After the legislative session, it's study time

GRAND FORKS -- Despite grumbling from some conservative Republicans, Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, said he didn't seek the chairmanship of the Legislative Management Committee, which acts for the North Dakota Legislature between sessions, to ...

Ray Holmberg

GRAND FORKS -- Despite grumbling from some conservative Republicans, Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, said he didn't seek the chairmanship of the Legislative Management Committee, which acts for the North Dakota Legislature between sessions, to deny the post to House Majority Leader Al Carlson.

When the 17 committee members gathered just after the 2013 session ended this month, Holmberg received the votes of three House Democrats, three Senate Democrats and three Senate Republicans.

Carlson, R-Fargo, who had been interim chairman since 2007, received the votes of the committee's six Republican House members but no votes from Democrats or Senate Republicans. Two GOP senators voted for Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan.

Carlson was elected vice chairman.

Conservative blogger Rob Port ( reported Holmberg's election under a headline that read in part, "House Republicans Not Happy."


Port wrote that House Republicans, whom he did not name, had told him that "Democrats teamed up with Senate Republicans" to choose Holmberg over Carlson.

Holmberg's election reflects "the trouble house members face trying to push a conservative agenda," one House Republican told him. "Republicans have super-majorities (in both the state House and Senate), but the libs win."

Port also quoted a Senate Republican: "We might as well let the Democrats set the agenda."

The posting drew several comments critical of Holmberg, including, "This guy has a more liberal voting record than most Democrats. He should be kicked out of the party, not rewarded with a pretty prestigious position."

Offering options

Holmberg has served in the Legislature for 38 years and chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. His election marks the first time a legislator other than a majority leader has headed the interim Legislative Management Committee, formerly known as the Legislative Council.

He discounted criticism of his selection, saying he believed it to be coming from just one or two members of the Legislature.

He decided to seek the interim chairmanship about a week before the end of the 2013 session, he said, after discussing it with Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, but he was circumspect about whether a chief aim was to replace Carlson.


"We thought it was important that the 17 members have some options," Holmberg said. "Sen. Wardner said he was not interested in the job. He said he was busy enough."

He described Carlson as "very bright, very articulate and very driven" and their relationship as "professional." He said the former chairman "made good staff decisions" while leading the Legislative Council and that he and Carlson share "an intention to keep partisanship out" of the interim work.

"I did not run because I felt he had screwed up on the management of the council," he said.

Holmberg said political labels, such as conservative and liberal, get in the way at the Legislature, and he resists applying one to himself.

"In this day and age you eschew labels as much as possible," he said. "I think I represent the people of District 17 who sent me to Bismarck. If I run again in 2014, they can decide again whether I do."

Carlson did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Asked about Holmberg's selection as chairman with the help of Democrats, Tracy Potter, a former Democratic-NPL state senator from Bismarck and the party's U.S. Senate candidate in 2010, applauded the choice.

"Ray knows the budget of state government as well or better than anyone other than Pam Sharp (state budget director) -- maybe better, since he's been in the room when agency officials were being quizzed on their budgets," Potter said.


"He has been quietly the most successful legislator, and he is one of the least partisan of the Republicans."

Changes in property taxes

The committee is to meet on Monday to sift through the 69 interim studies ordered or proposed by legislative action.

"We'll want to reduce that number by about half," Holmberg said. Some of that winnowing will be done by combining proposed studies on the same or related subjects.

Among the more high-profile studies to be undertaken: how the new higher education funding formula works, the effect of changes in property taxes and an assessment of the behavioral health needs of the state.

One interim committee will look at health care reform options, including implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act or state-based alternatives if that act, also known as Obamacare, is repealed.

Other required studies will examine water project priorities and likely changes to oil industry practices and impacts. Optional studies include the use of natural gas as a motor vehicle fuel, the feasibility of creating paved bicycle paths around the state, workforce needs related to child care, the need for a comprehensive system of care for military veterans and others suffering traumatic brain injuries, and special enforcement provisions in high-fatality zones on state highways.

Every legislator will be asked to name an interim committee or two they'd like to serve on. The committees will be appointed June 10, with Holmberg naming who is to lead them.


The interim study process "gives a legislator the opportunity to delve into a subject much more in depth than is possible during the session," he said. "They have more time for reflection away from the intensity of the session."

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