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Published January 08, 2013, 02:09 PM

ND Legislature Welcomes New, Young Legislators

“Back in the days, we were paper and textbook people, everything was on paper,” North Dakota State Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, said Monday, as lawmakers moved in to their offices. “Now it is more electronic, these younger folks know how to work various devices and connect with folks.”

By: TJ Jerke, Forum News Service

BISMARCK -- North Dakota State Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, was considered a young legislator when he was first elected in 1977 -- he was 31.

Now, 35 years later, Holmberg is the longest-serving state senator, otherwise known as the Dean of the Senate and, as the Legislative Assembly convenes at noon today, the youngest legislator is 21.

He said the use of technology -- each legislator is issued an iPad -- will play well for new members who understand, and are able to use, the various tools more quickly and accurately.

“Back in the days, we were paper and textbook people, everything was on paper,” Holmberg said Monday, as lawmakers moved in to their offices. “Now it is more electronic, these younger folks know how to work various devices and connect with folks.”

But, he said, the quickness and accessibility to information now can be a disadvantage.

“In the old days we had to type a letter and really think about things,” Holmberg said. “Sometimes you get answers so fast, you find that you should have reflected more.”

Rep. Alex Looysen, R-Jamestown, just turned 21 in September. Joining him in the House is Rep. Kylie Oversen, D-Grand Forks, who will be 24 in February and is the youngest female state legislator in the country.

Both are part of the incoming freshmen class of 17 House members and eight Senators that will face unprecedented statewide challenges as a result of rapid growth in western North Dakota.

Looysen, who is taking a semester off from his studies as a junior pre-med student at Jamestown College, said he was surprised and excited to see a group of young, first-time legislators during the orientation session at the beginning of December.

“Our generation is what we are building North Dakota for,” Looysen said. “We, as young people, need to take a stand about what we want North Dakota to look like.”

Oversen represents a district that includes a large number of University of North Dakota students.

“I’m young and open to new ideas,” she said. “I don’t have a voting record and I haven’t been bogged down with a lot of opinions yet.”


Holmberg said younger members bring new and interesting ideas to the Legislature every session.

“They add freshness, a certain amount of naivete, which is great to have to measure that against cynicism and end up with a better product,” Holmberg said. “They will come up with ideas that are brand new to them and will find, as we go through, that idea has been around for a long time.”

Holmberg also says new legislators learn quickly to trust in other members and the committee structure because they can’t study everything.

Freshman Republican Sen. Tom Campbell, a business owner from Grafton and a long-time friend of former North Dakota Congressman and state legislator Rick Berg, said Berg gave him similar advice going into this session.

“He told me you can’t be an expert on anything, you have to pick and choose specific areas and become an expert,” Campbell said.

Looysen, who was appointed to the House Human Services and Political Subdivision committees, said he has already spoken with both committee chairs and believes he will be able to add valuable input, despite his age and first-term.

“My goal is to make sure I’m effective and my voice is heard in Bismarck,” Looysen said.

Campbell also plans to make his voice heard. Campbell was appointed vice-chairman of the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee.

Earning a vice chairmanship as a first-term member is a bit unusual, but Campbell said he may have been appointed to the higher position because of his background in farming, banking and other areas.

“I’m assuming they wanted to get somebody that’s still in business,” Campbell said. “I have a broad spectrum of things I’ve been successful and unsuccessful with.”

Rep. Jessica Haak, D-Jamestown, was appointed to the House Finance and Taxation Committee and Agriculture Committee. She said talks of early childhood education proposals have already caught her attention, as well as a need for a comprehensive property tax plan.

Haak, the membership director for North Dakota Farmers Union, said there is an energized freshmen class in both chambers and parties.

“It’s a great learning experience for me, I have a great group to work with,” Haak said. “There is a lot of passion and experience in the group and I look forward to tackling the challenges.”

Sen. Tyler Axness, D-Fargo, 26, said voters were excited to see a young candidate come to the door during this past election and want to be involved with legislating.

Axness believes that electing younger members might become a trend as more voters think younger legislators can offer more long-term benefits.

“People wanted to see some youth out here coming up with more policy that is future driven,” he said. “People are ready for that change.”

First-term legislators

Representatives: Rick Becker, R-Bismarck; Joshua Boschee, D-Fargo; Jason Dockter, R-Bismarck; Alan Fehr, R-Dickinson; Jessica Haak, D-Jamestown; Ben Hanson, D-West Fargo; Dwight Kiefert, R-Valley City; Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo; Vernon Laning, R-Bismarck; Diane Larson, R-Bismarck; Alex Looysen, R-Jamestown; Gail Mooney, D-Cummings; Naomi Muscha, D-Enderlin; Kylie Oversen, D-Grand Forks; Peter Silbernagel, R-Casselton; Marie Strinden, D-Grand Forks; Nathan Toman, R-Mandan.

Senators: Howard Anderson Jr., R-Turtle Lake; Kelly Armstrong, R-Dickinson; Tyler Axness, D-Fargo; Tom Campbell, R-Grafton; John Grabinger, D-Jamestown; Nicole Poolman, R-Bismarck; George Sinner, D-Fargo; Jessica Unruh, R-Beulah.