Republicans back newcomer for US House

Democrats fill all but 2 slots

Merrill Piepkorn

FARGO — A military veteran from Cando, making his first run for statewide office, earned the North Dakota Republican Party’s endorsement for U.S. House in an out-of-the-ordinary voting event at the state convention in Fargo Saturday.

The endorsement went to Alex Balazs, who served in multiple military branches and worked for the U.S. State Department before moving to the family farm near Cando. He entered the race in mid-March.

Only Balazs and Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak sought the endorsement. However, a large number of delegates threw their votes to former state legislator Rick Becker of Bismarck on the first round. Becker is running for the House but was not eligible to seek endorsement because he ran as an independent for the U.S. Senate against Republican Sen. John Hoeven in 2022.

In the second vote, Balazs edged out Fedorchak, yet came short of the number of votes needed to win. At that point, Fedorchak withdrew, giving the endorsement to Balazs. Fedorchak indicated she will run on the June 11 primary ballot with Balazs and Becker.

“Alex Balazs’s message of change in D.C. resonated with a significant block of delegates, but he is still virtually unknown,” said District 3 Chair Greg Demme, Minot, who participated in the convention. “Building trust with voters is a significant part of this process. It remains to be seen how he plans to accomplish that in and through the party.”

Katrina Christiansen

District 38 Chair Roger Neshem, Berthold, said he would have preferred another round of voting rather than see Fedorchak drop out. He said settling races at the primary is unfortunate.

“I feel in primaries, the money wins, and at conventions, the people win,” Neshem said. “Alex will probably have a pretty big uphill battle just because he’ll be battling against almost unlimited funds compared to what he has.”

Demme called the convention overall “wildly successful.”

“The greatest victory this weekend wasn’t for any individual candidate. The greatest victory was for the people whose voices are rarely heard or even acknowledged by many who hold the reins of power. The convention is the best opportunity for the average delegate — who gave up an entire weekend and plenty of money to attend — to have their say.” Demme said. “Sometimes that will get messy and may lead to conflict, which has always been the nature of any meaningful party convention. But many of us understand we’re there to hear the individual and collective voices of the delegates, who have for years now expressed discontent with being shut out of the convention process, at both the district and state levels in some cases. That’s why we come together, to hash out issues, not just rubber stamp decisions made by people who perhaps have gotten too comfortable with the authority that comes with their position.”

U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer received the Republican endorsement to run for another six years. He served in the U.S. House from 2013 until joining the Senate in 2019.

Trygve Hammer

In another vote that favored a newcomer, the Republican letter of support for the nonpartisan superintendent of public instruction position went to a former director of the state’s home school association who has advocated for restoring Christian principles into public schools. Jim Bartlett of Bottineau received the support over Kirsten Baesler, who has held the position since 2012.

At the Democratic-NPL Convention, also this past weekend in Fargo, Democrats voted as anticipated in endorsing Katrina Christiansen for the U.S. Senate and Trygve Hammer for the U.S. House.

“I promised you I would be back,” Hammer, who previously ran for Public Service Commission, told delegates. Delivering a speech that revved up the crowd, he scoffed at the argument that a Democrat can’t win, concluding his remarks with “I am a North Dakota Democrat, and I plan to win.”

Originally from Velva, Hammer served as a helicopter pilot, a forward air controller, a military attache at the U.S. Embassy in Rome, and as an instructor and company officer at the U.S. Naval Academy. He deployed to Iraq in 2003 as an infantry officer and forward air controller. In 2010, he retired from the Marine Corps Reserve as a major.

In his civilian life, Hammer taught 7-12 grade science in Granville, worked as a roughneck on oil rigs in the Bakken and currently is a counselor for Job Corps in Minot.

Christiansen, an educator at the University of Jamestown, has rural roots in Nebraska. She holds a doctorate in agricultural engineering and has worked as an ethanol plant engineer and researcher for a large ag processor.

“Some people have written off this race — me, a Democrat, a woman, winning a U.S. Senate seat in North Dakota. But those people don’t know me. They don’t know that every hurdle I have encountered in my life is not a roadblock, but a problem to be solved,” Christiansen said in a release. She added her campaign has already raised half a million dollars.

Congressman Kelly Armstrong received the Republican party’s endorsement for governor after Lt. Gov. Tammy Miller opted to go straight to the primary, bypassing the convention. Armstrong and Miller will compete for the Republican party’s spot on the Nov. 5 general election ballot.

Armstrong picked Michelle Strinden, a Fargo state representative since 2019, as his lieutenant governor. Miller has chosen state Commerce Commissioner Josh Teigen.

Armstrong has represented North Dakota in the U.S. House since 2019.

“North Dakota’s greatest resource is our people and that is what this race is about,” Armstrong said in a statement following his endorsement. “I have spent my life defending North Dakotans, our liberties and our way of life. Our campaign will continue to focus on being accessible, transparent and authentic with voters not only during the campaign, but in the governor’s office. I look forward to working with North Dakota Republicans to build on this momentum as we continue sharing our conservative message with North Dakota voters.”

The Democrat-NPL Party chose Merrill Piepkorn, a Fargo senator and assistant minority leader, to run for governor, and Patrick Hart as its lieutenant governor candidate.

In speeches to delegates accepting their nominations, both candidates stressed the need to bring North Dakota together and get past partisan divisions. Piepkorn stressed support for affordable childcare and school lunches, reforming but not eliminating property taxes and developing agriculture and energy opportunities. He also said healthcare decisions shouldn’t be in the hands of the government, according to a release issued after his endorsement.

“If we want strong families and healthy communities, we need to get serious about mental health care and treatment for addictions. We need to protect the land and heal the wounds between us as cultures. We need to talk to each other again as neighbors,” Piepkorn said.

As a small business owner, Hart said, he understands firsthand what it takes to support small business and North Dakota’s main streets. North Dakota needs to welcome a workforce instead of driving them away, he said in a release. Support for secondary agriculture markets, economic models like co-ops, and collective buying to keep rural grocery shelves stocked can benefit the whole state but also “can keep small towns that may be one bar or one grocery store away from turning out all the lights.”

Originally from Stanley, Piepkorn has been a producer and performer for Prairie Airwaves and Prairie Public Broadcasting for almost 25 years. He has served in the state Senate since 2017.

Hart, originally from Pembina, lives in Bismarck. He worked as a fertilizer auditor for the North Dakota Department of Agriculture and as a grain warehouse inspector for the Public Service Commission. He is now a partner in Anytime Works, a general contracting company, and Anytime Rentals, a rental and real estate holding company, according to his biography. Hart has held officer positions in the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party and was a candidate for state auditor in 2020.

Citing GOP issues from email deletions and alleged child rape to culture wars, Souris Valley Dem-NPL Chair Logan Longtin said, “The Dem-NPL entered this convention with a renewed sense of purpose after all of these GOP scandals. One-party government doesn’t benefit anyone. We need for there to be accountability for the people entrusted with public office, but that can’t happen without competitive elections. We have great candidates like Trygve Hammer for Congress, a military veteran with experience in our state’s energy industry, who I think will really make a difference and show that the Dem-NPL has leaders who know what needs to be done for North Dakota to prosper.”

“North Dakota Dem-NPL has outstanding candidates statewide who deeply care about their communities and therefore have stepped up to be future, much needed, voices in Bismarck,” said Lisa Hermosillo, a first-time candidate running for the Minot-area’s District 38 House seat who attended the convention. “It is my sincere hope and plea that North Dakotans will give each candidate their consideration and to remember that despite party affiliation, we need each other. North Dakota deserves unity and balanced representation.”

Alex Deufel, a Democratic-NPL candidate for the Minot-area’s District 40 House, noted the party convention focused on bringing change to a state in which a supermajority of Republican legislators believe they know what is good for residents, regardless of what their constituents think.

Zach Raknerud, District 5 Democratic-NPL chairman, Minot, said the party endorsed kind and competent people as opposed to ideological extremists.

“While the NDGOP across town debated whether to charge someone with a felony who drives a loved one to Moorhead for an abortion, the Dem-NPL talked about investments in childcare that make starting a family easier,” he said. “I hope North Dakotans genuinely consider the people on their ballots and help moderate the worst impulses of the supermajority.”

Democrats endorsed Tracey Wilkie of Fargo, an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa who has been active in human rights and union movements, for the Public Service Commission. Republicans endorsed incumbent commissioner Randy Christmann.

Democrats endorsed Grand Forks attorney Tim Lamb for auditor but left vacant the slots for insurance commissioner and state treasurer. Republicans endorsed incumbents — Auditor Josh Gallion, Treasurer Thomas Beadle and Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfread.


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