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District 40 voters have choices

Democrats challenge incumbents in House race

Democratic-NPL challengers are seeking to unseat two Republican incumbents in the North Dakota House race in District 40, which includes north Minot, Minot Air Force Base and a large rural area to the north and northeast of the city.

Democrats Robert Kibler and Kalyn Dewitt are running against Republican Reps. Randy Schobinger and Matt Ruby.

Kibler has owned and operated businesses since a teenager. He became co-founder of a construction company and ran an antiques store. He served as an Airborne Ranger in the military. He currently owns and manages apartment buildings in Minot and with his family produces honey in Eureka Township, where they live, for sale at Minot Farmers Market.

He has been an educator for nearly 25 years, with a doctorate in Literature and Humanities from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. He is director of the Northern Plains Writing Project, which helps teachers strengthen their classroom education.

“Education in North Dakota especially is a key driver of economic prosperity and growth – past, present, future. We arguably have the problem of too many colleges in relation to the number of people, but each college is essential to the survival and prosperity of the community where it is located. So we need to find a way to strengthen these colleges, because it is quite clear no one wants them eliminated,” he said.

Kibler was elected by N.D. University System faculty to the Council of College Faculties in North Dakota, and again as the faculty representative to the State Board of Higher Education. He served as board member and chairman of the Mid-Dakota Chapter of the American Red Cross board and currently is president of the Oak Park Farmers Market and serves on the Eureka Township Board. He has served on the NDUS Faculty and Staff Compensation Commission and Burlington Planning Commission

Ruby, a Minot native who studied at Minot State University, said he is familiar with the issues students feel aren’t being addressed.

“I have worked in the community since I was 12 and have seen how the regulatory burden can cripple a business. I have spoken with business owners from a variety of industries and worked to cut red tape or set up opportunities for them to expand and continue to contribute to the community. As a staff sergeant in the N.D. National Guard, I have a pulse on the needs of the veterans in our state,” Ruby said.

He has assisted on active duty with flood protection, Dakota Access Pipeline protest response and COVID-19 testing.

“I have put in the extra effort during these times to learn what can be done to either prevent issues arising, how best to alleviate tensions and what can be done to be better prepared when we can’t stop the event. My work ethic and genuine interest in issues across the state has garnered me a reputation of openness and willingness to work with anyone to look at all options and find a solution,” he said.

Dewitt describes herself as a mother of two who has chosen North Dakota as her home.

“I am passionate about making my state a better place for all North Dakotans and for all of the future generations to come. I believe that our land and our people are our most important resources. I do not see myself and many of my peers being represented in the North Dakota state government and I would be proud to offer that representation to the people of District 40 so that our government can be a more true representation of all the people who live here,” she said.

Schobinger, a Minot native, received a degree in economics from MSU. He served in the North Dakota Senate from 1994 to 2006 and in the House since 2016.

“While I have sought opportunities in other parts of this nation for a time, I can now also say that I am one of those ‘repatriated’ North Dakotans who came back to this great state. Taken together, I have lived in the Minot area over 22 years of my life,” he said.

Schobinger said he is proud of several legislative successes that he was part of or led.They include placing the North Dakota Medal of Honor Memorial in Minot’s Roosevelt Park, four-laning of Highway 2 from Minot to Williston, the merger of the Oil & Gas Division with the Geological Survey, securing support for Minot area flood control and the Northwest Area Water Supply project, securing Minot’s status as a Hub City to receive oil and gas impact dollars, securing funds to move the Ward County historical exhibit from the State Fairgrounds to Burlington and securing funding for a pilot project in northcentral North Dakota in pretrial services.

Looking ahead

Looking ahead to the 2021 session, Schobinger said it will be important to have representatives who know and understand how to succeed within tight budget constraints.

“From 1994 to 2006 while I served as a state senator in the Minot area, and even though budgets were extremely tight, we were able to accomplish things like the four-laning Highway 2 between Minot and Williston, bringing the North Dakota Medal of Honor Memorial to Minot’s Roosevelt Park, and set teacher salaries and overall state support for education on upward trajectory. I have the background and experience necessary to lead during tight fiscal times,” he said.

He would like earnings from the Legacy Fund, the state’s oil trust fund, put to work for the people.

“However, unless something catastrophic happens, I believe we need to leave principal untouched, but continuing to be wisely invested, as the best policy,” he said. “As a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, I will continue to fight for the funding we need for flood control, water supply and energy-related growth.”

Dewitt sees a variety of pressing issues next session.

“Some of the primary issues facing the Legislature in 2021 are sustaining businesses in the face of COVID, developing a plan for reasonable health care and creating a more profitable and stable energy plan. The Legislature should evaluate the spending of current and future COVID funding to ensure it is been spent in way that produces long-standing impacts on businesses, not only for the short-term relief,” Dewitt said. “They should ensure that healthcare is an attainable resource for all North Dakotans, and they should begin to redirect energy funds to more sustainable energy production that will benefit the state and keep our precious resources and the income derived from them in the state of North Dakota.”

She would like to see the Legacy Fund used, in part, to fill the holes in the budget that have come from the drop in oil prices due to its unpredictable nature.

“It is frankly irresponsible to base an entire state budget on the assumption that income from oil royalties will be the same year to year. Instead of repeatedly cutting important state programs when prices drop, the funds should be used to uphold them,” she said.

Water projects are a necessity in many cases and funding is required there as well, Dewitt said.

“We must continue to encourage each city to seek funding from the federal government as has been done in the past,” she said. “Turning to the private sector can also help to bring the costs down and help protect local governments from cost overruns.

Kibler said there is a huge need to keep commodity markets strong while diversifying the economy overall.

“What we need is a developed manufacturing base, a professional base,” he said. “What does the base need, or the military need, that we can supply? What about enticing manufacturing firms here intent on designing parts and systems for military use? Such firms typically respond to ‘requests for proposals’ from the federal government and from private enterprise. When successful, they need people to design and to build their products. And the designers are often engineers, architects, systems people. For every one of these professional jobs we draw to Minot, a whole wealth of other jobs comes with it – ones concerning transportation, management, maintenance, and direct assembly and manufacture. Let’s explore the obvious routes to economic diversification and prosperity. It will stabilize our lives in good ways.”

Kibler also said alternative voices are needed in Bismarck.

“One-party rule is dunderheaded, despite all of the best intentions driving it. Alternative voices make for messy and frayed discussions concerning how to proceed, but that mess is essential to forming a way forward,” he said.

Regarding the Legacy Fund, Kibler supports a strong purpose with permanent results. Educational systems, safer roads and bridges, a massive parks and recreation system, flood protection structures or a stand-alone state health care system are among ideas.

“I like the idea of something physical, visual, useful, that benefits the greater good,” he said.

Kibler suggests that once the state gets out of its oil production doldrums, it should consider revamping the oil extraction tax, which could benefit funding for water projects.

“I see an increased oil extraction tax as part of a larger need to regulate corporate enterprise for our own good, while decreasing regulations on people overall. How much can we regulate corporate wealth without hurting it? How little can we regulate people and still keep order? To my mind, these are the questions we need to ask, and deep in, the answers get us our needed water projects,” he said.

Ruby said the Legislature should consider a low-interest loan fund for local governments to apply for to help alleviate the burden on the taxpayers. Such a fund for political subdivisions and for water projects and other infrastructure needs is a good use of Legacy Fund dollars, he said.

“The Legacy Fund shouldn’t be used for personal projects, but for things that the state needs or as a very last resort for backfill of budgets,” he said.

Ruby likes the practice of the Water Topics Committee of developing intent language for projects on the horizon that aren’t shovel ready to ensure the projects proceed, but money isn’t doled out until they are ready to start. Projects ready to move dirt are priorities for appropriations.

“Continuing this practice rather than giving a little money here and there across the state is how the Legislature can continue to support large water projects,” he said.

He also wants to see behavior and mental health issues addressed and believes access and proper funding provided for public health is crucial to tackling this issue.

“We also need to look at other states and determine which practices worked best to continue quality services in times such as the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

Pandemic response

Regarding the state’s COVID-19 response, Ruby said the state could have waited to get more data before instituting any major regulations.

“The shutdown wasn’t meant to zero out the new cases. It was meant to spread out the total number of cases to make sure hospitals weren’t overwhelmed. N.D. hospitals were never even close to being at capacity to handle this pandemic, so I don’t think it was needed. I am glad that the governor didn’t issue a statewide mask requirement and instead has allowed businesses to determine their need,” he said.

Ruby supports the Emergency Commission’s handling of federal funds, particularly the $59 million sent to the cities and counties to ensure the downfall doesn’t fall on the taxpayers, the $20 million reserved for local public health units to continue care, and the $410 million used to replenish the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund to help people who lost jobs and to help keep premiums down for businesses.

Kibler said it is difficult to second guess governmental or individual responses to the unimaginable reality created by COVID-19, but he questions where the dollars are to protect school teachers, staff and students.

“Some funds have come, but not enough, not nearly enough. We too often ask people to be safe and carry on, while not helping them to do so,” he said. “Now, more than ever perhaps, our families, our children, our retail workers, our educators need the kinds of protections that both good planning and good funding allow. Plans without funds? How often will that work?”

Dewitt said she is satisfied with the state’s direction with COVID-19 response in many cases. However, she believes the use of $33.1 million to plug abandoned oil wells is a gross misuse of funds. Companies that abandoned the wells should be held responsible for plugging them, she said.

“It is easy to armchair quarterback it,” Schobinger said of the pandemic, “but overall I believe we have done a decent job balancing the ability of citizens to move about, while at the same time educating our residents to the risks. Once a vaccine is developed, and this thing is behind us, we will have ample opportunity to talk about missteps. And we should. Because that is how we learn.”

Krebsbach unopposed

in District 40 Senate race

Sen. Karen Krebsbach is running unopposed in District 40 for the Senate seat she has held since 1988. She serves as vice chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee and had served as President Pro Tempore of the Senate in 2001.

The primary issue facing the 2021 Legislature will be developing a fair and affordable budget for the 2021-2023 biennium, Krebsbach said.

“With the reduction in production of oil and the price fluctuating, it creates uncertainty in revenues. Other pressing issues will be safety and security, besides the normal education, water, infrastructure and health care needs to be addressed,” she said.

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