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Legislative candidates meet in forum ahead of Nov. 8 election

Candidates for the North Dakota Legislature sparred over the state's budget situation and past votes in a forum at Grand Forks City Hall Tuesday night.

Kyle Thorson, candidate for District 18, gives his opening statement during a forum at City Hall in Grand Forks Tuesday. (Joshua Komer / Grand Forks Herald)
Kyle Thorson, candidate for District 18, gives his opening statement during a forum at City Hall in Grand Forks Tuesday. (Joshua Komer / Grand Forks Herald)

Candidates for the North Dakota Legislature sparred over the state's budget situation and past votes in a forum at Grand Forks City Hall Tuesday night.

The forum featured candidates for Grand Forks Districts 18 and 42, which are both currently represented by Democrats. But impending vacancies in some House seats and a full slate of Republican challengers means there were plenty of new faces on display Tuesday.

District 18 covers downtown Grand Forks and an area north of U.S. Highway 2, and District 42 includes UND and nearby neighborhoods.

While there were instances of disagreement during the forum, which was broken up into two sessions between the eight House candidates and four Senate candidates, they did find some common ground.

Sen. Connie Triplett, a Democrat who is seeking to defend her District 18 seat against Republican Scott Meyer, said North Dakota is not in a state of fiscal "crisis," but the budget does need to be recalibrated. Curt Kreun, a Republican running to unseat Democratic Sen. Mac Schneider in District 42, seemed to agree.

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"The sky is not falling," Kreun said. "I don't agree with across-the-board cuts, either."

On that latter point, Schneider appeared to agree. He said allotments, or across-the-board cuts that were implemented this year, "make absolutely no sense with today's ... modern North Dakota economy."

Schneider said the state can find savings by taking nonviolent offenders who need addiction treatment out of the prison system.

Meyer said lawmakers will have to build revenue by creating jobs.

"We need to create an environment to provide quality jobs," he said.

Later, Schneider criticized Kreun, a former state lawmaker, for voting for a bill to put a measure before voters to restructure the State Board of Higher Education, which he said would have threatened UND's accreditation and "stripped student representation" off of the board. Almost three-fourths of voters came out against the measure in the 2014 election.

"My opponent voted on the wrong side of that one," Schneider said.

In response, Kreun said the bill "gave us the opportunity to explain to the state what could be done and what couldn't be done.

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"My idea was to get that out into the public, so the public would understand what's taking place," he said. "We still have the same structure, which is fine. But the other one would have worked as well. And we could have put a committee together, so everybody could have been represented."

House debate

Like the Senate candidates, those running for the House spent much of the forum talking about the state's fiscal situation.

Jake Blum, a Republican House candidate in District 42, called incumbent Democrat Kylie Oversen a "career politician" and her running mate, Grant Hauschild, an "aspiring" one. Blum is running alongside Emily O'Brien in that House race.

"If these two had their way last legislative session, we would have been left with more spending, bigger government and a larger budget deficit," he said.

Hauschild argued "this whole budget mess was created because of a lack of leadership by a supermajority of Republicans in Bismarck."

Oversen, who is also the chairwoman of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party, said there are efficiencies that can be found in government programs. As an example, she said it's much more efficient and cheaper to keep people in their homes rather than in nursing homes.

"We have a severe lack of home and community-based services across the state," Oversen said.

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Hauschild also called for implementing a "contingency budget," an idea his fellow Democrat, District 18 candidate Kyle Thorson, agreed with.

"There's more than enough money in this state to make sure those priorities are taken care of," he said. "It doesn't mean we have to raise taxes to do it."

Thorson, along with current District 42 representative and now District 18 Democratic candidate Corey Mock, is facing Republicans Steve Vetter and Allen Beireis in that House race. Vetter emphasized the need for affordable housing in Grand Forks and highlighted a plan to alleviate the situation.

"The basic blue collar guy, making $40,000 to $50,000, your young professionals coming out of school, they have nowhere to live," he said.

Beireis, meanwhile, called for bipartisan solutions to issues facing the state, a departure from the contentious nature of national races this election cycle.

"You have to get to Bismarck and build strong relationships with the other representatives, and work across the aisle and not just (with) representatives in your own party," he said. "I think we need to bring everybody back together and work as one unit."

Tuesday's forum was conducted by the Chamber of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks' Government Affairs Committee.

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