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John Hageman, Forum News Service, Published March 04 2014

Democratic candidate says ND attorney general's office needs 'fresh perspective'

GRAND FORKS – A Grand Forks attorney is making her pitch to become North Dakota’s next attorney general.

Kiara Kraus-Parr formally announced Tuesday in a speech from her downtown office that she is seeking the Democratic-NPL Party’s endorsement for the state’s highest law enforcement post. She touched on a wide array of issues, from energy regulations to crime increases and human trafficking.

Kraus-Parr said North Dakota has seen economic growth and opportunity over the past few years.

“But with any such rapid growth, there’s a certain amount of growing pains,” she said. “North Dakotans need an active and balanced leadership to guide our state through these growing pains.”

AG ‘complacent’

Kraus-Parr criticized current Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, a former Grand Forks Republican legislator, for becoming “complacent” after 14 years in office.

She was admitted to the North Dakota Bar in 2010 – Stenehjem spoke at her admission ceremony – after graduating from the University of North Dakota School of Law. According to her law firm’s website, she practices criminal law, business and intellectual property, and estate planning.

“He definitely has more experience than me,” Kraus-Parr said of Stenehjem. “I don’t know if that means he’s doing a better job.”

In a phone interview Tuesday, Stenehjem said his time in Bismarck makes him “seasoned and experienced.”

Stenehjem hasn’t formally announced that he will run for re-election in the fall but said he is “in the process of running.”

“I haven’t made a formal announcement, but I’m planning that,” he said.

Growth in crime

Kraus-Parr said she wants to help local law enforcement agencies cope with increases in crime over the past few years.

Arrests in North Dakota increased by 13.2 percent from 2010 to 2012, according to a report from the attorney general’s office. Stenehjem has blamed much of the increase on the oil boom in the west.

“While crime has been eating away at our communities, the attorney general’s big legislative push last year was a DUI law and 24/7 (sobriety monitoring) program that is unworkable, expensive, but politically expedient,” Kraus-Parr said. The 24/7 program was launched in 2008, but changes to the program were made last session, along with stricter DUI penalties.

Changes to the driving-under-the-influence law, Kraus-Parr pointed out, are being reviewed by an interim legislative committee.

“Whenever you pass major reform, there’s some tweaking that needs to be done,” said Stenehjem, who described DUI incidents as an “epidemic” in North Dakota. “I don’t anticipate they’re going to make any wholesale changes to the statute.”

Stenehjem added that the Legislature appropriated money for three new Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents, at his request, as well as additional scientists in their crime lab. He also said he worked with the Legislature to get $16.6 million to administer grants for local law enforcement agencies in communities impacted by the oil boom.

The Democratic-NPL Party will endorse its statewide candidates at its state convention in late March.