- Associated Press - Thursday, September 17, 2020

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A former Democratic North Dakota House minority leader who lost his legislative seat to a Republican newcomer four years ago is asking the state Supreme Court to remove the lawmaker from the November ballot.

Kenton Onstad, who chairs the District 4 Democratic Party, filed a petition with the state’s high court on Wednesday. It alleges that Terry Jones is a resident of Wyoming and hasn’t lived in North Dakota long enough to hold office. Jones is seeking a second term.

Jones, who owns a farming, ranching and construction business in Wyoming, said two of his sons now run that business. He said he owns a home in New Town, pays North Dakota income tax, and has led a congregation at a Mormon church there for years.

“If anybody is saying I’m not a legal resident of North Dakota, they’re blowing smoke,” Jones told The Associated Press.

Onstad didn’t return repeated telephone calls to the AP over the past several days seeking comment.

Voters ousted Onstad and Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider of Grand Forks in 2016. Schneider is listed as Onstad’s attorney on the petition.

Jones said he moved from Otto, Wyoming, a tiny town of 50 people where he was born and raised, to North Dakota in 2011 to start a business supplying water to drillers in western North Dakota’s oil patch. He said he ran for the seat four years ago at the urging of GOP faithful in the region.

Until a decade ago, District 4 was a Democratic-leaning region that includes the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation and parts of six counties in northwestern North Dakota. The district is currently represented by Republicans, two House members and a Senator.

Onstad points to property tax records showing Jones owns property in Wyoming and documents that list him as a registered agent for his Wyoming company, a designation that may only happen if the agent is a resident of that state, Onstad’s petition stated.

Onstad also points out that Jones lists a Wyoming telephone number on his North Dakota Legislative biography. Jones said he never bothered to change telephone companies.

Initially, Onstad asked Secretary of State Al Jaeger to remove Jones from the ballot. Jaeger highlighted a section of the state Constitution that says “Each house is the judge of the qualifications of its members.”

However, Republican House Majority Leader Chet Pollert said Jones had already told him about his business ties in Wyoming.

“I know he’s got a business relationship in Wyoming, but as far as I’m concerned, he’s a North Dakotan,” Pollert said.

Republicans hold super-majorities in both chambers of the Legislature and every statewide office.

The North Dakota Legislature let voters decide four years ago whether their elected legislators should be required to live in the districts they represent, and for at least a year before seeking office. The measure requiring that elected state lawmakers live in the district they represent won handily, ending a practice that had been commonplace for many years.

Qualifications for the legislature differ from statewide officeholders.

Last month, the North Dakota Supreme Court ruled against Democrats who petitioned to get a replacement candidate for insurance commissioner on the November ballot. Democrats had argued that state law allows them to substitute a candidate after the court removed their previous candidate because she was ineligible for the office.

The Supreme Court justices found Travisia Martin was not eligible to hold the office because her residency in North Dakota falls short of the five-year requirement for the job. Democrats then named a replacement candidate. But the justices ruled the state law allowing political parties to fill candidate vacancies did not apply.

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