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Published March 02 2011

Rick Berg builds reputation in Congress

Coming from a low-profile state like North Dakota and entering the U.S. House with 86 other GOP newcomers, it should’ve been difficult for Republican Rick Berg to stand out from the masses.

But instead, Berg has fast become a man of subtle, yet significant, influence in the halls of Congress.

The most senior Republican leaders in the U.S. House praise Berg as a rising star and “go-to leader” in policy discussions.

“He has proven himself very early on to be a real leader,” Majority Leader Eric Cantor told The Forum. “He’s got a great way with people that allows him to be very effective.”

Berg himself speaks often in admiration for House Republican leadership – namely Speaker John Boehner, Cantor (who holds the No. 2 position), and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy.

The three men seem

to hold the same respect for Berg, emphatically expressing how im-pressed they are with the former Fargo legislator and businessman.

“Rick has become a valued colleague in the House, and we’re excited to work with him,” Boehner said. “He’s already proven himself to be an effective legislator.”

Berg has been in Washington barely two months, but he was on GOP leadership’s radar long before he arrived, or even won the seat he now holds.

McCarthy, a California congressman who led Republican recruiting efforts during the 2010 election, said he called Berg many times trying to entice him to run for North Dakota’s lone House seat.

Berg eventually jumped in the race, and McCarthy and Boehner both came to North Dakota in support of Berg’s campaign last year.

Now in Washington, Berg holds no official leadership role within Congress – but he has grown very close with those who do.

Boehner, Cantor and McCarthy each said they speak regularly with Berg and seek him out for ideas and input.

Berg also has direct influence within McCarthy’s inner-circle as a member of his “whip team.”

“I actually have him come in at times to the deputy whip meeting to talk to the other members, to tell them what’s going on among the freshmen and what the views and concerns are,” McCarthy said.

It’s extremely rare for a freshman House member to have such involvement as Berg has had so far.

“He’s having a great deal amount of say at the table, where it would take others years to even be able to get to the table,” McCarthy said. “But he’s not just sitting there; he’s expressing himself and being part of the team that puts it all together.”

McCarthy and the other leaders said they value Berg’s background in business and prior leadership in the state Legislature.

“I think it’s hard to find another freshman that’s had more input in a shorter amount of time,” McCarthy said.

Berg’s amount of influence likely means a benefit to North Dakota, which lost congressional seniority this year with the departure of Sen. Byron Dorgan and Rep. Earl Pomeroy, whom Berg unseated.

When talking policy issues, Berg speaks often of the three GOP leaders, who seem to be his unofficial mentors in Washington.

During a recent meeting with The Forum’s editorial board, Berg talked about the budget challenges before Congress and he emphasized his respect for Boehner’s leadership during the contentious debate.

“What I really like about him is he believes in the process, the will of the Legislature,” Berg said of Boehner. “This essence of the legislative process – to let everyone’s perspective come into the mix and you’ll get better solutions. He believes in that, which is amazing to me.”

The three GOP leaders all agree Berg’s future in Congress is bright.

“There are no limits to his capability or how far he can go,” McCarthy said. “If you just measure in the short amount of time how far he’s gone, this guy could do pretty much anything.”

But, Berg’s exact political path remains unclear.

He’s up for re-election in 2012, but he might also decide to vie for North Dakota’s U.S. Senate seat.

Political observers named Berg as a potential candidate, after Democrat Kent Conrad announced his retirement in 2012.

Berg said last week that his focus remains on his work in Congress, not any upcoming political races.

But Cantor indicated the subject of Berg’s future has at least been raised.

“I’m trying to convince him to make sure he stays in the House right now,” Cantor said.

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