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Published December 23 2010

11 to Watch in 2011: Hoeven, Berg ready for Congress

In 13 days, John Hoeven and Rick Berg will officially join the U.S. Congress, where they’ll seek to transform months of campaign pledges into action and, they hope, results.

The two Republicans and veteran Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad will comprise North Dakota’s congressional delegation for at least the next two years – forming a bipartisan blend the state hasn’t seen for at least two decades.

Since Election Day, Hoeven and Berg have been getting ready for their elected roles by tying up loose ends here at home and preparing for business in Washington.

Both men said they want to focus on creating jobs and strengthening the national economy – platforms they campaigned heavily on this year.

How those priorities can be accomplished remains to be seen in the months ahead.

Berg and Hoeven said teamwork will be necessary across party lines – an admittedly tough task for a Congress that faces split control after years of paralyzing political divides.

Rick Berg

Being one of 435 representatives might be bad odds, but Berg said he hopes to gain an influential voice by building coalitions with other freshman House members.

Berg said he wants to work more behind the scenes by developing relationships and providing guidance on business and economic issues, which tie into his background in commercial real estate.

He expects his top priority to include repealing health care reform.

“It will be one of the very first issues that the House will take up,” Berg said this month.

He said much of his time since Election Day has been spent with trips to Washington, meetings with top House Republicans, and coordinating his congressional offices.

Berg said he’s received many applications from people interested in joining his staff, but at least one staffer will come from within his campaign.

Tom Nelson, Berg’s spokesman, will be his state director in Fargo.

Other key positions have yet to be announced, but Berg wants North Dakotans to serve in both his Washington and state offices.

“One thing that’s important to me is that we don’t lose sight of North Dakota,” he said.

John Hoeven

Until Dec. 7, Hoeven still had a state to run, so he’s had almost half the time as his freshmen colleagues to fully prepare for his seat in the U.S. Senate.

The now-former governor said he wanted to ensure a smooth transition for Gov. Jack Dalrymple before handing over the reins earlier this month.

Like Berg, Hoeven also has been coordinating his congressional offices. Many staff members from the governor’s office will go with Hoeven to the Senate.

After he’s sworn in on Jan. 5, Hoeven said he hopes to build on the existing relationships he’s crafted with several former governors who also now serve in the U.S. Senate.

Hoeven said such bonds could be an advantage in building bipartisan cooperation, although he admits that won’t be easy.

“I expect it to be very challenging,” he said. “Step one is getting down there, working with people to build legislation, build consensus, so we can actually get legislation passed.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541