By Daniel Arens
Cars were parked for blocks around Hazen City Hall last Wednesday evening.
The huge turnout is a testimony to the engagement from many local residents in the Republican Party and the future direction they desire to see for the party and the state.
Fred Stern, North Dakota District 33 GOP Chair, estimated the turnout to be around 400 people. The purpose of the meeting was to endorse the district’s GOP candidates for the North Dakota Legislative Assembly and nominate local delegates to represent the district at the NDGOP state convention April 1 and 2.
Stern said he was very pleased with how the evening went, both in terms of the massive turnout and in terms of the behavior of those who assembled.
“There was no shouting or screaming, no bad language,” he said. “Nobody was cutting anyone else
down. Everybody was behaving professionally.”
Both the District’s Senate seat and the two House seats were contested this year. Stern said that, while there were winners and losers, and not everybody was pleased with the results, they still showed respect to each other.
“People behaved in a kind manner to their fellow Republicans, and it meant a lot to me,” he said.
Heated contests erupted in District 33 this year, due in part to the redistricting process that brought parts of McLean and Morton counties into the district, and in part to major issues like the future of the coal industry and restrictions related to COVID-19 dominating political discourse around the nation and especially in North Dakota and this region.
In the race for North Dakota Senate, Keith Boehm defeated incumbent GOP Senator Jessica Unruh Bell of Beulah. Boehm has lived near Mandan his entire life.
Five candidates ran for the two North Dakota House of Representatives seats, including incumbents Bill Tveit and Jeff Delzer. Delzer, although he has served in the House for decades, is new to District 33 as a result of the redistricting, while former District 33 Representative Gary Kreidt now serves in a different district.
Both Tveit (rural Hazen) and Delzer (Underwood) were nominated again for the seats they currently hold, defeating the three challengers. These were Kari Bjerke Cutting (Beulah), Anna Novak (Hazen) and Andy Zachmeier (Mandan area).
Stern said the District 33 GOP’s policy is to give the actual results of the convention’s voting only to the candidates running for the seats.
Seven different local candidates threw their proverbial hat in the ring at the convention Feb. 16.
Keith Boehm has lived in the Mandan area his entire life. He is married to his wife Janelle. They have 8 children and 15 grandchildren.
Boehm has been involved in different aspects of the dominant building blocks of District 33 life. He spent over 42 years at Minnkota Power, in both blue collar and management positions, as well as business and living as a farmer/rancher.
Boehm defeated incumbent Jessica Unruh Bell. Bell has served as the District’s Senator since 2013,
making a name for herself largely through energy policy, having worked as an environmental manager with North American Coal as well.
Bell and her husband Michael live in Beulah. They have two children.
Jeff Delzer has had a long history in the North Dakota House. He has served there continuously since 1995, as well as in 1991-92. He is a farmer from the Underwood area.
Prior to the reorganizing of the North Dakota districts, Delzer represented District 8. He has been involved with several leadership positions, including chairing the Appropriations Committee.
Bill Tveit has served in the House since 2019. He and his wife Laurel, who live near Hazen Bay, had three children together, as well as 10 grandchildren.
Tveit served in the U.S. Army from 1968-71, as well as working with Dakota Central Social Services. He was also formerly the chairman of the Mercer County Commission.
Kari Bjerke Cutting recently retired as Vice President of the North Dakota Petroleum Council. Her diverse background has ranged from sales and marketing to regulatory compliance and technological experience.
Anna Novak is a resident of Hazen and a registered sales assistant with Choice Wealth in Beulah. Her husband Loren works in the coal industry, and she has become a passionate advocate of coal miners and the importance of the industry to the area. She and Loren have 4 children.
Andy Zachmeier is a resident of rural Morton County, outside Mandan. He has served on the Morton County Commission since 2006, and is also a police officer with the Lincoln Police Department.
Keith Boehm spoke about the need to fix politics from the inside out.
“I realized I was partly responsible for the things that were happening, due to my inaction [in politics],” Boehm said. “I would ask you to join me in the fight for the soul of our district and our state.”
Boehm focused a lot of his message on addressing property tax relief, as well as protecting property rights.
“Not enough has been done to bring actual property tax relief,” Boehm said. “Our district needs a
strong, experienced voice on property rights and property tax relief.”
He also spoke about the coal industry, including his work with Minnkota Power and having three sons in the industry.
“There are very few who are more passionate about protecting our coal industry than I am,” he said.
Boehm was nominated by Gary Emineth and Casey Voigt. Emineth said Boehm was an entrepreneur and would stick to conservative principles, saying the current battle was in the Republican ranks.
“In politics it’s those convictions that matter,” he said. “My belief is in this time we are going to need principled leaders.”
Voigt agreed, adding, “I believe Keith Boehm is a true conservative with true constitutional values.”
Jessica Unruh Bell, running against Boehm, touted her record in office.
“My years of coalition building across the state and across the country have seen success,” she said. She noted having voted more than 5,000 times, and also discussed meeting with former President Donald Trump at the Oval Office to discuss property tax relief.
“We know District 33 feeds and fuels our world,” she said.
Bell thanked her supporters, saying, “Having so much support from those who know me best means the most to me.”
Bell was nominated by Randy Christmann and Steve Cottingham. Christmann praised Bell for the ability to combine her passion with the ability to work together with others.
“In the world of politics, unlike social media, there is not an absolute right and wrong,” he said. “She has the ability to understand the details and ramifications of decisions that have been made.”
Cottingham said he appreciated Bell’s work during the time when the future of Coal Creek Station was uncertain.
“That was a time when people had to come together, and change a narrative of unknowns to possibilities,” he said.
Jeff Delzer said he was honored for the opportunity to serve District 33, and that his goals would remain the same.
“My goal was to leave people alone without spending too much,” he said. He stressed the importance of fiscal responsibility, including balancing revenues and expenditures, managing the Legacy Fund and applying common sense in how things are spent.
“I want to make the legislature the best it can be to help people and their families,” he said.
Delzer was nominated by Jerry Obenauer, whose speech said Delzer supports common sense policies that benefits communities.
Bill Tveit said he was passionate on a broad swath of issues facing Mercer County, including farming and ranching, energy, business, education, health, property rights and, above all, faith and family.
“None of the above can continue to exist without the stability of the family and constitutional rights,” he said. “That’s the priority in my life. Without family, there is nothing.”
Tveit touted two bills in particular he was heavily involved in, Senate Bill 2125 (allowing people access to care facilities to visit loved ones when COVID-19-related restrictions were still fully in place) and House Bill 1514 (a bill he introduced that allows doctors and physicians to offer potential alternative treatments to patients to help fight COVID).
“Bill and his wife Laurel are true servants, who come in early and stay late to do whatever needs to be done,” Tim Aichele, who nominated Tveit, said. He praised Tveit for his stance on individual rights.
Kari Bjerke Cutting said she had a wide range of experience throughout her career, much of it focused on energy. Besides her work with the North Dakota Petroleum Council, she also served on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Board of Scientific Research.
“I am not a politician, I am a problem solver,” she said.
Despite the challenges facing the coal industry, Bjerke Cutting said she has hopes for the future with carbon capture projects, rare earth metals and other breakthroughs that she said will open new opportunities for the region’s future.
Bjerke Cutting was nominated by the Beulah and Hazen mayors, Travis Frey and Jerry Obenauer respectively.
“Kari is a solution-oriented leader who we need to represent District 33,” Frey said, with Obenauer adding, “She has vast critical thinking abilities and is a collaborative team builder in our communities.”
Anna Novak discussed the importance of the Hazen community, the coal industry and the larger region to her family.
“Moving back here was the best decision that we’ve made,” she said. “I believe that coal’s story isn’t ending. We may just be tipping the iceberg.”
Novak has been outspoken on coal issues and coal workers in the past two years especially, but added she has many other passions as well.
“Most of our livelihoods depend on coal, but I want you to know that’s not the only issue I care about,” she said, pointing to sanctity of life, gun rights and concerns on federal and state government overreach as some other concerns.
“No one has their finger closer to the pulse of the people of District 33 than Anna,” Mark Pierce, who nominated Novak, said. “She brings a unique perspective to issues that are on our kitchen tables right now in District 33.”
Andy Zachmeier talked about several issues, but at the heart of his presentation were issues related to law enforcement.
“Law and order is becoming an issue, you can just watch the news,” he said. “Whoever we put in the House has also got to be able to watch law and order.”
Zachmeier said his dad was in the coal industry, and he wants to help protect that. But he said there is also a place for wind, saying property taxes from wind farms would help buy down property taxes from everyone else.
“I will not trample on individual property rights if someone is trying to get a wind turbine,” he said.
He added he wants whoever is elected to be able to hold the line on these issues.
The District 33 Nominating Convention began at 5:30 p.m. with registration, though the process took a long time with the huge turnout. The meeting didn’t wrap up until close to midnight, according to Stern.
In addition to endorsing the local House and Senate candidates, 70 delegates were selected to attend the North Dakota GOP State Convention in April, which will be held in Bismarck.
Multiple statewide and national candidates and officials attended the District 33 meeting as well, giving short speeches on their races and issues they cared about. These included Public Service Commissioners Sheri Haugen-Hoffart and Julie Fedorchak, North Dakota Tax Commissioner Brian Kroshus, North Dakota Secretary of State candidate Michael Howe, North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley (appointed after the death of Wayne Stenehjem), United States Senate candidate Rick Becker and Representative Kelly Armstrong in the United States House of Representatives.
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