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Steve Swiontek's return to the North Dakota Legislature sets a new record

Steve Swiontek, chair of Gate City Bank in Fargo, will again serve as a North Dakota lawmaker after being away since 1984.

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Steve Swiontek stands inside the Swiontek Center in Gate City Bank in downtown Fargo on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022. He's returning to the North Dakota Legislature after having last served in 1984. Swiontek retired as president and CEO of Gate City in June 2020 but remained chairman of the board.
Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum
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FARGO — Almost four decades had passed since Steve Swiontek last stepped into the North Dakota House chambers inside the state Capitol in Bismarck.

This week, the chairman of Gate City Bank made a return, attending pre-session meetings there following his Nov. 8 election to the Legislature after more than 38 years. He'll represent a district in south Fargo.

“It was a little emotional, just thinking about that,” Swiontek told The Forum in an interview from Bismarck.

Swiontek served as a Republican in the state House from 1976 to 1984 before stepping away to focus on his growing family and banking career.

His return to legislative duty isn’t just unusual, it’s record-setting.

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It represents the longest time that any lawmaker, dating back to the Dakota Territory, has been away and come back to serve, according to records kept by the North Dakota Legislative Council.

The next closest was John Hobart, who lived in the area now known as Egan, South Dakota. He served as a territorial legislator in 1855 and returned 32 years later for one more year of service in 1887.

John M. Anderson had a 31-year span between his legislative stints, serving in the North Dakota House from 1907 to 1908 when he lived in Grand Forks and again from 1939 to 1940 as a resident of Minnewaukan.

Swiontek, a native of Edgeley and a North Dakota State University graduate, was first elected at age 22 to the 45th Legislative Assembly in 1976.

He then pursued a 42-year career in banking, while he and his wife Mary Anne had two daughters, followed by three grandchildren. They're soon to celebrate their 47th wedding anniversary.

Now 68, Swiontek will be sworn in with other lawmakers in December to the 68th Legislative Assembly, which convenes on Jan. 3, 2023.

Vintage photo, couple looking at printed materials
Steve Swiontek and his wife, Mary Anne, are shown in the North Dakota House chambers in Bismarck in 1977, where he served until 1984. Swiontek is returning to the Legislature in 2023.
Contributed photo

Friends and colleagues reminded him that going back would be like riding a bike.

“It’s exciting to be back here again. I never dreamt I would be,” he said.

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Indeed, Swiontek had no intention of returning to politics, but the phone calls started coming after Cass County gained another legislative district in late 2021 due to population growth and a redrawing of political boundaries.

District 10 runs west of Interstate 29 to parts of Veterans Boulevard, and straddles Interstate 94 . Swiontek and his wife happen to live in the south end of this new district.

Other legislators asked him if he’d be willing to serve again. “My answer right away was ‘No, we’re not. Been there, done that, thank you,'" Swiontek said.

He had retired as president and CEO of Gate City Bank, while remaining as board chairman. Still, the phone calls persisted and four days before the candidacy filing deadline, Swiontek and his wife decided he’d give it another go.

Fast forward to Election Day, when Swiontek secured 40% and Democrat Hamida Dakane received 32% of the vote , both earning the right to represent District 10.

Dakane is believed to be the first Muslim woman of color elected to the North Dakota House. Swiontek said the two have had several friendly visits during the campaign and are set to have lunch in a few weeks.

He said he’ll do anything to help Dakane get her footing at the Capitol, but acknowledged they will disagree on certain things. “That's just how it is. But you know, you can do it in a respectful way and with civil discourse, and I think that's how it should be done,” he said.

Swiontek said North Dakota Republicans cover a wide range of views from “very conservative” to moderate. He said he's a “traditional” Republican, along Bush-Reagan-Eisenhower lines.

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Swiontek had concerns initially about the current political climate and pervasiveness of social media, but decided not to let them dictate whether he'd go back to the Legislature after all these years.

“I want to go out there and give an example of how it used to be,” he said.

When the legislative session gets underway in January, he said he’ll put his focus on behavioral and mental health, workforce development, child care and property taxes.

Huebner is a 35+ year veteran of broadcast and print journalism in Fargo-Moorhead.
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