Corey Mock

Month: January 2015

Democrats in N.D. Legislature say they will continue to push ideas for good of the state

Grand Forks Herald

November’s election saw very little change in North Dakota’s political landscape.

Voters opposed seven of the eight constitutional measures on the ballot, all of the statewide offices remained in Republican control and Democrats gained one seat in the Legislature.

Yet Democrats — who have been outnumbered in the state Senate since 1992 and in the House since 1984 — say they still have an important role in the Legislature. From introducing their own bills, working with lawmakers on the other side of the aisle, and acting as a check against the Republican majority, Democrats said the numerical disadvantage doesn’t translate to irrelevancy.

“We’re pushing each other to make each other better for the good of the state,” said Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, of Republicans and Democrats. “This isn’t about red vs. blue. I think we see good faith competition over ideas.”

Still, former Democratic Lt. Gov. Lloyd Omdahl, a retired political science professor at UND, said the minority could do more to offer alternative ideas.

“In this era of government prosperity due to the Bakken, maybe the circumstances don’t lend themselves to a lot of alternatives because the state has the money to do more things,” he said, citing debates over funding for the western part of the state to cope with increased oil-related activity. “The issue is not clear cut, it’s just a matter of the degree to which we think something ought to be solved.”

Strategies

Grand Forks is home to another member of the minority party’s leadership in Rep. Corey Mock, the House’s assistant minority leader. He said he encourages his caucus members to draft legislation “as if you are the ruling party.”

“We want to people to know our ideas,” Mock said during the first week of the session. “We’re not limited to what bills we can put forth. Not everything passes, but everything gets a vote.”

Last week, Democrats proposed drafting a contingency budget in the face of uncertain oil prices. Responding to the Democrats’ proposal Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said that the two parties appear to somewhat agree on the “philosophy,” but “it’s just how we’re going to get there.”

House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said he didn’t want two budgets.

Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, said Democrats can influence policy decisions by drafting legislation that others, including Republicans, can be a sponsor to, drafting amendments to existing legislation and working within committees to “gain credibility.”

Grand Forks legislators have already sponsored a number of bills alongside their Republican colleagues this session, including a bill to allow students the right to an attorney during university disciplinary proceedings. That’s sponsored by Democrat Lois Delmore in the House, alongside several Republican senators such as Sen. Ray Holmberg, also of Grand Forks.

Other efforts, such as tweaking the state’s voter identification law, are likely to have a more partisan debate.

“Sometimes we just differ (on issues),” Wardner said. “We’re just different.”

Omdahl sees part of the minority party’s role as holding the other side accountable. In the case of Democrats, he said Republicans have responded when they’ve been criticized.

“So even though the Democrats don’t have as many votes, Republicans still feel like they must explain or defend what they’re doing,” Omdahl said. “The minority party has a responsibility to point out errors or defects in programs that are proposed, but they’re also responsible for proposing their own.”

Earl Strinden, a former Grand Forks legislator who was the Republican leader in the ’70s and ’80s, said his party was in the minority for a session while he was in office. He pointed out that there’s often disagreements within parties on legislation, so policy decisions aren’t always about differences between the two sides.

“We kept a working relationship with our Democrat colleagues,” he said. “And certainly it was in the best interest to have good working relationship with the members of the other caucus.”

Culture

The conservative nature of North Dakota means the two parties are more similar ideologically than in other states, Omdahl said. The culture here also means criticism is a little bit more “muted.”

Wardner said the relationship between the two parties in the Senate is “very congenial.”

“We don’t agree on everything, but we get along,” he said. Wardner said the Republican leadership tries to keep the other side “in the loop” on things they’re working on.

Carlson didn’t return a message seeking comment Friday.

In Schneider’s first session in 2009, the Democrats were outnumbered in the Senate 26-21, a closer margin than today. That count took a hit in 2010, and they have gained back three in the last two elections, Schneider said.

Schneider said he hopes that trend continues in order to bring more “balance” to the Legislature.

“I think with that kind of political balance, you had a much better process,” Schneider said. “Our path forward is to recruit those centrist candidates who focus on bread and butter issues.”

Grand Forks legislators handle the legislative lifestyle in different ways

Grand Forks Herald

As the Schneiders arrived at their temporary Bismarck home last week, another family’s portraits hung on the wall.

Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider is one of several Grand Forks area legislators who is renting a home from people who spend the winter in warmer climates. His wife Crystal and 2 ½-year-old daughter Merritt will often stay with him there during the legislative session that began last week.

“The way we look at it is we’re Grand Forks residents who live in Bismarck during the week every two years,” Schneider said from the living room of that Bismarck home, which sits just blocks away from the Capitol.

Farmers, bankers, attorneys, retirees, businesspeople and others met last week in Bismarck to don their other hat as lawmakers. While they spend up to the next 80 days at the state Capitol writing laws and debating policy, their lives, jobs and sometimes families wait for them back home.

And although the additional responsibilities and the lifestyle can present challenges, lawmakers said North Dakota’s part-time citizen Legislature still makes sense.

North Dakota is considered by the National Conference of State Legislatures to be one of a handful of states with part-time lawmakers with low pay and small staff. More populous states like New York and California have Legislatures that can be almost like a full-time job.

“I think the great thing about North Dakota is amateurs like me can still do this,” said Sen. Lonnie Laffen, R-Grand Forks. “I think that keeps us grounded.”

Still, the time away from jobs can prevent some from entering the Legislature, said Rep. Mark Owens, R-Grand Forks.

“We have businessmen who came here, they did their four years, but then the toll on their business was too much to run again,” he said, adding that others have made it work.

Different roles

The North Dakota Legislature meets every two years for its regular session in Bismarck. That regular session can last 80 days at most during the two-year biennium. The 2013 Legislature took the entire 80 days, and this session could last as long, according to the Associated Press.

That time away from home can present some challenges.

State Rep. and UND law student Kylie Oversen, D-Grand Forks, said she takes a semester off while the Legislature is in session. She said it’s more manageable because she’s in her second year, whereas the first year of law school includes more required courses.

“I managed to get enough credits in over the summer that I’m on track with my class, so I’ll still be able to graduate on time,” she said. “There might be a few opportunities that I miss, but nothing required.”

Sen. Tom Campbell, R-Grafton, said becoming a lawmaker was something he “always wanted to do.” But he turned down a request from former legislator Harley Kingsbury to run in his place when the longtime lawmaker decided to retire more than 20 years ago.

“I wanted to build my business up and my family,” he said. “So I waited until the back half of my life, which I’m really glad I did because I gained experience.”

Businesspeople like Laffen said technology helps manage their work while they’re hundreds of miles away. A cofounder of JLG Architects, Laffen also uses the company’s Bismarck office on occasion to get work done.

“Ten years ago, I don’t think I could have done this,” Laffen said. “It’s amazing how much you can get done by email now.”

Owens said he also stays connected with his job as associate vice president of transportation services at Iteris Inc. by email or conference calls. He also spends a lot of nights and weeks doing “leftover work” for the office.

Finding housing

Legislators stay in Bismarck during the week and often head home for the weekend.

North Dakota allows for legislators to earn a monthly lodging reimbursement up to 30 times 70 percent of the daily lodging rate, according to the NCSL. That was around $1,500 a month in 2013, according to the NCSL.

Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, shares a house with Rep. Ron Guggisberg, D-Fargo. He had a similar arrangement with Schneider last session.

“It gives you a sense of stability,” Mock said of renting a house. “It’s not the same as being at home, but it helps provide some work and life balance in your day.”

Sharing one with a lawmaker also has its advantages. Mock and Schneider learned about what was happening in each other’s chambers, and Mock can learn about what’s happening in the House Appropriations Committee, of which Guggisberg is a member.

Laffen also rents a snowbird’s house, but he brings very little with him.

“It’s just a place to sleep,” Laffen said. “I don’t bring any casual clothes any more, just suits.”

Others, like Campbell, rent a hotel room.

Learning lessons

Entering his fourth legislative session, Mock said he’s learned to “be more disciplined” with his schedule. That means taking advantage of every hour by doing things like working out in the morning and not being “a slave to email accounts throughout the day.”

Campbell said it was a challenge to learn the basics of how the Legislature operated during his first session in 2013.

“The first three or four weeks two years ago, when I was a freshman, were almost overwhelming,” Campbell said.

Campbell still maintains a busy schedule in Bismarck, often only getting four or five hours of sleep. Besides being at the Capitol, Campbell spends time meeting with associations and constituents, as well as working on bills.

Despite that hectic life, Campbell said, “I’m living my passion.”

Schneider was just starting his law career in his first legislative session in 2009, and hadn’t yet married Crystal. He said he immersed himself in the job of being a legislator that first time around.

“Now it’s a little bit different. I’ve got a law firm to manage, I’ve got my daughter who I want to put to bed every night,” he said.

Another new wrinkle is Crystal’s new role on the Grand Forks City Council. That’ll likely mean taking two cars to Bismarck so she can make Monday council meetings.

“I certainly feel like I learned a lot that 2009 session, basically being a full-time legislator,” Mac Schneider said. “It’s a tremendous responsibility, one that I take very seriously, but it’s one that’s managed along with other obligations.”

Mocks buy Glassheim’s used bookstore in Grand Forks

Grand Forks Herald

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Eliot Glassheim was almost joking when he asked Corey Mock to buy his bookstore.

The two state representatives from Grand Forks were driving home in November from a meeting in Bismarck when Glassheim inquired about Dr. Eliot’s Twice Sold Tales, which sells used books online and appraises books.

Mock contacted his wife, City Council member Jeannie Mock, and they decided on the spot to buy Glassheim’s bookstore.

“I was very surprised,” Glassheim said. “He kept asking me questions … so then I was selling (the store) for the rest of the trip back (from Bismarck).”

The Mocks plan to maintain “the legacy” of Glassheim’s long-running used bookstore, but they also have new ideas for the business, including repurposing books into art or household items, Corey Mock said. For example, old or damaged books could be remade into clocks, lamps, decorations or hollowed out as small boxes.

“It’s very exciting to me,” Glassheim said. “I never thought of any of that stuff.”

After purchasing the store, the Mocks have worked this past week to move 6,000 books from Glassheim’s house to their house.

They will continue selling books online at Amazon.com and Abebooks.com, Mock said. They’ll sell the repurposed books online at Etsy.com, and they will also seek vendor partnerships to sell those products in local stores, he said.

The bookstore

Glassheim had just casually been looking to sell his bookstore, he said.

“I was getting older and started thinking about what to do with all my possessions,” he said. He knew his wife or son didn’t want to take the bookstore, he said.

Dr. Eliot’s Twice Sold Tales has had several incarnations, first as a used bookstore downtown in the ’90s, Glassheim said.

He later sold the store, but he ended up getting the business back after the physical store burned down in the fire after the 1997 Red River flood.

A City Council member at the time, Glassheim mentioned the burned bookstore in an interview with CBS Sunday Morning as national media covered the flood.

Without warning, a truck filled with donated books from Minnesota arrived sometime after the CBS news story, giving Glassheim the inventory to continue Dr. Eliot’s Twice Sold Tales from within his home in 2002, selling the books online.

New ideas

Glassheim said he already misses the bookstore a little.

“It was kind of more of a hobby to me,” he said. Since most of the 6,000-book inventory is with the Mocks, there are several empty spaces in his house and garage.

But Glassheim is very excited for the Mocks to take over. He said the couple seems to have a genuine interest for the book-selling business, and he likes their idea of repurposing books, he said. “It’s working out very nicely.”

Both Corey and Jeannie Mock said they’re excited to take on the bookstore.

“I absolutely adore (Glassheim’s) story, and we plan to carry on that legacy,” Corey Mock said.

Many of the books in the store’s inventory are academic books, rare books, self-published or local interest books, he said.

The Mocks will continue partnering with the Community Violence Intervention Center in Grand Forks, as Glassheim did, to sell some books with partial profits going to the nonprofit, Mock said.

Though they’re just getting started, the Mocks have already had a new logo made for the business, featuring an illustration of Glassheim above the store’s name, which will remain Dr. Eliot’s Twice Sold Tales.

“The font and logo are light-hearted while professional — exactly how Eliot is remembered by most,” Mock said.