Port: With new leaders, North Dakota's Legislature seemingly sees a power shift, from east to west

"After last night's House/Senate leadership elections, it's official, the power has moved out of the [Red River] valley and into the west," one House lawmaker tells me.

Reps. Mike Lefor and Vicky Steiner, R-District 37, watched the votes come in on the House floor Monday. Photo by Ellie Potter/The Dickinson Press
Reps. Mike Lefor and Vicky Steiner, R-District 37, watched the votes come in on the House floor. File photo Ellie Potter/Forum News Service
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MINOT, N.D. — "After last night's House/Senate leadership elections, it's official, the power has moved out of the [Red River] valley and into the west."

That's what one member of the state House, from a legislative district that is not in the Red River Valley on North Dakota's eastern edge, texted to me this morning. They were referring to the leadership elections held by the NDGOP's legislative caucus last night .

While I think my correspondent may be overstating the case a bit, there does seem to be a geographical shift in power.

Let's take a look!

Here are the new leaders of the majority Republican caucus in the Senate (remember, the Democratic-NPL now holds just 4 of 47 seats in that chamber :


  • Majority Leader —- Sen. David Hogue of Minot
  • Asst. Majority Leader — Sen. Jerry Klein of Fessenden
  • Caucus Leader — Sen. Kristin Roers of Fargo

The previous majority leader was Sen. Rich Wardner, of Dickinson, who didn't run for re-election. Klein served as the assistant majority leader last session, and Hogue was the caucus leader that session as well. So, not a ton of change in the Senate, geographically speaking.
But my correspondent serves in the House, and that's where there was a big change. Here's the House leadership roster as it stands after last night's vote ( the Democratic-NPL controls just 12 of the 94 seats ):

  • Majority Leader — Rep. Mike Lefor of Dickinson
  • Asst. Majority Leader — Rep. Glenn Bosch of Bismarck
  • Speaker of the House — Rep. Dennis Johnson of Devils Lake
  • Caucus Leader — Rep. Austen Schauer of West Fargo

The previous majority leader was Rep. Chet Pollert, of Carrington, who didn't run for re-election. The assistant was Rep. Scott Louser, of Minot. The speaker and caucus leader positions were held by Rep. Kim Koppelman, of West Fargo, who was defeated in the primary process, and Bosch, respectively.

North Dakota Sen. David Hogue speaks at GOP headquarters in Bismarck before his election as Senate majority leader.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

Again, not a ton of change at first blush, but consider that the only lawmakers with leadership positions who are from the Red River Valley area are both caucus leaders. That's an important job, no question, and both Sen. Roers and Rep. Schauer are fine and competent lawmakers, but those positions don't wield a lot of influence over the proceedings of their respective legislative chambers.

The big shift is in the House leadership, where the majority leader now hails from Dickinson, on the western edge of the state, instead of Carrington, which is on the western edge of the valley. And remember, Pollert's predecessor was former Rep. Al Carlson, who was from Fargo.

What does this shift, such as it is, mean for policymaking in North Dakota?

It's hard to say.

Both Sen. Hogue and Rep. Lefor are serious-minded lawmakers who, I suspect, will have little interest in, or little patience for, the sort of east versus west rancor that can sometimes derail things in the legislature. These are people who will strive to represent the whole state.

Still, perspective matters, and there's no question that, from Carlson's days as House Majority Leader to today, where the legislature's leadership lives and works has moved further west than it was before. Also, these leaders are at the head of a Republican caucus that makes up almost the entirety of the legislature.


What took so long?
"A lavish compensation package given to former NDSU President Dean Bresciani is a drain on the school's resources at a time when it can ill be afforded."
"How could someone who supposedly believes in property rights use an arcane legal doctrine to seize someone else's property without paying for it?"

The Democratic-NPL controls just 19 of combined 141 seats in both chambers. Of course, these enormous Republican caucuses have been unwieldy for legislative leaders in the past. There's a lot of divergence in the ranks, suffice it to say.

It's something worth keeping an eye on as a new session of the legislature looms before us in January.

Also of note? The people elected to lead the majority in the legislature are, for the most part, long-serving lawmakers whose tenures go far beyond the term limits voters just voted for ( even as they were voting to re-elect incumbents who have been in office for decades ).

Sen. Hogue is currently in his fourth term in the Senate. Sen. Klein was first elected to the Senate in 1992, as was Rep. Dennis Johnson. Rep. Lefor was just re-elected to a third term.

Rep. Bosch, Rep. Schauer, and Sen. Roers have all served less than eight years.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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