The 1987 North Dakota Legislative session was historic. Democrats, who already controlled most state offices and the congressional delegation, won control of the North Dakota Senate for the first time. In the Minot-area District 5 Senate race, Democrat Larry Schoenwald beat Republican Mike Timm by a mere 5 votes. That led to a legal fight that went to the state Supreme Court, with plaintiffs arguing that over 29 voters cast ballots in the wrong district, but the court ruled that only the Legislature can decide contested elections. The ruling handed victory, and control of the Senate to the Democrats, giving them 27 seats to 26. Republicans still controlled the House, 61 to 45.
The Legislature also saw tragedy that year. Lt. Gov. Ruth Meiers died from cancer. She was 61. In an upset, she and George Sinner were elected together on the Democratic-NPL ticket in 1984. Meiers was North Dakota’s first female lieutenant governor, and she presided over the Senate.
In an interview with The Bismarck Tribune months before she died, she was asked how she’d want to be remembered. She said: “I guess how you want to be isn’t necessarily how you’re going to be. I hope I’m remembered as a good mother. The contribution that you probably leave in life is your children. I hope I also have influenced the lives of others, women particularly, to be willing to step forward and say, ‘I have a role here. I have a voice. I have a voice in government. I should have a voice in the business I’m in. I should have a voice in my home.’”
The 1987 Legislature adjourned after midnight on Easter after using 73 of the 80 allowed days to pass new laws and establish budgets. On this date in 1987, the Tribune reported a record 763 bills had become law. In total, 1,424 bills and resolutions had been introduced – a record that stands to this day.
Among the biggest stories of that session and a special session in 1986 were historic hikes on state taxes and fees, from income and sales taxes to cigarettes and gasoline – even fishing licenses and driver’s license renewals. The Legislature also sought to tax cable TV service, but voters rejected it in 1988.
Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura
The Bismarck Tribune. 1987, January 9. Page 19
The Bismarck Tribune. 1987, January 12. Page 10
The Bismarck Tribune. 1987, January 27. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1987, March 22. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1987, April 19. Pages 1, 14, 37
The Bismarck Tribune. 1987, May 12. Page 12
The Bismarck Tribune. 1988, June 16. Pages 1, 15