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Rep. Pollert: Holmberg’s decision to resign as leader of legislative management committee was ‘the right thing’

Lawmakers react to Holmberg’s decision to step down as Legislative Management Committee chairman.

Ray Holmberg Dec. 29 2021.jpg
Ray Holmberg, shown here on Dec. 29, 2021.
Korrie Wenzel / Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS – Sen. Ray Holmberg’s Wednesday resignation as chairman of the state Legislative Management Committee was “the right thing” to do, according to a longtime leader in the North Dakota Legislature.

State Rep. Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, told the Grand Forks Herald that he supports the decision by Holmberg, a Grand Forks Republican who announced he will step down as the leader of the powerful committee after it was reported last week that Holmberg exchanged scores of text messages with a man who at the time was jailed on child pornography charges . Holmberg remains on the committee, but not as leader.

“He did the right thing by stepping aside, and he has some things to take care of and he needs to work on that,” said Pollert. “We as legislators need to continue to work forward with what work we’re having to do as well.”

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It’s the latest news in a story that first was reported Friday, April 15, by the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which uncovered phone records of Nicholas James Morgan-Derosier, 34, who was in the Grand Forks County Jail at the time of the text exchanges with Holmberg. Inmates are allowed to text via a paid service.

Through a public records request, The Forum obtained the jail’s log of text messages exchanged between Holmberg’s phone number and Morgan-Derosier. All told, they exchanged 72 text messages over two days in August; of those, 65 were exchanged in a two-hour span.

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Holmberg said the texts were about home repair work, but the longtime senator said he couldn’t prove it, since the texts are “just gone.” He changed his phone number in December.

Calls for his resignation from Legislative Management came shortly after the Forum first broke the story. Although Holmberg earlier this year announced he will not run for reelection, he technically still is a member of the Legislature and remains chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Pollert — who praised Holmberg’s work on behalf of Grand Forks, the local Air Force Base and UND — declined to say whether Holmberg should step down as chairman of the Appropriations Committee as well, saying the decision is up to the Senate.

Democrat Rep. Josh Boschee, minority leader of the House from Fargo, said he does not believe Holmberg should resign from the Senate Appropriations Committee. He also doesn’t believe Holmberg should resign as a senator, since the Legislature is not in session at the moment. That position may change however, if more information about the text exchanges between Holmberg and Morgan-Derosier is revealed.

“At this point, all that I know is that he has had conversations with someone who was in jail,” Boschee said.

Boschee said he spoke with Holmberg earlier on Wednesday, April 20. Boschee said he agreed with Holmberg’s decision to step down from Legislative Management, and he noted Holmberg’s concern about the continuing work of the committee.

“It's in his best interest and the best interest of the Legislature that he did step aside from that leadership position,” Boschee said. “He and I had a conversation this morning about it, and he was wanting to make sure that we can keep doing our work without the situation he's going through being a distraction (from) that.”

When contacted Wednesday, Sen. Curt Kreun, R-Grand Forks, said he had only recently learned of Holmberg’s resignation as chairman of the Legislative Management committee. He said Holmberg should not resign from his position on Senate Appropriations — another powerful legislative panel — and he cautioned against jumping to conclusions. More information is needed to form an opinion, he said.

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“I think we need to get more facts to come out and find out what's really going on,” Kreun said. “There are two sides to every story so I think we have to make sure we listen to (Holmberg’s side) as well as the other side.”

Sen. Scott Meyer, R-Grand Forks, also said he supports Holmberg’s decision to leave the Legislative Management Committee. Like Kreun, Meyer said much remains to be known about the situation, and he is waiting for more facts to be presented.

“If (Holmberg) thinks it's going to be a distraction for the interim committee and leadership going forward, I support his decision to step away from that committee and let Rep. Pollert chair for the remainder of the interim,” Meyer said.

Resigning from any other posts, however, should be Holmberg’s decision, Meyer said.

Meyer, who said he had not spoken with Holmberg as of Wednesday afternoon, noted that Holmberg has not been charged with a crime.

“There's so much information that I think we just need to find out first before I could make any sort of decision on it,” he said. “Obviously, (Holmberg’s legacy) is going to have a shadow on it.”

The Herald reached out to Grand Forks’ other state senator, Democrat JoNell Bakke, seeking comment, but she did not return phone messages prior to this report’s publication.

Mike Nowatzki, spokesman for Gov. Doug Burgum, said the governor “agrees with Sen. Holmberg’s decision to step down from his Legislative Management leadership position given the current circumstances and potential for distraction. The governor respects the Legislature’s responsibility in dealing with matters involving its own members and will continue to monitor the situation in conjunction with legislative leadership.”

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Holmberg, reported last year as tied for the longest-serving state senator in the nation, was first elected to the Legislature in 1976. He has been notably lauded in recent months. In December, he was named the Grand Forks Herald’s Person of the Year after he received credit from various sources for helping the community secure hundreds of millions in state funds for various development projects — all in the course of the regular 2021 legislative session and a subsequent special session.

In early March, his decision to not seek reelection prompted an outpouring of praise, including from Burgum and all three of North Dakota’s congressional delegates.

The Herald's Adam Kurtz, Ingrid Harbo and Korrie Wenzel contributed to this report.

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