District 12 Republican leadership apparently has some serious issues— at least when it comes to integrity and good judgment.
Perhaps you read the story we broke a week ago about Districts 12 and 29 joining to auction off bottles of wine at a Lincoln Day fundraiser? It sounds innocent enough, but these weren’t just any bottles of wine. They were named after — and signed by — Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler. Yes, that same Kirsten Baesler who had been arrested for a DUI just days prior to the auction.
Despite Baesler’s rocky past and recent arrest, District 12 Chairwoman Delores Rath didn’t shy away from defending the Superintendent and their decision to move forward with the wine auction:
“And I feel we should look at ourselves — how many of us have gone out, had a couple of drinks and drove home and didn’t get caught or didn’t get picked up?” (Emphasis Added)
Yet, this may not be the most troubling decision District 12 leadership has made lately. What if I told you that nine days after holding a convention to endorse candidates for the legislature they held a second one to change the results of the first? It’s true. Let me explain.
Earlier this year, Rep. Jim Grueneich moved from District 12 to District 28 and resigned his seat in the legislature. That resignation was effective February 11th. This created a vacancy which resulted in District 12’s Executive Committee appointing Mitch Ostlie — an insurance agent from Jamestown — to fill out the remainder of Grueneich’s term.
Two days later — on February 13th — District 12 Republicans held their endorsing convention. As you may be aware, these conventions are where district party’s determine who their endorsed candidates will be for North Dakota House and Senate races in the June primary.
For many, it was expected that Mitch Ostlie would throw his hat in the ring for the opportunity to continue in the seat that he was appointed to. And though incumbent Rep. Bernie Satrom was unable to attend the convention in person, he had arranged for his name to be submitted for nomination. Cole Conley was seeking the endorsement for Senate.
But Ostlie and Satrom weren’t the only ones interested in running for the House seats. A month prior to the District 12 convention, Grant Christensen — a native to the area, University of Jamestown alum, and member of the Young Republicans — had also decided to seek the endorsement.
As a matter of context, let’s consider some events leading up to the February 13th convention.
In a letter to District 12 Republicans, dated January 14th, Christensen was notified by District Chairwoman Delores Rath of the upcoming convention. This letter will come into play for reasons I will explain later. You can see a copy of it below.
According to Christensen, he called Chairwoman Rath on January 31st to inquire about details surrounding the endorsing convention. Rath told him she was not aware of anyone else running for the open House seat. Christensen requested a copy of the district bylaws, but was refused.
On February 3rd, Christensen contacted Rath with another request for bylaws, but was again denied. When he asked if there were any requirements for participants attending the upcoming convention to be dues paying members of the district, he was told that they could pay at the door and would be allowed to vote.
Then, in the morning of February 13th — the day of the Endorsing Convention — things got interesting. In yet another call with Delores Rath, Christensen was told that she had taken a look at the bylaws and that there is a provision requiring that membership dues be paid 10 days prior to the convention. As a result, he was informed that anyone not meeting this requirement would be prohibited from participating.
At this point, there’s two important things worth noting:
1. In the January 14th letter, there was no mention of the 10-day requirement at all. In fact, in reference to the dues, it specifically stated, “Must be paid by time of endorsement”.
2. The February 3rd call — when Rath was asked if there was a membership dues requirement and Christensen was told they could be paid at the door — was literally 10 days prior to the convention.
As you can see in the bylaws above, there was something else Chairwoman Rath didn’t share with Christensen. While there is a 10-day provision in the bylaws, it also states that the “Executive Committee may designate other parameters under which voting membership may be earned”.
On the evening of February 13th, Christensen and his family arrived early and helped set things up for the convention. The Executive Committee arrived shortly before the 7pm start time. Christensen asked if he was going to be prohibited from running for the open House seat and made his case — based on the facts I shared above — that he should be allowed to pursue the endorsement.
Chairwoman Rath agreed to discuss the matter with the Executive Committee— which she did. It was determined that they would permit all those who had paid their dues that night to participate in the endorsement process. When the final votes were tallied, the totals came out as follows:
Grant Christensen – 23 Votes
Bernie Satrom – 13 Votes
Mitch Ostlie – 9 Votes
This meant Christensen and Satrom came away as the endorsed House candidates for District 12.
On February 20th, Grant Christensen met Delores Rath at her home and obtained her signature on the official Certificate of Endorsement required by state law. On February 21st, that document was filed with the Secretary of State’s office.
At this point, it appeared that Christensen’s campaign would be off and running. But just a day after obtaining her signature on his Certificate of Endorsement — and on the same day he filed it — Christensen received an e-mail from Rath informing him that the Executive Committee had decided to hold a second Endorsing Convention on the very next day, February 22nd. And those who had not paid their dues 10 days prior to the February 13th convention wouldn’t be allowed to participate.
As you may have guessed, Christensen made the decision not to attend the February 22nd meeting.
So, without even so much as proper notice to all District 12 Republicans, the Executive Committee held their second Endorsing Convention. In short, they completely disregarded the results of the one that had taken place just nine days earlier. And this time Mitch Ostlie and Bernie Satrom came away with the endorsements instead.
As of today — and in spite of Grant Christensen having filed his legal paperwork — the Secretary of State’s office has not listed any candidates on their website for District 12. And based off the communication you can see below, it doesn’t appear they’re too excited to get mixed up in the situation either.
It should be noted that Section 16.1-11-05.1 of the North Dakota Century Code states, “No political party is entitled to endorse for nomination by certificate more than one set of nominees.” Yet, District 12 now has three House candidates claiming the party’s endorsement. And the District Chair signed off on them all.
Where all of this ends up, I’m not sure anyone knows at this point. And to say it’s an absolute mess may just be an understatement.
Welcome to the world of shenanigans in District 12.
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