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Candidate Pokorny challenging District 37 Republicans

Fern Pokorny is one of two Democratic challengers vying for the North Dakota House of Representatives in District 37 this November. Pokorny, a former educator, serves as a field consultant for North Dakota United, a merged organization for both p...

Fern Pokorny is one of two Democratic challengers pursuing a seat on the ND House of Representatives for District 37 this November. As a former teacher, a passion for Pokorny is education funding. (Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press)
Fern Pokorny is one of two Democratic challengers pursuing a seat on the ND House of Representatives for District 37 this November. As a former teacher, a passion for Pokorny is education funding. (Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press)

Fern Pokorny is one of two Democratic challengers vying for the North Dakota House of Representatives in District 37 this November.

Pokorny, a former educator, serves as a field consultant for North Dakota United, a merged organization for both public employees and educators.

"I serve the western third of the state, almost all oil country, so I know the needs and the concerns of that part of the state, and those issues with the oil boom and bust," she said.

Pokorny has long been interested in helping her community through political service.

"I got the political bug early in my adult life, before I could even run for office," she said. "At that time I lived in Belcourt. After I moved from there, I lived in Valley City and then came here. I got busy teaching and raising a family and doing those kinds of things, so I never felt I had the opportunity."

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Pokorny has been an education advocate at the state capital for the last three sessions.

"Seeing what happens in the legislature, I think I can serve the people of Dickinson well," she said. "Having been through that system, I can step in easier than most, because I know how the whole thing operates."

One area of concern for Pokorny is providing funding for rapid-growth enrollment for fast-growing districts.

"We get paid on last spring's enrollment for our funding program, but rapid enrollment, through the year we keep getting more students, and that's typical of oil country," she said. "And it happens in Dickinson."

While some additional funding has been provided through the Foundation Aid Stabilization Fund, it is not enough, Pokorny said.

A district normally receives $9,646 per student. But because not enough funds were set aside, schools only received $2,350 per student.

"The rapid enrollment money this time was supposed to be $4,000 (per student), which is less than half of what we would get if they had been here last spring," she said.

Dickinson received $350,028, short $245,817, for its rapid enrollment payment.

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With a larger payment, the district would have been better able to meet its rising costs, Pokorny said.

"I think, because we opened that foundation aid stabilization fund for the basic funding for our school districts, that we should have been able to find a little more money to fund that program," she said.

Pokorny also supports funding for Dickinson State University and its efforts to become a polytechnic campus, one that offers two-year degrees and certificate programs.

"When you think about how most of the people who are educated in the more technical skills come out of Wahpeton, that's on the other end of the state," she said. "It only makes sense for that kind of program to be here, where people can access it more easily."

Pokorny would also like to help the state better meet rising health care costs.

"I know some of it has to come from the federal level, but I think there are things we can do at the state level," she said. "Maybe we should be exploring if there's a way for people to access our state insurance program that would help."

She added, "I don't know if that's possible, but I think another opinion, another idea into this mix, would be helpful."

Also a priority for Pokorny is providing the state's first responders with needed equipment and funding.

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Pokorny has testified before on behalf of police and firefighters to allow them to be able to negotiate their own contracts at the local level.

"Most people don't even realize that happened," she said, "but everybody who works is happier, more productive and more effective in their jobs if they have some say in their working conditions, even more so than salaries."

Pokorny said her campaign, the first she has even run, is going well.

"I've been talking to people and learning about issues and more about their concerns," she said. "That's been exciting. The best part of campaigning is talking to regular people."

District 37 is responsive to a Democratic candidate, Pokorny said.

"I've heard at the doors, 'Generally, I'm a Republican, but I really vote for the person.' To me, that's North Dakota," she said. "We have a tendency to look at the candidate, what they stand for, what they believe in, and if their values match ours, that's who we support."

The general election will be held on Nov. 6.

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