JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Vacancy? What Vacancy?

Here’s the thing about North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum’s move Wednesday to jump in the middle of the bizarre District 8 legislative mess and appoint a coal company executive to fill the vacancy left by the death and subsequent election of Dave Andahl: Right now, there’s no vacancy to be filled.

By now, all the newspapers are telling the story of Burgum not even waiting until the ink was dry on the ballots to keep District 8 Republicans from appointing (anointing?) his legislative arch-nemesis Jeff Delzer to continue his long service to  the District.

At 10 a.m Wednesday morning, Burgum issued a press release stating, “Gov. Doug Burgum today announced he is appointing Wade Boeshans to the unfilled North Dakota House of Representatives seat in District 8 resulting from the passing of candidate David Andahl less than one month before the general election.”

Sorry, governor, there’s no “unfilled seat.” Jeff Delzer’s term doesn’t end until Dec. 1, and he fills that seat pretty well.

In addition, the election is not official until the State Canvassing Board meets in a couple of weeks to certify the results of Tuesday’s election. Then, Secretary of State Al Jaeger, with an opinion from Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem firmly in hand, will notify the District 8 Republican chairman that since his district elected a dead guy, and unless he miraculously comes back to life, there will be a vacancy in the office at the end of the day Nov. 30, and the District’s Republican Executive Committee should meet and appoint a successor and notify him who it is, so he or she can be sworn in with the rest of the Legislature when it meets in its Organizational Session on Dec. 1.

I don’t know who is providing Burgum legal advice, but the governor probably ought to rely on his official lawyer, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. His move Tuesday was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen a North Dakota elected official attempt.

It was so blatantly an attempt to stop Delzer from returning. Burgum spent a few hundred thousand dollars in June to beat Delzer in retribution for Delzer’s cagey move to dump Burgum’s biennial budget in the trash can in December 2018, just prior to the 2019 Legislative Session. If Delzer ends up coming back (and I’m betting he will), the same thing will happen this December.

The budget Delzer dumped two years ago was Burgum’s s big shot at putting his stamp on North Dakota state government. He and his appointees put a lot of work into preparing it, only to have Delzer and the rest of the House Appropriations Committee ignominiously say, “Thanks, but no thanks. We’ve got this. Here, hold our beers while we work on it.”

If Delzer comes back after Burgum’s successful and unprecedented attack this past spring on a member of his own party, Burgum’s going to have hell to pay during the upcoming session, exacerbated by this stupid move this week.

Finally, there’s the matter of what many consider a questionable opinion by Stenehjem himself. See, as I wrote about a month ago, there’s this little matter of the North Dakota Constitution. Here’s what the Constitution says in Article IV, Section 5:

Section 5. Each individual elected or appointed to the legislative assembly must be, on the day of the election or appointment, a qualified elector in the district from which the member was selected and must have been a resident of the state for one year immediately prior to that election. An individual may not serve in the legislative assembly unless the individual lives in the district from which selected.  (emphasis added)

The Constitution goes on to define a “qualified elector” in Article II, Section 1:

Only a citizen of the United States, who has attained the age of 18 years and who is a North Dakota resident, shall be a qualified elector.   (emphasis added)

It’s pretty obvious Andahl did not live in his district on the day of the election, but Stenehjem dragged out some arcane thing called the “American Rule,” and said never mind what the North Dakota Constitution says, this is what I say, and when I say it, it’s the law. Until someone challenges it in court.

Well, Burgum decided that instead of challenging it in court, he’d just challenge it from his throne room across the hall from Stenehjem’s office. It’s going to be fun to watch this play out. This is what happens when you have one-party rule in a state. The North Dakota Republicans aren’t handling their “embarrassment of riches” very well right now. Instead of looking like respectable elected officials, they look more like a bunch of kids fighting in a sandbox.

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