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Port: Ray Holmberg resignation spares his fellow lawmakers the pain of expelling him

"Recent news stories have become a distraction for the important work of the legislative assembly during its interim meetings," Holmberg wrote. "Consequently, in respect for the institution and its other 140 members, I shall resign my Senate seat effective June 1, 2022."

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Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, gives a speech after receiving an award from the Grand Forks East Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce on Dec. 28, 2020.
Forum News Service file photo
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MINOT, N.D. — In the first 131 years, four months, and two days of its history, North Dakota's lawmakers had never exercised their constitutional authority to expel an elected member of the state Legislature.

Then on March 4, 2021, a supermajority of House members voted to expel Rep. Luke Simons , a Republican from Dickinson, after my reporting revealed a long history of accusations of sexual harassment.

Just 434 days later, lawmakers were spared having to consider another expulsion — this time thanks to a timely announcement of resignation.

Sen. Ray Holmberg, a political force as the longest-serving lawmaker in state history, announced that he is retiring from the Legislature effective June 1, 2022.

"Recent news stories have become a distraction for the important work of the legislative assembly during its interim meetings. I want to do what I can, within my power, to lessen such distractions," he wrote in today's announcement distributed via email. "Consequently, in respect for the institution and its other 140 members, I shall resign my Senate seat effective June 1, 2022. This date will give District #17 leaders enough time to go through the process and select a replacement."

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An emailed release from Sen. Ray Holmberg (R-Grand Forks) announcing his resignation from the state Senate.
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Previous reporting by April Baumgarten found Holmberg had exchanged 72 texts with a man currently in jail over charges related to child pornography.

Since that story from The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, attention has turned to a 2020 sexual assault accusation made against Holmberg on Twitter by a former North Dakota man named Caton Todd. I interviewed Todd, who said the incident had taken place at Holmberg's condo in Miami.

“We’re investigating this,” Holmberg's attorney Mark Friese said in an interview April 18. “That the two were acquainted and spent time together is not in dispute. Any accusations of inappropriate behavior we dispute.”

Holmberg had previously resigned his seat on the powerful Legislative Management committee .

Had Holmberg chosen to stay in office, lawmakers would face the ugly task of potentially expelling him, as they did with Simons.

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There are some differences between the two situations. Holmberg had already announced his retirement from the Senate before these recent headlines. Simons was a relatively young lawmaker who was just beginning his second term in office.

Also, the Legislature was in session when the accusations against Simons surfaced.

Article IV, Section 12 of the state constitution reads, in part: "With the concurrence of two-thirds of its elected members, either house may expel a member."

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The House expelled Simons during their regular session, when all of its members were already in Bismarck. To take that step again, the Legislature would have to be called back into session specifically for that purpose.

That could have happened in one of two ways.

Gov. Doug Burgum could have called lawmakers into a special session. He has the authority to do that any time he wants.

Alternatively, legislative leadership could have called themselves back into session. The lawmakers have used 76 of the 80 session days they're allowed by the state constitution every biennium (their special session late last year was convened at Burgum's request, so those days didn't count against the limit). They have four days remaining which would have been available to address this situation.

Instead, Holmberg took the burden off his legislative colleagues and announced his own resignation from the Senate seat he's held since the President Jimmy Carter administration, which was something his hometown newspaper, the Grand Forks Herald, has called for in a recent editorial.

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Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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