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Our view: It’s time for Holmberg to step away from state government

As questions mount, we believe it’s best for Holmberg to now resign all posts, connections and affiliations with state government.

Herald pull quote, 4/23/22
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Sen. Ray Holmberg has stepped down as chairman of the Legislative Management Committee, a panel of state lawmakers that oversees the Legislature’s work when not in session.

The Republican from Grand Forks made that announcement Wednesday, amid a growing scandal that first was reported last week by the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. As questions mount, we believe it’s best for Holmberg to now resign all posts, connections and affiliations with state government.

Filling the position for the next six months would be the responsibility of the Republican Party in Holmberg’s District 17. Let them begin this task.

In August, as reported by the Forum, Holmberg engaged in a flurry of text messages over two days with Nicholas James Morgan-Derosier, who at the time was in custody at the Grand Forks County jail on suspicion of child pornography and sex abuse crimes. All told, there were 72 texts between them. The Forum gained the information via a public records request through the jail, where inmates can pay to make calls and texts. Notably, those communications are logged, showing the numbers that inmates dial or who they receive communications from. And since Holmberg has for years been so genial and open with the media, most reporters in the region have Holmberg’s cell number all but memorized.

In a follow-up call with the Grand Forks Herald, Holmberg said the conversation was about “all kinds of different things. … He was an employee or, I had hired him.” When asked to produce the texts, however, Holmberg said he couldn’t.

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“They’re just gone,” he said.

Adding to the concern, Holmberg changed his cellphone number late in 2021 and last month announced he will not run again for the Legislature. When he made the announcement, the always available Holmberg would not answer reporters’ questions.

Now, as reported in other media, a person has alleged, online, that Holmberg sexually assaulted him 10 years ago in Florida. When asked about it by KVRR, Holmberg declined to comment and referred questions to a lawyer he recently retained.

Importantly, Holmberg has not been charged with anything, either with respect to this accusation or for any association he may have with Morgan-Derosier. But, at the very least, an awkward pall has formed on Holmberg and his noted career as a state leader.

Many people have sung his praises in recent months, including the Herald, which declared him the 2021 Person of the Year after numerous sources gave Holmberg credit for helping Grand Forks and the region secure hundreds of millions of dollars last year for local development projects. He still is a member of the Legislative Management Committee, and he still is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Although he will not seek reelection, he also is still a member of the Legislature.

Some are urging Holmberg to produce the texts he exchanged with Morgan-Derosier, and we join those calls. Nothing short of full disclosure on those texts will ease concern.

Over the years, Holmberg has been lauded by so many, and especially last month, when he announced his decision to not run for reelection. He has been a trusted state leader who – even though he’s phasing himself out of state government – still is technically in the Legislature and still atop the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

Holmberg has been, by so many accounts (and reported by the Herald) a legislative mastermind, with unique abilities to maneuver difficult state budgets. He has brought home the bacon for Grand Forks innumerable times. We all should appreciate that.

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When he stepped down as chairman of Legislative Management, he said “recent events and discussions have made it clear to me that (the committee) does not need to be any part of that discussion.” The same should apply to all of his legislative positions.

Considering the distractions that have cropped up around him, coupled with his
inability or unwillingness to demonstrate there is no cause for concern, he should step down from all state positions.

What to read next
In a report this week in the Grand Forks Herald, the owner of the Drayton, North Dakota, Valley News & Views said that if a buyer isn’t found by next month, the weekly publication will close so she can focus on her health.
Whereas longtime elected officials do gain power with their longevity, they also gain valuable experience that cannot be quickly absorbed by newcomers.