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Published January 16 2011

North Dakota Republicans bring jobs to DC

Until recently, Mark Pfeifle might have been considered an anomaly in Washington, D.C.

He’s a Republican and from North Dakota.

Those two qualities together were a rarity on Capitol Hill, especially since the state’s three members of Congress had been Democrats for more than two decades.

“The North Dakota Republicans could have held our gatherings at a phone booth in Washington with room to spare,” Pfeifle said. “Now it’s getting more crowded, and that’s a good thing from my perspective.”

This past week, Republicans ascended to two of North Dakota’s three seats in Congress – which meant conservatives, like Pfeifle, now have better chances to work on public policy issues for representatives of their home state.

Sen. John Hoeven and Rep. Rick Berg hired dozens of staffers to work in their Washington offices – and many, they pledge, have North Dakota roots.

Although political affiliation isn’t part of the job application, it’s common for staffers to seek work with representatives they support and identify with, Berg said.

“I’m looking forward to having young people involved, whether they view themselves as conservatives or not, because this is a wonderful opportunity,” he said.

Those future opportunities are a welcome prospect for Pfeifle and other North Dakota Republicans.

When Pfeifle first moved to Washington in 1997, he said he applied for four internships: ones at the offices of Sens. Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad and Rep. Earl Pomeroy and one with the Republican National Committee.

The RNC was the only one of the four to accept him, said Pfeifle, a Wishek, N.D., native.

Now 38, Pfeifle works for S4 Inc., a strategic communications firm that works with the Department of Homeland Security.

He called Dorgan, Conrad and Pomeroy “solid citizens and good patriots” but said it’s been somewhat isolating to be a North Dakota Republican in the nation’s capital.

“Before, if you didn’t have strong Democratic ties to the state, it was more difficult to acquire jobs and internships,” Pfeifle said.

Bismarck native John Kartch said his 10 years in Washington haven’t been as politically isolating.

“There are plenty of successful North Dakota ‘expats’ working in D.C. who started their careers off Capitol Hill,” said Kartch, who works as the communications director for the conservative-leaning group Americans for Tax Reform.

But he added, “I’m looking forward to no longer fielding questions as to why our congressional delegation consists solely of (Democrats).”

College Republicans in North Dakota said Hoeven and Berg’s arrival on Capitol Hill provides inspiration and could potentially open a lot of doors for young up-and-comers seeking work in public policy.

“I know many people hoping to get internships with Hoeven and Berg in the coming years,” said Brennan Dyk, the president of the University of North Dakota’s College Republicans. “For young North Dakota Republicans, the chances of getting an internship will be tremendously higher, paving the way for their future in politics on a statewide or national level.”

James Kallod, president of the North Dakota State University College Republicans, said he’s heard stories similar to Pfeifle’s of young Republicans not getting internships with the state’s previous delegation, and he’s glad that will likely no longer be the case.

“Now, the young people of North Dakota will have opportunities that have been denied them for decades,” Kallod said.

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