Long-time incumbent Republicans face challenges in District 14
Long-time incumbent Republicans seek re-election
Long-time Republican incumbents representing District 14 in the North Dakota Legislature face challenges from Democrats in the Nov. 3 general election.
Republican Sen. Jerry Klein of Fessenden and Reps. Jon Nelson of Rugby and Robin Weisz of Hurdsfield face Democrats Jenna Vanhorne of Steele in the Senate race and Richard Lynne of Maddock and Mark Nelson of Rugby for the House. District 14 includes all or parts of Wells, Kidder, Pierce and Sheridan counties.
Klein foresees financial issues as being foremost in the 2021 session.
“I believe the budget will be the overriding issue and how we will adequately fund our special needs – our education and our more vulnerable – with the downturn,” he said. “We have had some very good years, and I believe we have spent our money wisely during those years, but we need to continue to look for ways that we maybe can have some cost savings. But we also, once again, need to fund our main priorities.”
Klein said there is some good news in oil prices and oil activity beginning to come back, keeping revenues close to forecasts. However, he added, the Legislature will need to address the pandemic in the next session.
“We need to make sure we are doing what we can to curb the pandemic and yet still maintain an economy here in the state that will continue to thrive,” he said.
Klein said his experience is the greatest asset he can bring to the position. He ran a small-town grocery business, for 35 years and has been involved in his community. He has served in the N.D. Senate since 1997, where he has been assistant majority leader.
“It’s experience that I bring and the fact that I still have a listening ear for the district over these many years,” he said.
Vanhorne lives on the dairy farm in Steele where she grew up.
“Having a farming background means I know what hard work is and what it means to pour your soul into a patch of soil and pray to God it rains. Farming is hard enough, but the government doesn’t have to make it harder,” she said.
Vanhorne said the Legislature needs to address the state’s crumbling roads.
“With the funds not coming in as expected from the Prairie Dog bill, rural townships are struggling. The wet spring left many roads underwater or washed out completely. While the Prairie Dog bill seemed like a good idea at the time, I feel it should be re-addressed immediately. When the people working so hard to feed the rest of the country can’t do their job because the road is gone, all of us suffer,” she said.
House candidate Richard Lynne, Maddock, sees the Legislature’s main issue as finances, given the state of the oil industry in North Dakota. Too much of the state’s revenue generation is dependent upon oil, he said.
“In the last 10 years our income tax rate in this state has been cut in half while our property taxes have gone up 60-70%. This is not sustainable,” he said.
Lynne has been active in local government, serving on township boards, church boards and co-op boards. He also currently is on the board of the North Dakota Township Officers Association.
He said he was tax assessor for his township until the state required township assessors to have 100 hours of training.
“We need some common sense put back into governing,” he said.
Nelson, a Rugby farmer, is concerned about issues facing rural areas.
In an article in the Herald-Press in Harvey, Nelson said high property taxes are in part caused by candidates who run for state office promising to cut spending and taxes on the state level. That basically means they will not take their responsibilities seriously but shove mandates on counties, forcing property taxes up, he said.
He also added in the article that schools and hospitals are in crisis. The next legislative session will be important in setting the direction for the state’s future, he said.
When he wasn’t farming, Mark was engaged in photography and photojournalism, working in sales, operating heavy equipment, teaching a class at Minot State University and keeping a fleet of semi-trucks on the road. He is a graduate of Minot State University.
Nelson said the biggest issue facing the 2021 Legislature will be the state budget. Pressures will come from the pandemic, the struggling economies of the energy and agriculture sectors and the need for more behavioral health services.
“With the downturn in energy, we have to be more realistic as to how much we can do, and we are just going to have to prioritize those projects that are ready to be built in the next two years and the ones that are most important,” he said.
The future of the Dakota Women’s Prison in New England also will need to be addressed, Nelson said. The answer may be a move from New England to the Bismarck-Mandan area, where behavioral health and other health services are more available and family visits are easier to accomplish, he said.
There is a need to examine the billing system in behavioral health, Nelson added. The state’s substance abuse voucher program has become a payment of first resort rather than last resort for providers, causing the program to become less efficient and inadequate to meet the needs, he said.
Nelson has served in the House since 1997. He brings experience as chairman of the Human Resources Section of the House Appropriations Committee.
“With that experience, I have the ability to drive policies that, hopefully, benefit rural North Dakota as well as urban areas,” he said.
He also brings experience to the Legislature on water issues, currently serving on the All Seasons Water Users District Board. He has served on the state rural water board and is on the legislative interim Water Topics Committee. He has served as a township officer and school board member.
Weisz had served in the North Dakota House for 24 years, including 20 years as chairman of either the Transportation Committee or Human Services Committee. He also served as a township supervisor for more than 40 years.
“I believe that my experience in dealing with local issues and state issues makes me well qualified to serve the residents of my district,” he said.
“The number one issue we will be facing this session is our anticipated revenue shortfall due to the COVID pandemic, low energy prices and a tough ag economy. Fortunately, the Legislature has some money in reserves to help make up the shortfalls, but it will be important that we prioritize critical services that our citizens need. We will most likely need to use some of the earnings from the Legacy Fund to help balance the budget,” he said.
Weisz has farmed all his life in the district and has been involved in various other businesses.