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Legislators have greater role in choosing N.D. higher ed board

FARGO -- The process for selecting Board of Higher Education members is more political than it once was, North Dakota's Supreme Court chief justice said Wednesday.

FARGO -- The process for selecting Board of Higher Education members is more political than it once was, North Dakota's Supreme Court chief justice said Wednesday.

Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle, who serves on the five-member committee that selects nominees, said the addition of two legislators to the committee has changed the dynamic.

That made a difference Tuesday for John Q. Paulsen, who applied for a second term on the board but faced opposition from legislators who didn't like how the board handled the controversy with former Chancellor Robert Potts.

Paulsen needed support from four of the five members, but the two legislators said they opposed forwarding his name to the governor.

"In this case, there was an influence and it was the deciding influence," said Wayne Sanstead, who serves on the committee as superintendent of public instruction.

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As set up in a 1938 constitutional amendment, the original nominating committee consisted of the chief justice, the president of the North Dakota Education Association and the superintendent of public instruction, a nonpartisan position.

At the time, the NDEA was not involved politically as it is now, VandeWalle said.

"I think they (legislators) thought they picked the three most benign members of state government," he said.

Also set up in the constitution is the requirement for the Senate to confirm the governor's appointments.

In 1995, legislators put forward a constitutional amendment that added the speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate to the nominating committee.

"I suspect they (legislators) wanted more of a hand in who was going to be on the board," VandeWalle said. "The Board of Higher Education comes in with big bucks in its budget."

Voters supported the amendment. The result is that legislators now have two opportunities to oust a board member they don't like.

Rep. Kathy Hawken, R-Fargo, who said she was disappointed to lose Paulsen on the board, said she thinks having legislators on the committee makes the selection unnecessarily political.

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"Since we have our shot, I don't know that we needed two," Hawken said. "The Board of Higher Education should not be a political body."

Sen. Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks, who said she questioned Paulsen's appointment during the confirmation hearing for his first term, said she's glad legislators have more input because the Senate seems to go along with whomever the governor appoints.

"It really does seem to me at the moment to be a bit of a rubber stamp process, so I'm pleased there's opportunity for input earlier in the process," she said.

Triplett was among the legislators who blasted board member Sue Andrews during her confirmation hearing last spring. Andrews, of Mapleton, also was criticized for the Potts controversy.

The Senate voted 30-15 to confirm her reappointment, while the other two board members received unanimous support.

Gov. John Hoeven offered a different take on the process.

He said the governor should have the discretion to appoint board members based on who's best for the state.

"If the governor is going to make the appointment, the governor should be able to go out and determine who the candidates are," Hoeven said.

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Forum Communications reporter Janell Cole contributed to this report.

The Forum and The Dickinson Press are both owned by Forum Communications Co.

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