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House declines to change appointments for vacancies

By Dave Thompson

Bismarck, ND – North Dakota House Republicans have voted to keep a new method for appointing state legislators.

House Democrats want the governor to call a special election -- if an incumbent legislator leaves office before his term is up. It used to be done that way. But two years ago -- the Legislature changed things. Now local political parties have the authority to appoint a legislator -- if the incumbent resigns or dies. The procedure has been used to appoint two Cass County Republicans to the Legislature.

House Democrats say the procedure should be changed again -- to require legislative elections.

"How far, my friends, is our apathy and cynicism thermometer going to rise?" asked Rep. Arlo Schmidt (D-Maddock). "We have less than 50 percent of the people in this state voting now. And now we don't give them a chance to vote."

But House Majority Leader Rick Berg (R-Fargo) says when former House Speaker Clarence Martin died, his district was left without one of its legislative voices. And Berg says this law prevents that from happening.

"That's one thing that makes North Dakota unique in the country is that the people do have a voice," said Berg. "They implemented this constitutional measure for one reason - and that reason was to prevent a district from not being represented during the Legislative session."

The House voted 67 to 27 to keep the appointment process.