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Published November 21 2010

North Dakota Political Notebook: Towner rancher chosen as Senate Dem leader

BISMARCK – The state’s new Senate minority leader said communication is going to be key as his party enters a rebuilding stage.

Ryan Taylor, 40, of Towner was elected this past week to serve as the Democrats’ top leader in the state Senate. The rancher, who has served in the Senate since 2003, replaces Sen. Dave O’Connell, D-Lansford, for the post. O’Connell decided to not run for a fifth term.

Taylor said there will be challenges with 12 Democrats in the Senate compared to 35 Republicans. However, he takes an optimistic look at what his party can bring to the table during the 2011 legislative session.

“I think good government is most functional when you do have two points of an issue, two sides of a point to keep everyone honest,” Taylor said. “We need to have other people being in the opposition to look at things, shining a light on things, providing some transparency.”

Taylor emphasized the need to represent the voters who elected them and said all legislators have the ability to pass a bill.

“You don’t always get your name on it, but you get to advance the issue,” he said.

Taylor will be assisted by Sen. Mac Schneider of Grand Forks, who replaces Sen. Carolyn Nelson of Fargo for the post. Nelson did not seek re-election.

Sens. Bob Stenehjem of Bismarck and Randy Christmann of Hazen were re-elected to their Republican leadership positions.

Clark to lead group

North Dakota Public Service Commissioner Tony Clark is now the leader of the national association representing state utility regulators.

Members of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners elected Clark for a one-year term as president this past week.

As president, Clark will provide general oversight of the association, which represents the state public service commissioners who regulate electricity, telecommunications, gas, water and transportation.

Clark will serve as the primary voice of the association before Congress, the federal courts and administrative agencies.

Clark, a Republican, was elected to the North Dakota Public Service Commission in 2000 and won re-election in 2006.

Mathern joins fight

Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, is helping to fight an effort by state attorneys general to overturn health care reforms.

In a news release, Mathern said he and other state legislators from across the country have filed a friend of the court brief that opposes a federal lawsuit by several states that challenges federal health care reform based on constitutional grounds.

“The attorney generals who filed this lawsuit want to stop health care reform at the expense of working families in North Dakota and across America,” Mathern said in a statement. “They are threatening the gains we have made – no pre-existing conditions for children, no lifetime caps on treatment, covering our young people until age 26 on family policies – while also putting future benefits at risk.”

More on the issue can be found here: http://progressivestates.org/sync/pdfs/State%20Legislators%20Motion%20for%20Leave%20to%20File.pdf.

Alcohol-free parties

North Dakota communities and organizations can apply for $1,000 in funding for alcohol-free New Year’s Eve events.

The North Dakota Department of Human Services’ Division of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services said up to 75 communities can receive funding.

Events must last a minimum of four consecutive hours – including midnight – and must be alcohol and drug free and suitable for all ages.

“New Year’s Eve is often associated with alcohol use. We want to provide opportunities for communities to host alcohol and drug-free events for residents,” Pamela Sadness, prevention administrator for the division, said in a statement. “This is part of an ongoing effort to provide substance abuse prevention resources at the local level.”

The deadline to apply is Dec. 3. The application is available at www.nd.gov/dhs/services/mentalhealth/prevention/community-services.html.

Tourism shows growth

The summer months went well for North Dakota’s tourism industry.

Canadian border crossings were up 18 percent compared to the third quarter last year, the Tourism Division said in a news release.

Major attractions were up 10 percent, airline boardings were up 8 percent, cumulative lodging tax was up 10 percent, and local visitor centers were up 6 percent.

“North Dakota’s tourism industry continues to be strong,” Tourism Division Director Sara Otter Coleman said in a statement. “North Dakota has been experiencing growth upon growth at a time when most states now are just starting to show growth in their tourism industry.”

Teri Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.