Gov. Doug Burgum and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem are clashing over who has authority to fill the seat won by deceased Republican Candidate David Andahl, who died Oct. 5 with COVID-19.
In an unprecedented move, the governor appointed Wade Boeshans for the District 8 House seat. His release says, “No other method is provided by this constitution or by law” to fill the vacancy. That’s counter to an Oct. 13 opinion from the attorney general, which would result in the state Republican party filling the vacancy.
Stenehjem says Burgum is sidestepping the statutory process.
“It would be entirely inappropriate for somebody in the executive branch to decide to appoint somebody else, impose in fact, on a legislative district a lawmaker that had never been vetted or considered even by the local people,” Stenehjem said.
Stenehjem says the constitution allows for the legislature to make laws deciding what happens, and in this case, the law allows the party to fill a vacancy once it would be declared Dec. 1.
District 8 Republican Party Chairman Loren DeWitz says his party had planned to have a meeting to decide on Andahl’s replacement, but now he’s not sure what to do following Burgum’s announcement.
“I wasn’t sure where he was coming from, so I contacted the Attorney General’s office and Secretary of State and they’re saying we need to proceed as planned,” DeWitz said.
So why the change? Stenehjem says he has an idea.
“Everybody speculates that what has happened and what the dynamics are in District 8. It is well known that the governor invested heavily in seeing to the defeat of one of the legislators up there and no doubt there’s some bad feelings between them,” Stenehjem said.
Burgum donated $1.85 million to Andahl’s primary defeat of former Representative Jeff Delzer, who’s clashed with the governor in the past. House Minority Leader Josh Boschee says the news is concerning and disturbs the separation of powers.
“That the governor continues to exert control over that — it’s not appropriate and there’s going to be a lot of push back that’s for sure,” Boschee said.
So far, the election hasn’t been officially certified by the state canvassing board, so Andahl has not technically been elected. Once the election is certified, it’s up to Secretary of State Al Jaeger to make it official, and Stenehjem says he’s instructed Jaeger follow his initial opinion.
But for now, District 8 party Chairman Dewitz says he doesn’t know what to expect moving forward.
More will be known on how this seat is filled once Andahl’s election is officially certified by the State Canvassing Board, which meets next week.