The strange case of Wyoming’s delegate to the North Dakota Legislature has the North Dakota court system moving at the speed of light, something we’re not used to seeing.
I wrote last week about Terry B. Jones, the fellow who carries the title state representative from District 4 in the North Dakota Legislature but whose right to serve in that spot and to run for re-election is being challenged in the North Dakota Supreme Court.
North Dakota Democrats claim that Jones is ineligible because you have to be a North Dakota resident to run for the Legislature or serve in that body. They’re challenging his residency because he owns a business in Wyoming, spends most of his time there and has been listed for many years as the agent for that business with the Wyoming Secretary of State.
Just like North Dakota, Wyoming requires the registered agent for a business registered with the Secretary of State to be a resident of that state.
Democrats were also suspicious of his claim to be a North Dakota resident when his official legislative biography listed a Wyoming phone number and a post office box as his North Dakota address. Reasons enough, I’d say.
But that was last week. This week, in kind of a humorous move, just a couple of days after the Democrats filed their lawsuit, Jones changed his address on his official North Dakota legislative biography from Box 1964, New Town, to 413 Eagle Drive, New Town. And he quickly got rid of his area code 307 (Wyoming) cell phone and fax numbers (fax?) and got a 701 area code (North Dakota) cell phone number (but no residential number) and a North Dakota fax (fax?) number, You can call him at (701) 627-3397, or fax him (fax?) at (701) 627-3396 if you want to now.
I can just hear House Majority Leader Chet Pollert screaming at him over the weekend, “Goddammit, Jones, would you please get a residential address and a North Dakota phone number up on your website?!?!”
In spite of all that scrambling to try to show he does indeed live here, Democrats here (and a couple of Republicans I’ve talked to as well) have observed his infrequent attendance at the Legislature’s Interim Committee meetings and noticed during legislative years his abrupt return to Wyoming the day the Legislature adjourns for the year.
As I wrote here last week, the Democrats asked North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger to strike his name from the ballot this year. Jaeger declined. So they went to court, asking the North Dakota Supreme Court to take original jurisdiction and declare Jones ineligible to be on the ballot. That was late last week.
The Supreme Court agreed to take the case, but decided it was important enough that there maybe ought to be a hearing on the matter. So they sent it to a district judge, Frank Racek, over in Fargo. Racek’s been a judge for more than 30 years but is retiring and not seeking re-election this year, so he has no horse in this race. And everyone says he’s a pretty straight shooter.
Here’s the timeline. Last Friday, Democrats filed their suit with the Supreme Court. Over the weekend, lawyers for the Democrats and Jones wrote briefs and filed them with the court Monday, the same day the court heard oral arguments from the lawyers — Mac Schneider for the Democrats and Monte Rogneby for the Republicans. The justices decided they wanted to hear more and immediately sent the case to Racek for an “evidentiary hearing,” telling Racek to move fast and report back to them by Thursday. Racek held his hearing Tuesday. Probably by the end of today, he’ll report back to the Supreme Court.
In his report, he will tell them what he believes the “facts” of the case are, and I think make a recommendation based on the facts — either Jones should stay on the ballot or be removed. Then the five justices can decide whether to agree with his conclusion.
Attorneys for both sides tell me they think the justices will rule by the end of the day Friday.
Wow. That’s a lot of judicial proceedings in a week’s time. Been a long time since I’ve seen a herd of lawyers move that fast.
If the Republicans prevail — don’t be surprised —Jones stays on the ballot and the Democrats up in District 4 will have to try to defeat him. But if the Democrats prevail — don’t count on it — all hell breaks loose because then there’s only one Republican candidate on the ballot for two House seats, pretty much guaranteeing that one of the Democrats will get elected.
In that case, expect the Republicans to scramble to try to figure out a legal way to get another candidate on the ballot. But the Supreme Court has ruled on that issue once already this fall, keeping a replacement candidate for the Democratic-NPL candidate for Insurance commissioner, Travisia Martin, who was ruled ineligible because she was not a resident of North Dakota (is this starting to sound familiar?), off the ballot.
While this case has moved at warp speed, don’t expect another run at the Supreme Court by the Republicans to move as fast. And we’re already past the 45-day deadline for the ballots to be printed, so they can be mailed to service members overseas, a deadline familiar to most of us because it was the subject of some controversy as part of what would have been Measure 3 before the Supreme Court struck it from the ballot.
Stay tuned to the 6 p.m. news Friday night or the Saturday morning newspapers to learn what the Supreme Court does with all of this.
One more note. I said earlier don’t be surprised if the court rules in favor of Jones. North Dakota Republicans took three political cases to the court this fall, and in spite of some pretty good arguments by the Democrats, the court ruled in favor of the Republicans in all three cases. So the court has shown what some believe is a Republican bias, partly because four of the five justices were appointed to the bench by Republican governors. Whether that’s true doesn’t matter because the court does look a little bit tainted as a result.
Can the Republicans go 4 for 4? Don’t be surprised. And don’t be surprised to hear the critics say, “There they go again, taking care of the Republicans.” Or as I wrote earlier, “Dancing with those that brung them.”