Recently the state’s political circles have been buzzing about state Rep. Bill Oliver, a Republican from New Town, supposedly moving to Thief River Falls in Minnesota where he’s managing an O’Reilly Auto Parts Store.
This sort of thing has been controversial in recent years. Current House Minority Leader Corey Mock, a Democrat, moved out of his legislative district before his last term was up. While he was re-elected in his new district, during his previous term his wife was actually elected to the Grand Forks City Council representing a ward that wasn’t in her husband’s district.
Former state Rep. Kris Wallman, also a Democrat, actually moved to California during her term in office, and delayed her resignation from office until the deadline passed for a special election so that the local Democratic committee could appoint her replacement.
This became such an issue that lawmakers put a constitutional amendment, Measure 1, on the ballot in 2016 which requires that lawmakers live in their districts. It passed with more than 86 percent of the vote.
So it matters if Oliver isn’t living in his district.
I wanted to check on the rumor, so I put in a call to the O’Reilly Store in Thief River Falls.
Rep. Oliver answered the phone.
What’s he doing in Thief River Falls? He says it’s a short term assignment for the company he works for. “I’m working for a corporation that has allowed me to keep my residency in North Dakota,” he told me adding that he “won’t be here long.”
“I’m doing what I can to make a living,” he told me.
“I live in New Town,” he added. “I own my home in New Town.”
Oliver attributes the rumors about his residency to his Democratic opponent Kenton Onstad who he defeated in 2016. Onstad was, when he was in the House, a member of the Democratic leadership.
I think Oliver’s situation presents one of the real obstacles to handling legislative residency requirements. It’s clear that most North Dakotans think lawmakers ought to live in their districts. What Mock and Wallman did was the impetus for amending the state constitution.
But lawmakers only serve part time. Meaning they have to earn a living outside of their legislative duties. As we all know, some jobs require people to travel. Some jobs require people to live away from home for periods of time.
Should that disqualify someone like Oliver from service in the Legislature?
It’s probably a question best left to voters.