Corey Mock

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Mock may run for state auditor

Grand Forks Herald

A Democratic state representative from Grand Forks isn’t ruling out a run for North Dakota state auditor.

Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, said Wednesday he’s been approached about running for the position next year. Robert R. Peterson, the incumbent Republican auditor, said this fall he would not seek a sixth term.

Mock, the assistant minority leader in the House, said he wants to gather family input.

“We just haven’t given any serious consideration to anything politically yet,” he said. “I imagine once family gets together over the holidays, we’ll have a chance to talk a little bit more and see if that’s something truly worth pursuing.”

Mock called the state auditor seat “an important position.”

“I have a colorful past in the Legislature talking about ethics, oversight and transparency,” he said. “While the auditor itself is not a position that has oversight—the kind of oversight I’ve been pursuing—it is an important agency in the state that I think could excel under the next chapter of leadership.”

Mock represents District 42 but lives in District 18 in Grand Forks. He moved there after being re-elected in 2012.

Rep. Marie Strinden, D-Grand Forks, announced this year she would not seek re-election in District 18 in 2016. Mock said he may still choose to run for that seat.

“That’s also part of the thought process,” he said. “It’s an interesting district, it’s a vibrant district and there’s a lot of people who would consider that opportunity.”

Mock ran for North Dakota secretary of state in 2010, but lost to Republican incumbent Al Jaeger. He is the executive director of the Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals.

Tyler Axness: To improve life in N.D., elect more Democrats

Grand Forks Herald

FARGO—A lot of people have watched John Oliver’s segment on North Dakota and our elected leader’s lack of reasonable oversight regarding oil development. The show criticized our leaders’ inadequate response and lax attitude towards changing realities.

Oliver urged North Dakotans to “be angry (please)” at state government’s failure to properly address worker safety, environmental protection and unethical behavior.

Undoubtedly, there are North Dakotans who are angry about these issues. And that’s their right. But better than being angry, North Dakotans should be active in holding their elected leaders accountable.

Take, for example, the 2015 legislative session. The makeup of that Legislature was 15 Democrats and 32 Republicans in the Senate and 23 Democrats and 71 Republicans in the House—2-to-1 Republican majorities. Solutions to some of the points Oliver made in his segment were offered by North Dakota Democrats:

▇ Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, offered HCR 3060 to ask the voters of this state to vote on and create an Ethics Commission. That failed in the House, 25-68.

▇ Rep. Ben Hanson, D-West Fargo, sponsored HB 1253 to make it illegal for elected officials to use campaign donations for personal use. That failed in the House, 26-65.

▇ Sens. Mac Schneider and Connie Triplett, both Democrats of Grand Forks, introduced SB 2366 to separate the roles of promoter and regulator of the oil industry in the Department of Mineral Resources. That failed in the Senate, 15-32.

▇ I introduced SB 2342 that would make the elected officials of the Industrial Commission—the governor, agriculture commissioner and attorney general—publicly vote on fine reductions rather than avoiding responsibility and hiding behind an underling. That failed in the Senate, 17-30.

All of these sensible solutions were defeated almost entirely on party lines by the Republican supermajority.

Voters now are rightly questioning why these bills were defeated. What are elected officials hiding? Why are they scared of transparency? Were they putting politics over common sense simply because these bills were introduced by Democrats?

Regardless, North Dakotans deserve better than what they’ve received from Bismarck.

If Herald readers are going to “be angry (please)” as Oliver suggests, I urge them to direct that anger at those who refused to pass common-sense solutions. But anger alone won’t address our state’s challenges in a way that lives up to North Dakota’s opportunities. Instead, we should take that anger and be active (please). Vote them out next November

Axness, a Democrat, represents Fargo in the North Dakota Senate.

John Oliver spills on North Dakota oil industry

Grand Forks Herald

HBO’s John Oliver is no fan of North Dakota nice. In fact, he wants residents to “be angry.”

Have you watched the John Oliver segment on the oil industry in North Dakota?

In a nearly 20-minute monologue on Sunday’s night’s “Last Week Tonight,” Oliver took shots at how the state has handled the oil industry with regards to its toll on the environment and worker safety.
Oliver, who rose to prominence as a correspondent on Comedy Central’s “Daily Show,” blamed the state’s lax regulations on the industry, poking fun at Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s pride in the state’s “level of friendliness” to business, including oil.

He encouraged residents to get mad about what’s going on and even purchased a billboard along a North Dakota highway telling people to “Be Angry.” with another positioned directly after it reading “(Please.).” The billboards were meant to poke fun at “Be Nice” and “Be Polite” billboards seen around the state.

State Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks also was shown in the segment during a portion where Oliver said even the state’s friendly regulations also extend it to campaign finance.

In North Dakota, Oliver said, you don’t have to spend campaign funds on your campaigns. The show then cut to a clip of Mock, speaking on the floor and wearing a bow tie, saying how legislators could put campaign donations in their bank account.

“I know his flannel bow tie is extremely distracting,” Oliver said after the clip. “But what he’s saying is horrifying.”

Mock said he took the joke in jest and was just glad Oliver noticed his style.

“I really have no positive or negative reaction to it,” he said. “I laughed when I saw the piece and joked about it a few times with friends. It’s definitely not the first time, and if it’s the last time I get a comment about the bow tie, I’m going to be greatly disappointed.”

Some, though, were not as amused by Oliver’s remarks.

Alison Ritter, a spokeswoman for the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources Oil and Gas Division, said she thought the segment had some clever points but was disappointed in some of the show’s criticism.

She said she provided the show with more recent numbers regarding what percent of fines companies have to pay and what they consider different violations.

In the segment, Oliver shows the Oil and Gas Division saying no company has had the same regulatory violations within a year. Oliver then mentions how Petro-Hunt has had two complaints for oil spills, which he said should be the same violation.

Ritter, however, said the circumstances surrounding the spills were different. One, she said, was a blowout, while the other involved valves inadvertently being left open and improper diking on the site. Ritter also took issue with the segment not mentioned that all of the oil spills were cleaned up.

“I think you have to take everything with a grain of salt, obviously,” Ritter said. “Pieces like this are meant for entertainment purposes. There is a bit of entertainment value, but if you want to be an informed person, you have to be careful where you get your news from and understand that they may not be telling the entire story.”

Though some of the clips were outdated, Mock said the portrayal of the state in the segment was more accurate than not. He said he hopes a segment such as this one will help launch conversations about some of the challenges, such as workers safety, water access and environmental concerns, that the oil industry brings.

“It is refreshing that people are paying attention to these issues.” Mock said. “Of course, he brings levity, comedy and even a little ridicule at our expense to bring out that point. It was entertaining. It was factually accurate in a lot of areas. It was hard hitting, and I think North Dakota as a state, and we as a people, have some soul searching to do on whether or not any of those issues truly still exist and what are we going to do about them.”

Mock said he joked with friends after the segment aired about his brief appearance, and how he considered sending his bow tie to Oliver.

“He seemed to be so infatuated with the tie,” Mock said. “I thought he might want to wear it on one of his shows.”

To watch the segment, click here.

Mixing space: Organizers look to open local co-working space to boost entrepreneurship

Grand Forks Herald

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A Grand Forks nonprofit organization wants to bring entrepreneurs out of their homes and coffee shops and into a new “co-working space” this year.

Evolve ND officials hope the space can provide the infrastructure found in an office setting to its members, driving down overhead costs for startups and existing businesses that are looking to work in a collaborative environment. While the group hasn’t yet nailed down a location, they hope to open in Grand Forks by Oct. 1.

“It’s an office management style that really hinges on shared resources to keep that overhead low,” said Brandon Baumbach, a co-founder of Evolve ND. “It offers opportunities for different industries to come together and create something new.”

The concept is a relatively new one, especially to the Red River Valley. CoCo, which operates co-working locations in the Twin Cities, closed its Fargo facility this summer after less than a year. But the idea lives on in the form of Prairie Den, now run by Emerging Prairie.

The idea for a co-working space in Grand Forks has been gaining steam over the past year and a half, Baumbach said. His first exposure to the concept was while he was working for a nonprofit in Norway a few years ago.

Baumbach said he wanted to “bring that international model to our area, only to learn it’s happening all around us.”

Flexibility

While CoCo may be the most well-known operator of co-working spaces in the region, the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal found about a dozen of them in the Twin Cities with roughly 35 locations.

Peggy Stefan helped open the Commons about three years ago in Excelsior, Minn., a suburb of the Twin Cities. She said a push for more workplace flexibility over the years meant more people were looking to do their job from home.

“I think what’s happened is that there are a whole lot of us who missed the collaboration and camaraderie of working with other people around us,” she said. “Sitting at home can feel kind of isolated and be kind of distracting.”

Running a business out of a coffee shop isn’t much better, Stefan said, thanks to noise and spotty Internet connections. To that end, the Commons recently upgraded to fiber-optic Internet at its Excelsior office.

“You can’t replicate that at home,” she said.

Making connections

Beyond merely offering office space, organizers hope the new Grand Forks facility can provide a space for collaboration to take place between members. Baumbach envisions members sitting in an open-floor bullpen atmosphere and using a whiteboard to ask for help on projects.

“I think that’s one of the things we’re really excited about, is bringing down those walls and letting people talk to each other,” said Nick Jensen, who has also been involved in launching the space.

Jonathan Holth, board president of the Grand Forks Downtown Development Association, sees the co-working space helping keep new businesses and entrepreneurs in the area.

“We want businesses that are home grown, that stay here and create jobs within the community,” he said. “This is a critical step toward that happening.”

Startups likely won’t be the only occupants of the space, organizers said. They also expect to see existing businesses sending some of their employees to work in a different environment for part of their day. Stefan said they have multiple salespeople from national companies using their space because their employer didn’t provide an office.

Organizers are also in conversations to allow Grand Forks members to use Prairie Den in Fargo and other similar spaces in the region, Baumbach said.

While Evolve ND hasn’t finalized a location for the co-working space in Grand Forks, a recent survey showed that an overwhelming majority would prefer it to be downtown.

“Historically and presently, downtowns are the hubs of our cities,” said Wayne Baumbach, Evolve ND co-founder. “Co-working is a hub of entrepreneurial activity. It just makes sense.”

Young Professionals beat the heat at annual picnic

Grand Forks Herald

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The Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals expected about 100 people at its fourth annual picnic Wednesday at Lincoln Park, and they found a way to stay cool in the hot weather.

Participants enjoyed burgers, brats and games, including a giant form of the popular game Battleship. People stood in squares, each with corresponding numbers and letters. If the caller, whose back was turned to the board, yelled out the square a person was standing in, the person in that square got splashed with water.The group hosts monthly social events to promote interest in a community of young professionals and collaboration. Other events include activities on the Red River, cooking classes, and home-brewing exhibitions.

Brittany Caillier, the social chair of Grand Forks Young Professionals, said it is a great way to get people involved with the group.

“We invite area police and firefighting crews to come meet the families and interact with the kids,” she said. “We also focus on sharing a meal between old friends and new ones.”

Honoring Glassheim’s achievements, street named after legislator, former council member

Grand Forks Herald

Eliott Glassheim waves to cars as they pass by his street as he jokingly says he will turn the street into a toll road in Grand Forks on Thursday, July 30, 2015. (Grand Forks Herald/ Joshua Komer)
Eliott Glassheim waves to cars as they pass by his street as he jokingly says he will turn the street into a toll road in Grand Forks on Thursday, July 30, 2015. (Grand Forks Herald/ Joshua Komer)

A staple of Grand Forks has gotten his way—a street, that is.

Colleagues, friends and family came together Thursday afternoon to honor longtime legislator and former Grand Forks City Council member Eliot Glassheim. Though the signs have been up for two to three weeks, a small group held an informal ceremony celebrating the stretch of Third Street between Kennedy Bridge and Point Bridge, known honorarily as Eliot Glassheim Way.

Despite suffering a health scare in April, Glassheim, 77, laughed and joked with nearly every person in attendance. Visibly in good spirits, he described seeing the “Glassheim Way” signs across from his Grand Forks home of 40 years as “overwhelming.”

“I thought they were kidding when they told me,” he added, prompting laughter in his kitchen.

Glassheim has lived on that very street for more than 40 years. He retired from the City Council in 2012 after 30 years of service.

Glassheim started as a state senator in 1993, according to the North Dakota Legislature website. He also served in the state House of Representatives in 1975.

He was also “instrumental” in rebuilding downtown after the 1997 flood, said state Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks. Glassheim is the author of several books, and edited others on the flood and natural disasters.

Friends, Family, and fellow legislators gather around Eliott Glassheim in Grand Forks on Thursday, July 30, 2015.

Friends, Family, and fellow legislators gather around Eliott Glassheim in Grand Forks on Thursday, July 30, 2015.

One guest, Nick Jensen, said he started meeting with others to brainstorm ways to honor and thank Glassheim last February.Jensen first met Glassheim when he was 15 when the then-City Council member happened to speak to his Boy Scout troop.

The two have maintained a good relationship and still keep in touch.

When Jensen started asking various community members about their thoughts on the honorary street, he encountered only positivity and encouragement.

“It was all Eliot and all the years and years of service he had,” he said.

He added that getting support from different political sides was especially remarkable.

Mock came across the same reactions—everyone he told the idea to “loved it.” He has worked alongside Glassheim for years in the Legislature. He also owns Glassheim’s old book store, Dr. Eliot’s Twice Sold Tales.

“We’ve been really good friends with Eliot for many years,” Mock said of Glassheim and his wife, who designed the store’s new logo to include its previous owner.

Mock said he’s always looked up to Glassheim and his work ethic.

“You show them that respect while you can,” he said.

The Glassheim Way signs represent several meanings, Mock said.

It serves as a reminder for those who see the signs to “go the Glassheim way,” or the hardworking, worthwhile way, Mock said.

Music festival planned for Grand Forks

Grand Forks Herald

A new music festival is planned to debut in Grand Forks this fall, featuring concerts at multiple venues with local and regional bands.

The Big Forkin’ Festival is set for Oct. 3, said organizer Nick Jensen, 33, of Grand Forks.

Specific bands and most venues have not yet been decided, but the festival is planned for downtown.

If there is enough interest, the festival could become a three-day event, Oct. 1-3, but for now there are only official plans for Oct. 3, Jensen said.

The festival will feature local music from all genres—mostly bands from Grand Forks, Fargo or Winnipeg. The goal is to give local musicians more exposure, as well as to introduce people to music they probably haven’t heard before, Jensen said.

“This is looking at local talent,” he said. “Anyone that plays can find a spot to come and perform.”

Because part of the festival’s goal is to expose people to local music, the price will be relatively inexpensive—tentatively $15 for a festival wristband or $5 per concert, Jensen said.

With multiple concerts per night, each concert will feature three bands that will play one hour each, he said. Timing of the concerts will be staggered so festival-goers can walk between venues to multiple concerts.

Jensen also plans to have 50 percent of the venues open to all ages, so not every concert will be in a 21+ bar. Some of the concerts may be in spaces that aren’t normally used for music performance, such as offices, he said.

All plans are tentative, though, as Jensen is still working on organizing the festival. He has already partnered with the Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals, the Empire Arts Center and HB Sound and Light, he said.

Corey Mock, executive director of Young Professionals, said he’s confident the Big Forkin’ Festival will be “a great success.”

“Nick and others, they’ve done their homework,” Mock said. “We don’t have something like this in Grand Forks. To be able walk around and (see many concerts at different venues), so many people love the idea.”

Jensen also has approached other businesses and local entities, including UND, as he hopes some sort of transportation can be arranged between the campus and downtown for the festival.

Stacey Majkrzak, executive director of the Grand Forks Downtown Development Association, said the music festival is an idea worth exploring, but more details must be figured out before the DDA would become a partner on the event.

Because it’s aimed at local music, Jensen’s idea is different from a music festival proposed last summer by the Alerus Center and the Ralph Engelstad Arena management. That event, which had sought to feature nationally-known musical acts, ultimately did not happen.

The Big Forkin’ Festival is modeled after the Homegrown Music Festival in Duluth, Minn., which also features local music, Jensen said.

That annual Duluth festival, which started as a one-day event, now spans eight days with more than 30 venues. It has featured well-known regional artists, including Trampled by Turtles and Charlie Parr.

Jensen said he hopes the Big Forkin’ Festival will grow into an annual event as well.

Because the festival won’t be paying bands—musicians will just be playing for exposure—the cost of running the festival will be relatively low, which makes it feasible, Jensen said. Any profit made will go toward the next year’s festival, he said.

Though bands won’t be getting paid, they will be able to sell CDs or other merchandise.

In addition to musicians, Jensen hopes other artists will be involved in the festival as well.

“This is, to me, for the community,” Jensen said. “I really see Grand Forks as being on the edge of extraordinary. We need to keep doing cool things.”

Jensen said more information on the festival will be available soon atwww.bigforkin.com, and people interested in getting involved will soon be able to contact him at info@bigforkin.com.

Lawmaker colleagues sign unusual book for Rep. Glassheim

Grand Forks Herald

Colleagues of North Dakota Rep. Eliot Glassheim signed a repurposed book for him this week. Photo by John Hageman
Colleagues of North Dakota Rep. Eliot Glassheim signed a repurposed book for him this week. Photo by John Hageman

Colleagues of North Dakota Rep. Eliot Glassheim, D-Grand Forks, were preparing a gift for him this week as he battles health problems.

Nearly all of the 94 members of the North Dakota House signed a repurposed book for Glassheim, 77, who returned to Grand Forks last week before the Legislature adjourned. His colleague, Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, previously said he has recently been battling an infection, as well as cancer for some time.

Rep. Robert Skarphol, R-Tioga, reported on the House floor Tuesday afternoon that Glassheim was “improving and could potentially go home tomorrow,” which drew applause from fellow lawmakers.

Mock and his wife Jeannie recently bought Glassheim’s used book store, Dr. Eliot’s Twice Sold Tales. They will sell some repurposed books like the one being given to Glassheim, which has clock arms on the cover.

Glassheim of Grand Forks gets standing ovation from N.D. Legislature after hospitalization

Grand Forks Herald

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BISMARCK – House lawmakers surprised longtime state Rep. Eliot Glassheim with a standing ovation when he walked into the chamber Wednesday morning after a brief hospital stay for what doctors believe was a mild stroke.

The Grand Forks Democrat rode in a wheelchair to the House chamber, where he stood up and walked to his desk, setting off a chain of applause from fellow representatives.

“That was pretty overwhelming,” he said afterward.

Glassheim, who represents District 18, went to the hospital Sunday because he was having trouble talking and wasn’t feeling well.

The 77-year-old said doctors believe he had a transient ischemic attack, but they didn’t find any blood clots and a scan showed no brain damage. They couldn’t perform an MRI because of his pacemaker, he said.

Glassheim said walking was making him tired and he was short of breath, though he attributed that to blood flow from his heart and not the mild stroke.

Assistant Minority Leader Corey Mock, who wheeled Glassheim down the hallway after the morning session, said it made his day to see Glassheim return to the House chamber. Mock recently bought Glassheim’s used bookstore, Dr. Eliot’s Twice Sold Sales.

Glassheim – who holds a doctorate degree in literature – is serving his 13th session, tied with Rep. Jerry Kelsh of Fullerton as the longest-serving Democrat in the House, though Kelsh spent 18 of his years in the Senate.

Glassheim was first elected to the House in 1974, lost his next election in 1976 and then won his current seat in 1992. He also served 30 years on the Grand Forks City Council.

“It’s not the same without him,” Mock said.

Glassheim was in good spirits, joking about all of the attention he received.

“This is wonderful. I have to get sick more often,” he said.

He also quipped that he was glad he missed Monday’s House vote on the late-session bill introduced by Republicans to reform the state’s oil tax structure.

“I would have had a stroke then,” he said.

Lawmakers kill bill banning sexual orientation-based discrimination in North Dakota

Grand Forks Herald

TOM STROMME.Tribune Rep. Kylie Oversen (D-Grand Forks) urged members to vote in favor of SB 2279 during floor debate on Thursday afternoon.
TOM STROMME.Tribune
Rep. Kylie Oversen (D-Grand Forks) urged members to vote in favor of SB 2279 during floor debate on Thursday afternoon.

BISMARCK – For the third time in six years, North Dakota lawmakers have killed legislation that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, despite warnings from some Democrats and Republicans that it could tarnish the growing state’s image and attract backlash similar to what Indiana and Arkansas have faced in recent days.

Kevin Tengesdal, a gay U.S. Navy veteran from Bismarck who had testified for the bill and helped fill the House balcony in support of it Thursday, brushed away tears and hugged fellow supporters outside the chamber after the vote.

“It was disheartening. When can our voice be heard?” he said.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple, a Republican, said the state should have at least established protections in the areas of housing and employment.

“I’m concerned that we have missed an opportunity to affirm what North Dakotans already believe, which is that discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation is not acceptable,” he said in a statement.

House lawmakers spent about 90 minutes debating Senate Bill 2279, which passed the Senate 25-22 in February and would have added sexual orientation to state law that already protects against discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, physical or mental disability or status with respect to marriage or public assistance. Complaints would have been investigated by the state Department of Labor and Human Rights.

Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield, who carried the bill from the House Human Services Committee with an 11-2 do-not-pass recommendation, said the committee listened to a lot of testimony on the “perceived” idea that discrimination is rampant in North Dakota, but “did not receive any testimony that showed any outright discrimination going on.”

“If we’re going to add this as a protected class, we need to be sure that we’re solving a problem,” he said.

That drew a sharp response from Democrats, who referred to the more than 20 people who testified in favor of the bill, including some traveled across the state to share stories of being mistreated at work because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Rep. Joshua Boschee, D-Fargo, a bill sponsor and the state’s first openly gay lawmaker, said that while the discrimination may not be blatant, “We know that it’s happening.

“People have testified that it’s their religious right to do so,” he said. “So what more evidence do we need to say that we need a path for people to visit with their government and say, ‘This happened, will you help me out?’ ”

Twenty-one states, including neighboring Minnesota, have laws protecting workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation. Boschee noted that two more – Indiana and Arkansas – are moving toward similar protections amid a storm of backlash over their religious-freedom legislation that business leaders and civil rights groups worry would further discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

A dozen Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the bipartisan bill, including Rep. Thomas Beadle, R-Fargo, a bill sponsor. He said many large employers and prominent businesspeople in North Dakota backed the legislation, fearing its defeat would send a message that the nation’s fastest-growing state “is only open to some.”

“And while we can see the backlash in Indiana, the mere perception of LGBT discrimination will have negative consequences for our state,” he said.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, opposed the bill, saying existing state law provides sufficient protections and the bill’s definitions were too vague and would have unknown consequences for businesses.

“I think there’s an unending list of ramifications for doing this,” he said.

Assistant Minority Leader Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, who called the issue “the discrimination movement of our generation,” requested Thursday that the bill be divided into two parts.

That required House members to vote separately on banning discrimination in public accommodations and services – a concern raised by bill opponents who worried that business owners would be forced to provide goods and services counter to their religious beliefs – and in housing, employment, credit transactions and brokerage services.

The House defeated the public accommodations division 30-61, with three members absent or not voting. The second division failed 35-56, defeating the bill as a whole.

The margin was close to the House’s 34-54 vote that killed a similar bill in 2009 after it had passed the Senate 27-19. Two years ago, the Senate rejected a similar bill 21-26.

Boschee said Thursday’s defeat was frustrating, but he predicted the legislation will keep coming back in future sessions until it passes – a sentiment shared by Rep. Kathy Hawken, R-Fargo, who said the emails she received from constituents were 4-to-1 in favor of the bill.

“It will happen. It is a matter of when,” she said.