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ND lawmakers choose Bjornson as next Legislative Council director

North Dakota lawmakers selected John Bjornson as the next director of Legislative Council Wednesday, July 11, 2018, during a meeting at the state Capitol in Bismarck. John Hageman / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — North Dakota lawmakers selected longtime Legislative Council staffer John Bjornson as the office’s next director Wednesday, July 11.

Bjornson has worked for Legislative Council for 30 years, spending the last two years as its legal division director. He came to the office shortly after earning his law degree from the University of North Dakota.

“(I) really thought this was going to be probably a two- or three-year job to figure out what I wanted to do in life,” Bjornson told lawmakers during a meeting at the Capitol. “And I learned fairly quickly that this is what I want to do.”

Legislative Council’s nonpartisan staff drafts bills for lawmakers, analyzes budgets and provides legal advice to legislators, among other duties. It has a two-year budget of almost $12 million and 34 employees that includes attorneys, accountants, researchers and administrative personnel.

Legislative Management, a bipartisan committee that oversees the Legislature’s work between its biennial sessions, voted unanimously to hire Bjornson as the Legislative Council director. He was the only applicant for the job after an internal search, said committee Chairman Ray Holmberg, a Republican state senator from Grand Forks.

Bjornson’s salary will be negotiated later, Holmberg said.

Bjornson, 55, will succeed Jim Smith, who is retiring at the end of August after almost 11 years as the office’s director. Smith praised Bjornson as a dedicated and experienced employee.

Bjornson noted that the executive and judicial branches have a more permanent presence in the Capitol than lawmakers, who only meet in regular sessions once every two years with meetings in between.

“We’re the only staff for you. You’re citizen legislators,“ he said. “We feel and we believe we have the responsibility to look out for the integrity of the legislative branch.”

Bjornson said he wasn’t looking to “reinvent” the office, but rather to continually improve its work. He raised concerns about retaining staff with the lack of recent pay raises and looming budget cuts across government.

“I don’t want us to be a training ground,” he said. “I want us to be a career destination.”

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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