Dickinson Monday to speak to employees at Dickinson Ready-Mix and receive an endorsement from the National Federation of Independent Business. (Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press)

There's a Kelly Armstrong-shaped hole in the North Dakota Senate, left behind following his successful bid to serve as the Peace Garden's sole representative in Washington. Armstrong is taking the seat vacated by Kevin Cramer, who bested Heidi Heitkamp for her U.S. Senate seat.

Nature and politics both abhor a vacuum, and so now it falls to the District 36 Republicans to appoint a successor to Armstrong. Anyone within the party is eligible and there's no formal nomination process. On Friday, at the Biesiot Activities Center at 5:30 p.m., the party and its executive committee will meet to determine this appointment

"It's going to be by a vote of the entire membership," John Enderle, chairman of the District 36 executive committee, said in a phone interview. "There are four people so far (interested), but I'm not comfortable telling people what that is. Nobody's been nominated yet."

Though Enderle declined to identify the four who have expressed interest—any member of the party can on the night of the vote announce a desire to be considered—the Press was able to track down some of the individuals who wish to serve in the position.

These individuals include Frank Klein, vice-chairman of the District 36 Republicans and two-time state representative; Jay Elkin, Stark County commissioner and farmer; Andrew Kordonowy, Army veteran and president of Cerberus Security in Dickinson; and Marya Skaare, director of communication and recruiting for MBI Energy Services.

None of these candidates are formal nominations and are free to withdraw from consideration at any point.

Frank Klein

Klein sells himself on his many years of experience in politics in the area, describing his two terms in the North Dakota House as "a challenging and rewarding experience."

"I'd like to continue on with the experience I've gained by being in the Legislature before," Klein said. "I know the people down there, the lobbyists, I know how to get bills through, how to get bills passed, that type of thing."

Klein said he hopes to bring attention to tax reforms, particularly in regard to property tax.

"Tax reform, that's what I'd like to see. We're getting some property tax relief, which is OK. Property tax rates, generally speaking, is temporary. I'd like to get the system changed," Klein said. "We know it's too easy for people who need money from local entities in the state to come back to the property tax owner all the time. The rest of the people are using these services, not just the property owners. The system should be change so everybody pays, not just the property owners."

Klein is a farmer from Lefor with an associate degree in arts (business management/business administration) and earned a bachelor's degree from Dickinson State University. He has been actively engaged in the county 4-H program for over 30 years. He describes himself as a small business owner, community-minded and is "pro-life."

Jay Elkin

A member of the Stark County Commission, Jay Elkin has been farming and ranching in southwest North Dakota for decades.

"As a farmer/rancher in SW North Dakota for the past 40 years—really 37 of them actively engaged ... I understand the challenges leaders face and the importance of being able to make tough decisions," Elkin said. "I believe that my 10 years on the County Commission have been a great experience and I think that experience would be a great asset to the state Senate."

Elkin said he is in favor of less restrictions and a proponent of free enterprise. He thinks he can particularly help with the state budget.

"For all of us that are running, this is going to be a whole new learning experience. State government functions somewhat similar to county government, but not the same. I know the budgeting process of the county very well, and I believe I can help in the budgeting of the state as well," He said. " We've been able to hold property taxes down in our county. Not all counties have been able to, but we have been able to only buy what we can afford, which meant that we had the money there, we never had to bond, we never had to worry about borrowing the money to pay for any particular project in the county. When you look at what's happened here, it's not about taxing more, it's about using those tax dollars wisely."

He emphasized the importance of fiscal responsibility, as well as an interest in issues such as infrastructure and education.

"We need to remember that a government that spends money where it shouldn't eventually becomes a government incapable of spending money where it should," Elkin said. "I'm concerned about education, I'm concerned about property taxes and I'm concerned about those oil and gas tax revenue dollars ... that come back to the 18 oil-producing counties that let them build their infrastructure and afford the infrastructure needs they have."

Andrew Kordonowy

Kordonowy came up in the Fryburg area, and was a graduate of one of the last classes to be held at the old Fryburg school. He spent five years in the Army and sees his call to public service as a duty.

"My interest in the position is basically service to the community. I see it as duty. I got talked into it sort of as a military deployment," Kordonowy said. "Basically it's something you need to commit a personal sacrifice for the betterment of your community and the people around you."

Kordonowy is passionate about honoring the Constitution and keeping the people informed about the work of their government—he said he has no specific legislation he wants to pass.

"It depends on what comes down the pipe on stuff. My main things would be to maintain the power of the people in the government, to stop any overreach," He said. "Personal property rights, right to life, things of that nature."

Information dissemination is of special interest to him.

"I don't believe the citizenry has been informed as well as they should be. I do know that we have a lot of information, the state has gotten a lot better on their website on upcoming bills, but I don't believe the citizenry is looking at doing the research," He said. "I think we need a public figure who will speak on what's going on. I'm not going to just be a number casting a vote, I'm going to be taking input the entire time and also trying to output any information I get ... to explain the why."

Kordonowy further said he'd rather examine existing legislation and make sure it is working correctly rather than rush to write new bills.

"When bills are written ... you can't think of every contingency ... every once in awhile there's going to be a bad bill. It's the citizenry that comes back with their input, to think about it from a different angle than the politicians who have read it can see," he said. "We have it all the time when we hear 'we're going to circle back and fix it later,' and very rarely does it happen. That's one I'd like to do—instead of concentrating on a whole bunch of new legislation, we need to rework and circle back and fix some of our existing laws, because new laws don't generally mean we have better laws."

Marya Skaare

Skaare described herself as an accomplished leader, volunteer and community member.

"(I am a) committed Republican seeking the nomination for the North Dakota Senate seat left vacant by Congressman-elect, Kelly Armstrong," She said in an email. "As Director of Communication & Recruiting for MBI Energy Services and a member of the Governor's Workforce Development Council, (I) understand the need for innovative solutions to attract, train, and retain workers across all industries in western North Dakota."

She said she intends to pick up where Armstrong left off.

"Kelly Armstrong leaves big shoes to fill, but I am ready to pick up where he left off as a strong, effective voice for District 36," She said. "Advocating for both our fiscally conservative values and our strong family values, in addition to workforce innovation and the priorities of a growing western North Dakota."

Marya and her husband, Jeff, were both born and raised in North Dakota, and make their home in Dickinson with their two daughters, Harper and Hetta.