Published January 26, 2024

3 Bismarck Republican lawmakers skip local endorsing convention

Written by
The Dakotan
| The Dakotan
Memorial Hall of the North Dakota State Capitol Building in Bismarck [Photo: Greg Demme]
Memorial Hall of the North Dakota State Capitol Building in Bismarck [Photo: Greg Demme]


Three Bismarck Republican incumbent lawmakers skipped their district endorsing convention Wednesday, highlighting the division within the state Republican Party.

Attendees expressed disapproval for incumbents Sen. Diane Larson, Rep. Mike Nathe and Rep. Glenn Bosch through a censure vote, though many of the 120 people at the convention left before the vote was taken.

The incumbents turned in signatures to the secretary of state on Tuesday and qualified to be on the June 11 primary ballot.

“We decided to go to the primary because of some of the things that were happening in our district in the past and we weren’t going to play those games,” Nathe told the North Dakota Monitor.

Justis Amundson, chair of the District 30 GOP and newly endorsed House candidate for District 30, said he was pleased with the turnout, but felt it was unbecoming for the lawmakers to not show up to their district convention.

“I think they had an opportunity to come and give their side, but they chose not to come tonight,” Amundson said. “I think it’s extremely rude to not come to a meeting like this and win the approval of voters from your district.”

Amundson led the endorsing convention even though he also was one of the candidates seeking endorsement. 

Notice of the convention published in The Bismarck Tribune promoted the three challengers and did not state who paid for the ad.

Amundson and Dave Charles received the GOP endorsement for District 30 House seats while Adam Rose was endorsed for the Senate seat.

Pamphlets distributed during the event criticized the voting records of the incumbents on guns, a bill related to keeping drug dealers off the streets, a book ban bill and bills related to federal regulations.

Meanwhile, the three incumbent lawmakers gathered almost 600 signatures during early January, more than the 163 required to get onto the primary ballot. 

Nathe said the process of gathering signatures door to door was meaningful because they were able to talk to the voters of their district directly. 

“Our philosophy is that we would rather have the 16,000 people in our district decide who the candidates should be and not a small group of political activists with an agenda,” Nathe said.

Larson said she believed their presence at the endorsing convention would have caused an unwanted scene.

“It didn’t seem like a good idea to go to this meeting last night and get into any kind of verbal exchange about it when (the incumbents) had already gotten the nominations through signatures,” Larson said. She added much of the antagonism and deception falls on Amundson’s shoulders as chair.

“I’m fine with people disagreeing about things and having conversations,” she said. “But this whole ‘us-against-them’ demeanor is hard to take.”

 Rep. Mike Nathe, Sen. Diane Larson and Rep. Glenn Bosch of District 30. (Photos provided by the North Dakota Legislative Assembly)


Nathe said censuring lawmakers over their voting record is nothing new, but censuring someone for not being at a convention is.

“We have every right whether we want to be there, or not,” Nathe said. 

Patty Leno, a District 30 voter, said she was sad the incumbent lawmakers she’s talked to multiple times over the years felt it necessary to skip the endorsing convention.

“I feel disappointed because I would’ve liked to have heard what they have to say about the way they voted,” Leno said. “Because they are incumbents. Because they are my district. Because they represent me, I would sure like to hear their reasoning.”

A censure is a formal expression of disapproval from a governing body but doesn’t carry repercussions. Attendees voted 33-29 on censuring the incumbents. 

State Auditor Josh Gallion, among the convention participants, encouraged attendees to soften the language to an expression of disapproval rather than an official censure, but that vote narrowly failed. Amundson counted the votes, which were taken by raised hands.

When asked if he planned to step down as district chair now that he’s an endorsed candidate, Amundson said he planned to finish out his term, which expires in 2025.

The District 30 convention only filled 35 of its 47 state GOP delegate slots by the end of the event and gave authority to Amundson to appoint the remaining 12 delegates who will all meet at the state GOP convention in Fargo April 5-6.

Nathe said he does not plan to attend the state convention. Bosch and Larson said they have not decided.

Sandra Sanford, chair of the North Dakota GOP, said the state party does consider Wednesday night as a duly advertised official convention for the District 30 Republicans.

She added that district chairs are also able to run for office, if they so choose.

She said she was extremely disappointed to hear that Republican incumbents are not feeling welcome in their own districts.

“I would have rather have seen those lawmakers show up to that district convention and defend their reason for being lawmakers. That would have been so much more preferred,” Sanford said. “However, there are methods that they have, that they exercised, and it’s their right and they went ahead and got their signatures and they are going to proceed to the primary. That’s their right.”

She also echoed Nathe and said, ultimately, the voters of District 30 will get to make their decision during the primary on June 11.

U.S. Rep Kelly Armstrong, now a candidate for governor, also attended and spoke during the convention of District 30, which is his home district. 

Bismarck’s District 32 Republican endorsing convention was a stark contrast to the neighboring district. In 32, all three legislative incumbents attended the endorsing convention Wednesday night, along with one newcomer who sought a House endorsement. 

Attendees voted by secret ballot to endorse the incumbent House members, Reps. Lisa Meier and Pat Heinert, along with Sen. Dick Dever, who faced no opposition. The incumbents shook hands and were cordial with challenger Blaine Mehlhoff, who discussed his opposition to the Summit Carbon Solutions pipeline during his brief remarks to the crowd.

Another challenger, Phillip Jacobs, did not participate in the convention. Jacobs, a former legislative clerk who announced in early January he is running for District 32 House, said he didn’t participate because he objects to the district’s bylaws.

District chair Brady Pelton said he never heard from Jacobs and didn’t have his contact information. Pelton called for nominations from the floor and no one nominated Jacobs.

Jacobs said he plans to gather signatures to be on the June primary ballot.

District 34 Republicans met in Mandan Wednesday night and unanimously endorsed all three incumbents, said district chair Cody Schulz. There were no challengers, Schulz said.

Another legislative district that has three Republican challengers is District 14, which will hold its endorsing convention on Feb. 18 in Steele.

Sen. Jerry Klein, R-Fessenden, said he plans to attend the endorsing convention because he wants to address questions that people may have. But the district convention process has changed, he said.

“It’s not a comfortable sort of gathering anymore,” Klein said. “There’s just tension.”

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