Plain Talk: After serving almost 50 years, Sen. Holmberg talks about the challenges ahead for North Dakota


MINOT, N.D. — In 1977, Jimmy Carter was taking over the White House. Art Link was governor of North Dakota. “You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone was at the top of the charts, and movies like “Star Wars,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and “Smokey and the Bandit” were drawing audiences to theaters.

Also, Sen. Ray Holmberg also took his seat in North Dakota’s Legislature for the first time.

Now, 46 years later, this constant in our state’s politics is calling it a career.

On this episode of Plain Talk, he reflects on his proudest accomplishment (promoting the UAV industry in his hometown of Grand Forks), his favorite governor (Jack Dalrymple), and the biggest challenges facing North Dakota in the future, including the growing acrimony in the NDGOP, its dominant political party, and the uncertainty of the oil, gas, and coal industries.

About the rancor in the NDGOP, Holmberg said many voters are turned off by local meetings where attendees “listen to people scream ‘point of order, point of order, point of order’ for an hour.” He said he expects incumbent Senator John Hoeven to win on the June ballot, but that the Donald Trump-aligned wing of the party is “very skilled” at organizing for the convention process, and more moderate Republicans need to get better at it.

What’s changed from the beginning of his almost five decades in the Legislature to the end? Holmberg says more people than ever are engaged in a process that, thanks to technology, is also more open and accessible than ever before.

When he started, he said the only way most North Dakotans could reach their lawmakers during the session, other than traveling to Bismarck, was by sending a letter or calling a toll-free telephone number and leaving them a message. Now the public can watch floor sessions and committee hearings and email or even text their lawmakers in real-time.

Something that’s both good and bad, Holmberg says.

How about term limits? Holmberg says he thinks a proposed ballot measure implementing a two-term limit on lawmakers will pass and make careers like his impossible in the future, and that’s not a good thing. It will “shift power” from lawmakers to legislative staff, lobbyists, and executive branch people who aren’t elected and have no limits on the length of their careers.

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