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By Dale Wetzel, Associated Press Writer, Published April 18 2009

ND legislative panel balks at chairman choice

BISMARCK – A North Dakota House Republican committee’s members boycotted a meeting after Senate Republicans picked a Democrat to be its chairman.

Sen. Tracy Potter, D-Bismarck, called the move “petty” but said he was willing to stand down as chairman of a House-Senate conference committee that was picked to resolve the two chambers’ differences about a bill on city redevelopment. He was replaced by Sen. John Andrist, R-Crosby.

“We’ve got enough differences between the Senate and House. We don’t need to have something silly like this hold things up,” Potter said Friday. “I’m glad to be a sacrificial lamb for collegiality ... if that’s what it takes.”

Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, the House majority leader, said he directed the two House Republican members of the committee to skip its first meeting Friday after he learned Potter would be the panel’s chairman. It was then canceled.

“It does make a difference,” Carlson said. “In the end result, it’s going to be a message that the people put us in here in the majorities that they did, and those committees should reflect that.”

The closing days of the Legislature are taken up mostly by meetings of conference committees. The committees, made up of three House members and three senators, are given the job of resolving differences in House and Senate versions of the same bill.

Once a committee finishes its work on a bill, members of the full House and Senate decide whether to accept or reject it.

Republicans control both houses of the Legislature, and conference committees usually have two Republicans each from the Senate and House, and a single Democrat from both chambers. The committee’s chairman is normally a GOP legislator.

Sen. Jerry Klein, R-Fessenden, who is chairman of the Senate’s Industry, Business and Labor Committee, named Potter as chairman of the conference committee. It was working on a bill providing a tax incentive for utilities within city redevelopment areas to put overhead power lines underground as an aesthetic improvement. Klein’s committee reviewed the legislation, and Potter is one of its three Democratic members.

Klein said Friday he picked Potter because he was familiar with the issue. The fact that Potter is a Democrat “wasn’t a big deal to me,” Klein said.

“I just wrote his name down,” he said.