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Published July 20 2011

Forum editorial: North Dakota loses dedicated legislator

One of state Sen. Bob Stenehjem’s political foes described the Republican majority leader this way: He could be a teddy bear when he agreed with you, or a grizzly bear when he did not.

That’s an honest characterization of the veteran North Dakota legislator, who died Monday in a vehicle accident near Homer, Alaska. The Bismarck (District 30) lawmaker, who came to the Senate in 1993, was dedicated to public service for his state and committed to a conservative, common-sense style of legislating. His philosophy served him and the state well during his nearly two decades in the Legislature.

Stenehjem had the job of managing a large and diverse Senate Republican caucus. If that wasn’t tough enough sometimes, he also tried to reach across the political aisle to the minority, and often was successful. He understood that political differences on some issues could not be avoided. But he worked with Democratic leaders to cobble together broad consensus on most of the big issues that affect all North Dakotans.

Stenehjem was not one to seek newspaper headlines or television camera lights, although he often made news because of his leadership position. He was not one to politicize every issue, but he would only go so far in bending his political values.

One of the strengths of the North Dakota Legislature is that political differences seldom get personal. Legislators who win or lose don’t define their political opponents as enemies. Rather, they often form lasting personal friendships, even as they disagree politically. Stenehjem tried to honor that ethic.

The death of a skilled legislative leader is a loss for North Dakota. But Stenehjem was first a husband, father, grandfather and brother. (He was brother of state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and former state Rep. Allan Stenehjem.) His part-time work in the Senate was secondary to his role as an elder in a distinguished extended family. Indeed, his legislative work was informed by his desire to make North Dakota a better place for his children and grandchildren. That goal transcends partisan politics.

We join his legislative colleagues, friends and his family in mourning his loss, but also in celebrating his devotion to the people of the state he loved.


Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.