Resigning North Dakota senator led lawmakers in travel costs

 Resigning North Dakota senator led lawmakers in travel costs

BISMARCK, ND – A North Dakota state senator who resigned following a report about text messages he exchanged with an inmate ran travel costs more than 14 times the past decade if what lawmakers pay state taxpayers on average, according to an analysis in The Associated Press.

Republican Ray Holmberg, the longest -serving senator in the Legislature, has made taxpayer -funded trips to four dozen cities in the U.S., China, Canada and several European countries, the AP’s review of the travel record. He was paid about $ 126,000 on nearly 70 trips – all out of state – from 2013 to mid -April of 2022.

The 229 legislators serving at the time accounted for more than $ 2 million in travel, or about $ 8,700 per legislator-putting Holmberg’s total several times higher than average as he traveled anywhere from Norway to New Orleans. and Portland, Oregon, to Puerto Rico.

Holmberg declined to speak to the AP, referring to questions from his attorney, Mark Friese.

“I’m his lawyer, not his travel agent,” said Friese, a prominent North Dakota defense attorney. “The fairness of his trip is a question” for the Legislature, Friese said.

Holmberg announced this month that he would end his 46 -year career in June after a report that he exchanged multiple text messages with someone jailed on child pornography charges.

Police and federal agents seized video discs and other items from the Grand Forks home in Holmberg in November. The police report did not provide a reason to issue a search warrant. It came about three months after Holmberg exchanged 72 text messages with Nicholas James Morgan-Derosier while Morgan-Derosier was incarcerated in Grand Forks County Jail.

There is no indication that Holmberg’s trip was part of any investigation.

The 79-year-old has been the leading traveler in the Legislature for at least the past decade-a time when he held a position that allowed him to approve his own travel. Records for his paid travel to the state over the past three decades of sitting are incomplete or non -existent.

The retired school counselor’s trips are both legal and fair because of his seat and leadership, GOP Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner said. But Wardner said he was surprised at the size of the trip.

“I knew he had a lot of trips but I didn’t keep track of him,” Wardner said.

His House counterpart, Rep. Chet Pollert, declined to comment on the suitability of the trip: “That’s his decision to travel and it’s up to him to decide whether it’s right or wrong.”

Dustin Gawrylow, director of the North Dakota Taxpayers Association, said the spending for lawmakers to attend some conferences is reasonable. But he called Holmberg’s trip too much.

“Obviously, there is a loss of checks and balance in the process,” he said. “I think this definitely illustrates the need for more transparency and governance. No one, no matter what their position, should be in a position to agree on things that benefit themselves.

Holmberg travel costs include hotel fees, meals, plane or car fares, and daily fees that North Dakota lawmakers charge for state business travel. Lawmakers can also keep the airline miles earned from state -funded travel.

Lawmakers get $ 189 per diem if they attend meetings while traveling. Holmberg’s expenses for trips over the past decade have included just under $ 47,000 per diem. On the other hand, Holmberg’s daily pay shows that he traveled outside of North Dakota at the expense of the state for more than eight months in the past decade.

Many of Holmberg’s trips were meetings organized by the Council of State Governments and the National Conference of State Legislatures, which are national groups representing state legislators. He has joined the part group through his work on district committees since 1981.

Holmberg for many years headed the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, which together with its House counterpart controlled state spending, including budgets for the legislator’s travel. For most of the past decade, he has also served as head of a powerful panel, Legislative Management, that oversees the business of the Legislature between sessions. In a later role, only Holmberg was allowed to approve travel for legislators, including himself under the rules governing the Legislature.

Pollert has served as chairman of Legislative Management for two years over the past decade, and now heads the committee again with Holmberg’s release. He said that at the time, he had approved a trip for himself – a gathering of legislative leaders from across the country meeting in Puerto Rico.

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