Here’s how North Dakota legislature’s new leaders plan to approach the job
Republican lawmakers recently tapped Minot Sen. David Hogue to lead the Senate and Dickinson Rep. Mike Lefor to lead the House of Representatives. Forum News Service asked the new majority leaders about their guiding principles and plans for the new role.
BISMARCK — After years under consistent leadership, the North Dakota legislature has begun a transformation of its top ranks.
Republican lawmakers recently tapped Minot Sen. David Hogue to lead the Senate and Dickinson Rep. Mike Lefor to lead the House of Representatives.
Hogue, who was first elected in 2008, works as an attorney and served many years as a Judge Advocate General's Corps for the North Dakota National Guard. Lefor, a legislator since 2014, owns a property rental company and served more than two decades in Dickinson local government.
The western lawmakers took over for Dickinson Sen. Rich Wardner and Carrington Rep. Chet Pollert, who are retiring at the end of the month after a combined 54 years in the legislature.
Forum News Service asked the new majority leaders about their guiding principles and plans for the new role. Here are their responses, which have been trimmed for length considerations.
How will you approach the job of majority leader?
Hogue: “My inclinations are to mentor and coach and to empower my colleagues to lead. I have no desire to be the policy leader on certain issues. My job is to get the right people in the right positions and to let them take charge.”
Lefor: “Collaboration is something that I favor the most… I realize the leader has to make final decisions from time to time, but I feel really good and confident about the quality of the people that we have serving in the House of Representatives. And so I'll be able to reach out and get topic matter experts pretty easily.”
What are the most significant challenges facing the North Dakota Legislature?
Hogue: “We have to tackle our workforce shortage head on. We can’t dilly dally, we can’t take half measures. I just feel like the Senate is going to drive headlong into trying to solve the problem. It'll be a combination of incentives. It will use resources to try to solve it. We're in competition with Minnesota, South Dakota and Montana for workers, but we have the resources to outcompete.”
Lefor: “Workforce recruitment. Obviously, we have a very low unemployment rate, and businesses are not able to fill all their positions. So what are the strategies that we're going to utilize to recruit people to come into North Dakota?”
Offering tax relief to North Dakotans and addressing the lack of behavioral health specialists are also priorities, Lefor said.
How would you define yourself politically?
Hogue: “I am a right-leaning conservative.”
Lefor: “I would say I'm a conservative… I was always brought up that God, faith and families are the most important thing. They're the foundation of our communities.”
Close to 30% of legislators in next year’s legislative session will be new on the job. How do you plan to help them along?
Hogue: “We're going to double down on education. We are going to establish a systemic process where everybody is a leader, everybody has a portfolio with which they will be expected to educate the rest of the Senate caucus.”
Lefor: “I'm not concerned about the quality of the people that we have here. The issue is just educating them on how the Legislative Assembly works. Beyond that, I think we're in pretty good hands.”
How do you plan to address philosophical differences between moderate Republican legislators and ultra-conservative legislators?
Hogue: “I certainly don't have any grandiose strategic plan to say we're going to be a monolithic entity that has no differences of opinions between the different informal groups within our party… I do know that we will be respectful of one another, we will encourage and support one another, and we will get to know one another on a personal level.”
Lefor: “It starts with communication. You sit down, have a cup of coffee, you visit and you try to understand where they're coming from… To me, it's going to be less about politics and more about getting to know people on a professional level so that they can excel with the eight-year (term) limit now in place.”
How will you base your decisions on committee assignments, and did you agree to any placements prior to your election as majority leader?
Hogue: “All of my decisions are guided by what's best for the people in North Dakota.”
Hogue said he did not agree to any committee placements before his election as majority leader, but his choice for chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee has been narrowed to three Republican senators: Ron Sorvaag, Brad Bekkedahl and Terry Wanzek. Minot Sen. Karen Krebsbach was in the running but pulled herself out of consideration, he added.
Lefor: “I did (agree to one committee placement), and that was (House) Appropriations Chair Don Vigesaa because I believe, in that position, you need to get a running head start… We want to pick the most capable people, the people that we think are going to build a sense of team and bring us together.”
Each chamber will have a new legislator in charge of budget writers after the resignation of former Senate Appropriations Chairman Ray Holmberg and an electoral loss by House Appropriations Chairman Jeff Delzer.
The Republican-dominated legislature will convene for its regular session in January.