BISMARCK — The North Dakota Supreme Court is slated to hear oral arguments Friday, Nov. 20, in the heated, three-way dispute over a House seat left vacant by the election of a candidate who has died from COVID-19. While the fate of the vacancy remains in the hands of the court, one side moved ahead Wednesday night, Nov. 18.
In a 17-1 vote, members of the District 8 Republic Party's Executive Committee appointed Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, to fill the vacancy created by the election of David Andahl, who died of COVID-19 on Oct. 5, but still received enough votes to win a House seat in the election.
District 8 GOP Chairman Loren DeWitz said the local Republican Party decided to move forward with plans that predated the legal battle over the seat.
Their move comes just a day after the Supreme Court battle gained a third player, as justices granted Democrat Kathrin Volochenko's motion to intervene. Volochenko argued that she has claim to the vacant seat as the third-highest vote recipient in the District 8 race, coming in behind Republicans Dave Nehring and Andahl.
The appointment of Delzer, a longtime lawmaker and current District 8 representative who chairs the state's powerful House Appropriations Committee, is the latest in a winding saga that played out in the wake of Andahl's death.
Following Andahl's death on Oct. 5, Secretary of State Al Jaeger sought an opinion from Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem to clear up confusion about who would have the authority to fill the vacant seat in the event of an Andahl win. Stenehjem backed Jaeger's initial position, ruling that the vacancy should be filled by the District 8 Republican Party.
In defiance of the attorney general, Gov. Doug Burgum intervened hours after Andahl's election to appoint his own candidate, coal executive Wade Boeshans, to the empty seat, a step that resurfaced tensions in the Republican Party. Last week, Burgum elevated the dispute to the Supreme Court, requesting the justices bar state legislators and the District 8 Republicans from filling the seat.
Burgum's intervention was an apparent attempt to block the continued tenure of Delzer, whom Andahl unseated in the District 8 primary thanks in part to significant funding from the governor's Dakota Leadership PAC. Burgum was a major contributor to the PAC. The legal fight also pits the governor against Stenehjem, his own attorney general and former gubernatorial race opponent.
DeWitz said that the District 8 Executive Committee will notify Jaeger of Delzer's appointment on Thursday, Nov. 19.
Readers can reach reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at email@example.com.