ND Senate leaders serving last term look back on 2021 sessions, outlook for future

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Several state lawmakers have recently announced their intent to seek re-election or retirement next year. That includes both the Majority and Minority Leaders of the Senate, who won’t be running.

Minority Leader Joan Heckaman won’t serve another term after redistricting eliminated her district.

Looking back this year, she says she’s proud of the work Democrats have done, even though much of her party’s legislation doesn’t make it past the GOP stronghold.

“Increased funding for childcare, and we think that’s critical to the workforce development out here and to filling our workforce for sure. Paid family leave we also feel is another important benefit,” Heckaman said.

Heckaman says COVID put a damper on campaigning the last election, but she hopes Democrats can make a bigger dent next year with door-knocking and community events if it’s safe.

Currently, the Senate has seven Dem-NPL lawmakers to the Republicans’ 40.

“I think we’re ready. We have some candidates already in line and they’re looking forward to what I would call a brisk campaign,” Heckaman said.

The Minority Leader also says politics has become less civil — something she would like to see improve.

“We can bring back respect and civility. It’s eroding a little bit in North Dakota, and I hope it doesn’t take the turn that national politics has,” Heckaman said.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, who is also not running again, says he’s noticed that, too.

“Well there’s no question, people get really upset, and it all started because we have these social freedom issues — the masking, the ‘you have to shut down your business, ‘you have to vaccinate.’ All these things, people got worked up,” Wardner said.

Warder says his highlights include developing a plan for Legacy Fund earnings and passing the bonding bill to fund infrastructure.

Looking forward, Wardner says lawmakers should prioritize shoring up the Legacy Fund and preparing for the possibility that the state may not have as much oil revenue in the future, according to some estimates.

“Oil revenue may start coming to a closure in the next 15 years,” Wardner said. “In that time we need to have that legacy fund built up so that it can meet the needs that we have in the state without raising any taxes.”

Both leaders left words of wisdom for whoever takes up their posts next.

“Don’t be afraid to delegate to the members of your caucus, because we’ve got some really talented people. And the other thing is treating them with respect and making sure that they all know they’re all important,” Wardner said.

“Keep their focus on what their priorities are and to make sure you know that you’re there to work for the people,” Heckaman said.

In total, 99 seats are up for election next year, with primaries happening June 14 and the general election on Nov. 8.

Heckaman has served in the legislature since 2006 and Wardner since 1990.

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