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Published August 22, 2011, 03:24 PM

Former ND State Rep. Picked as Stenehjem Successor

Ron Carlisle, a former legislative colleague of the late state Sen. Bob Stenehjem, was appointed Monday to finish the term of the Bismarck Republican killed in a traffic accident last month, though Stenehjem's widow said the family felt "cold-shouldered" by the replacement process.

By: Associated Press,

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Ron Carlisle, a former legislative colleague of the late state Sen. Bob Stenehjem, was appointed Monday to finish the term of the Bismarck Republican killed in a traffic accident last month, though Stenehjem's widow said the family felt "cold-shouldered" by the replacement process.

"My feeling was that (Bob Stenehjem) was just being kind of pushed aside, forgotten," Kathy Stenehjem said at a meeting of the governing committee of his legislative district, which was held to choose someone to complete the 15 months remaining on his term. Stenehjem served as the Senate's GOP majority leader for 10 years.

Kathy Stenehjem said the couple's son, Rob, had expressed interest in the appointment, and that the family had found out about the committee meeting only a day earlier. Kathy and Rob Stenehjem were among several family members who attended.

"I'm realistic enough to know this has to be done, but I thought it could have been done a little more openly, a little more discussion," Kathy Stenehjem said. "It appears to me that it's been decided ... without any input from anybody."

A state law approved in 2001 allows local legislative district committees to fill vacancies in the state House and Senate by appointing someone to serve until the next election. Critics say the law allows unelected lawmakers to serve in the Legislature, but it has survived several attempts to change it.

Carlisle, the district's chairman, was unopposed for the appointment.

He said Stenehjem's successor needed to be chosen quickly, because the district should be represented when Republican state senators pick a new majority leader in a few weeks, and because the Legislature is expected to hold a special session in November to debate legislative redistricting and possibly flood-relief measures.

Carlisle, 70, served in the North Dakota House for 18 years before deciding not to seek re-election in 2008. He and Stenehjem, who was elected to the Senate in 1992, served together in the Legislature for 16 years. They were hunting companions and friends as well as legislative colleagues, Carlisle said.

The Stenehjems "are terrific people," Carlisle said. "Kathy and I go back a lot of years. It's very, very tough for them to be here today. I'm glad they did, and got to comment. It was fine with me."

Rob Stenehjem said he had discussed the opening with Carlisle at breakfast and during several phone calls. He said he had not committed to seeking the seat, and said he had been told there was no rush to fill it, before he got a call Sunday that the meeting would be the next day. Rob Stenehjem said he was unsure whether he would have accepted the appointment had it been offered, and that he may run for the Senate seat next year.

"If I would have taken the appointment for my father's seat, it would have more or less hung over me for however many sessions I was in there, that the only reason he's here is because he was appointed for his father's seat," Rob Stenehjem said. "If I'm going to get a seat, I'm going to run for it on my own name, and get it that way."

Carlisle said he was not sure whether he would run for a full four-year Senate term next year. His district, No. 30, now includes parts of south Bismarck and rural Burleigh County, and the community of Lincoln. Its boundaries are likely to be changed by the expected new district map.

Both the North Dakota House and Senate are controlled by Republicans. Carlisle's appointment gives the GOP back its former total of 35 Senate seats, compared to Democrats' 12.

Carlisle is the 14th state legislator to be appointed since the vacancy law was enacted. Nine, including Carlisle, are still serving, although seven of them were elected to their seats after they were appointed.

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