The four candidates for the state House of Representatives running in Grand Forks’ District 18 — that’s downtown Grand Forks and surrounding neighborhoods, running northward along the river past Gateway Drive — come into the campaign with a wide range of political experience.
There’s a longtime incumbent Democrat, a first-term Republican seeking re-election, a School Board member and one relative newcomer to local politics. The four are vying for two seats in a working-class district that’s typically voted blue in recent election cycles, with a big exception in 2016 — when a red wave election sent Donald Trump to office on exactly the type of support he found in District 18.
Here’s a look at this year’s four candidates, listed in alphabetical order.
Jacqueline Hoffarth, Democratic-NPL
Jackie Hoffarth, 42, is a public health program specialist for the Grand Forks Public Health Department, where she does contact tracing. She is married with three children, one of whom is an adult, and holds bachelor's degrees in elementary education and social work and a master’s degree in social work from UND. Hoffarth is also a member of the Grand Forks School Board, winning election in 2018. She has done substantial work toward a doctorate in higher education, but has not completed the degree.
Hoffarth said she grew up in poverty and experienced homelessness — things that drive her to help people who might need a voice. She sums up her platform as one for a “healthy North Dakota,” and she means it both economically and literally.
“I’m running, to be very simple, because I love Grand Forks and I really believe in the power of local politics,” she said.
She expressed support for funding K-12 and higher education, and said she’s interested in stronger protections to keep people convicted of domestic violence — and are banned from owning firearms — from being able to do so. She’s also a strong proponent of support for behavioral health services.
Hoffarth describes her priorities in a budget in health terms: meeting basic health needs, keeping tabs on homelessness and worker health and safety and ensuring small business survival.
Hoffarth was previously employed as an assistant professor, but resigned from her post in November 2019, following a dispute with UND over a relationship with a student. In documents outlining that dispute, UND leaders say Hoffarth was in an inappropriate romantic relationship with a mid-30s undergraduate social work student who later entered UND’s graduate program.
Hoffarth has maintained that she followed university policy and professional rules for social workers — delaying the relationship until after the student’s graduation — and has emphasized that her resignation agreement with UND was not a dismissal.
Cindy Kaml, GOP
Kaml, 50, owns Happy Faces Childcare and is a real estate agent with three children — one of whom is an adult — and one grandchild. She holds a legal secretarial degree from Aakers Business College. She’s said she serves on multiple committees for the Grand Forks Association of Realtors.
Kaml said she’d like to make sure childcare stays affordable, accessible and safe, and said her real estate background makes her well-suited to work on measures to keep housing affordable — alongside other GOP candidates in her district, who are also involved in the real estate and housing professions.
“I was born and raised in Grand Forks. So Grand Forks is my heart,” she said. “I do understand the community. I work with people every day in this community. Law enforcement health care professionals, even, and I’m very into what’s going on in the community.”
She added that she’s concerned that grant dollars are sometimes available for different opportunities — like companies looking to subsidize childcare costs for their employees — but that often, potential grant-users are unaware of the opportunity.
Kaml also said she’s still studying how she would approach budget shortfalls next year.
“Because I’m new, I just don’t want to give an example that I can’t follow through with,” she said.
Corey Mock, Democratic-NPL (incumbent)
Mock, 35, is a realtor and a market manager for NextHome Legendary Properties. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from UND, and is married with two children. He’s also active with Downtown Grand Forks Rotary, is a board member for the Grand Forks Public Library Foundation and is an active volunteer with the American Legion Boys State Program.
Mock makes part of his case for re-election on his experience. He’s been a legislator since 2008, he’s previously served as House minority leader and he’s the current ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee.
“A big part of why I’m running for re-election is I’m proud to have experience to represent my neighbors and Grand Forks and serve our district especially well,” Mock said, arguing that he’s been an effective helping hand for Grand Forks.
Mock said he’s eyeing a wide range of regulations in the coming session that might be changed to make life easier for residents and businesses. The pandemic is radically changing daily life — how people work, shop and the like. Mock said he’s closely watching how best to help North Dakota move into a new normal, or whatever comes next.
His plans for how to handle a budget crunch sound similar. He rattles off a list of priorities — health care, infrastructure, education and more — but he said the state is at an inflection point.
“I really see us coming into the session in January and taking a big look at not just that budget for 2021 to ‘23 for the biennium. But looking at it long term: what is North Dakota going to be when we, quote-unquote, ‘grow up’?”
Steve Vetter, GOP (incumbent)
Vetter, 46, is a certified real estate appraiser for The Appraisal Office. A graduate of the University of Mary, he holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and organizational leadership. Vetter also attends St. Michael’s Catholic Church, is a member of the local Knights of Columbus and serves on the board for the Grand Forks Community Land Trust. He is married with no children.
He points to his record on a few key issues over the last four years: working to remove tax burdens on military pensions, backing medical marijuana access and securing funding for the local land trust. He’d like to do more work in Bismarck on affordable housing and property rights in the coming session, he said.
“I have proven to be an effective leader in fulfilling the promises I made and keeping them,” he said. “Basically going forward, I'd like to continue down that path and be an effective leader and defend our community and legacy of Grand Forks.”
In the coming budget crunch, Vetter said he’ll prioritize preserving funding for UND, infrastructure and local research and business interests.