North Dakota governor funds PAC targeting fellow Republican

Full Screen
1 / 2

FILE - In this Jan. 4, 2017, file photo, North Dakota House appropriations chairman Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, answer questions at a revenue forecast meeting in Bismarck, N.D., Republican North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum is helping bankroll a political action campaign that so far has set its sights on defeating one of the most powerful members of the Legislature and a member of his own party, Delzer. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP, File)

BISMARCK, N.D. – North Dakota Gov. Burgum is helping bankroll a political action campaign that so far has set its sights on defeating one of the state's most powerful legislators, a member of his own party.

The move to campaign against House Appropriations Chairman Jeff Delzer in the June primary has drawn criticism that the first-term Republican governor and wealthy former software executive is crossing the separation-of-powers-line by reaching deep into his own pockets to buy a Legislature more obliging to his wishes. Political and election law experts say such a move by a governor to oust a member of his own party is unusual.

Burgum turned down interview requests from The Associated Press to discuss the contributions. There is nothing in state law that prohibits such contributions, said John Bjornson, director of the Legislative Council, the Legislature’s nonpartisan research arm.

Burgum’s relationship with the Legislature was rocky even before he took office. The former Microsoft executive largely self-funded his campaign and ran as an outsider, angering legislators from both parties with TV ads that said they had squandered much of the state’s oil bounty and criticizing what he called the “good old boy” establishment.

“He’s forming his own good old boys club,” said Republican state Rep. Rick Becker, of Bismarck, an ultraconservative and former gubernatorial candidate who has taken to social media criticizing Burgum and his political maneuvering. “He’s being very ‘handsy’ in trying to get a Legislature which will abide by his desires politically.”

The GOP-led Legislature has clashed with Burgum over the governor’s veto powers in the past two legislative sessions, and with many of his spending priorities.

One of his main foes has been Delzer, a bachelor farmer with a reputation for tight-fisted budgeting, who has served in the Legislature for parts of four decades from a sprawling rural district north of the capital city.

Delzer was a big part of an effort last year that amended longstanding rules to essentially disregard Burgum's budget proposal and use the Legislature’s previous budget as a starting point instead. He also was an outspoken critic of Burgum's top priority, a proposed Theodore Roosevelt presidential library in western North Dakota, though that ultimately was approved by the Legislature.