ND Supreme Court finds Rep. Terry Jones is District 4 resident
Republican legislator’s residency decided
A District 4 legislator will be able to keep his name on the November ballot with Friday’s decision by the North Dakota Supreme Court that he is a resident of New Town.
District 4 Democrats had challenged the residency of Rep. Terry Jones, R-New Town, who is seeking re-election to the House.
Kenton Onstad, chairman of the District 4 Democratic-NPL Party, had requested on Sept. 8 that Secretary of State Al Jaeger remove Jones’ name from the ballot, alleging he didn’t meet residency requirements. He also asserted Jones should be removed from his seat in the Legislature for failing to meet the requirement of having been a resident for a year prior to the election.
Jaeger denied the request Sept. 9, saying the House is the judge of the qualifications of its sitting members. He also stated the ballot has been certified so cannot be changed.
On Sept. 16, Onstad petitioned the Supreme Court, which ordered the district court to hold a hearing.
Onstad argued Jones listed himself as a registered agent for Jones Brothers Enterprises, LLC, in Wyoming, indicating he is a resident of that state. He alleged Jones also owns residential property in Wyoming, paid taxes on that property in June 2020, lists a Wyoming cell phone number for constituents to contact him and receives fax materials at a number associated with the Wyoming company.
The district court accepted evidence that Jones had a North Dakota driver’s license since 2013, has registered vehicles in North Dakota since 2017 and has voted in North Dakota since 2016. He has filed income taxes in North Dakota since 2015. In 2017, Jones applied as a North Dakota resident and received a concealed weapons permit. His commercial driver’s license medical examiner certificate was completed by a North Dakota doctor, and Jones receives his medical and dental care in North Dakota.
In January 2016, Jones registered his company as a foreign limited liability company in North Dakota, and he is listed as the registered agent. In May 2019, he filed with district court a verified complaint in which he swore under oath that he was a resident of Mountrail County.
Based on the information, the Supreme Court determined the district court’s finding of residency is supported by substantial evidence and adopted that finding.
“One of the things that offended me most about this attack was the way it was done. I was not going to have a chance to even defend myself,” said Jones, who was not originally listed as a respondent in the complaint against Jaeger. “In North Dakota we play nice. We fight fair and we do what’s best for North Dakota, and I didn’t like the way that all came down.”
The court added Jones to the complaint so he could respond to allegations.
“I am really grateful for their wisdom,” Jones said. “I am grateful that the truth prevailed so that I can continue to serve North Dakota. I think I have a lot to offer.”
Onstad said he isn’t as convinced of the evidence of Jones’ residency as the Supreme Court justices appear to have been. He said constituents in New Town who don’t know where Jones is because he’s not seen around their community also would disagree with the court. The final decision will belong to voters, he said.
“It’s up to the constituents if they want to be represented by someone from Wyoming,” Onstad said.
The state Republican Party welcomed the court’s decision.
“Once again, Democrats have been thwarted in attempting to contort the North Dakota constitution for their own partisan purposes,” Republican Party Chairman Rick Berg said in a release. “From their failed attempt to slip Measure 3 onto the ballot to their support for the ineligible Travisia Martin candidacy, North Dakota Democrats in this lawsuit have demonstrated once again how little they care for the rule of law.”
Separately, the Supreme Court noted it has authority to order the Secretary of State to fix an error, even if a ballot already has been printed. For that reason, the court took up the Onstad complaint rather than ruling it moot.
Jones and Rep. Clayton Fegley, R-Berthold, are the District 4 Republican candidates for the state House. Thomasina Mandan and Hunter Andes are running on the Democratic-NPL ticket.
“Voting is underway, and residents of District 4 have an opportunity to show that they want legislators with deep roots in the community – not someone who admitted to spending months of the year at his residence in Wyoming,” said Alex Rohr, communications director for the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party. “Thomasina Mandan and Lisa Finley-Deville are both enrolled members of the MHA Nation and Hunter Andes’ family has farmed in the community for generations. Each of these candidates are committed to representing their neighbors and ensuring that District 4’s needs are being met in the Capitol.”