Governor bills North Dakota for lost fight over House seat

December 17, 2020 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota taxpayers are on the hook for legal expenses in Gov. Doug Burgum’s failed attempt to fill a legislative seat won by a man who died before taking office.

The Republican governor’s office is claiming more than $12,000 in attorney fees and court costs, according to billing records obtained by The Associated Press late Wednesday after an open records request.

The North Dakota Supreme Court in a unanimous Nov. 24 ruling said Burgum does not have the authority to appoint someone to the state House seat.


North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who must approve the billing, said Thursday morning that his office had not seen it yet. The funds would come out of the governor’s office budget.

Stenehjem, who represented the state in lawsuit brought by Burgum, had said the governor’s lawsuit “was a waste of taxpayer dollars and time.”

“We are going to look at the billing,” Stenehjem said, refusing to elaborate Thursday.

Burgum had argued the Constitution gave him the right to appoint someone to a state House seat that was won Nov. 3 by David Andahl even though the 55-year-old died Oct. 5 from coronavirus complications. The House district represents a sprawling rural area north of Bismarck.

Burgum, a wealthy former software executive, gave more than $3.1 million of his own money to a political action committee that targeted the last holder of the seat, fellow Republican Jeff Delzer. Backed by Burgum’s campaign cash, Andahl and fellow District 8 House candidate Dave Nehring had won the Republicans’ endorsements and voters’ nominations in the June primary.

A day after the November election, Burgum appointed Washburn coal executive Wade Boeshans to the seat. Burgum sued the Legislature, secretary of state, and Democratic and Republican activists to bring the issue to the high court.

Republican lawmakers and Stenehjem contended that only the legislative branch had the authority to fill the vacancy. Republicans had chosen Delzer, a farmer known as a staunch protector of public money, to fill the seat.

Delzer, who has spent nearly 30 years in the Legislature, was sworn-in to his old seat earlier this month. He also was re-appointed by legislative leaders to head the powerful House appropriations committee.

Burgum, who won a second term in November, has long vowed to “reinvent government,” shake up the “good old boy” party establishment and control “runaway spending” as the state’s oil boom was fading.