Legislator gets job done for Minot with few words, bills

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MINOT, N.D. (AP) — Rep. Matthew Klein, R-Minot, has never been one for giving long speeches on the floor of the North Dakota House.

Rather, colleagues remember him for once getting up to offer nothing more than the terse advice, "It's a good bill. Pass it."

In addition to saving time on the floor, Klein wasted no time in looking out for Minot's interests during his nearly 24 years representing District 40 in the Legislature, the Minot Daily News (http://bit.ly/24wc1xi ) reported.

Deciding not to run for a seventh term this year, Klein, 82, extended thanks to constituents who supported him all these years and gave him the opportunity to represent them in Bismarck.

"It's been a great experience," he said. "It's been an honor."

Klein described himself as his party's sacrificial lamb when he first ran in 1992. He faced Bruce Anderson, a three-term incumbent who had been the most popular vote-getter in the last election.

"I was not given much of a chance," Klein said. "They had taken a poll, and they didn't tell us because it was so bad."

Klein credits the win to a new style of team campaigning with running mates Sen. Karen Krebsbach and Clara Sue Price, who was then an incumbent representative.

Once in Bismarck, Klein discovered he was joining a well-oiled machine known as the Minot delegation. It didn't take him long to find the fingerprints of Minot's Rep. Byrnhild Haugland, a legislative legend for her long-time service and influence, on past bills for Minot.

He was able to join other Minot legislators in advancing bills important to the Minot area, particularly a new grandstand at the State Fair, new buildings at North Central Research Extension Center and an intermodal facility.

He remembers calling David Fuller, then Minot State University president, to alert him to get to Bismarck immediately because Swain Hall renovation was up before the Appropriations Committee that morning. The weather was stormy, closing down the main highway, but Fuller and other MSU officials found a way to get there.

"I don't know how they did it," Klein said. "We did get Swain Hall funded."

Klein said he had always been somewhat of a political junkie, but the intricacies of governing the state were new to him in his first session. He said he benefited under the tutelage of long-time legislator Rep. Bill Kretschmar, R-Venturia, who was chairman of the Judiciary Committee on which he served. Over the years, Klein also served on Finance and Taxation, Political Subdivisions and Appropriations committees. He served on the Industry, Business and Labor Committee, which helped legislate major changes to Workers Compensation. He also served on the Government and Veterans Affairs Committee, chairing the committee for three sessions.

"He's put his heart and soul into it very, very passionate about Minot and doing what's best for Minot and northwest North Dakota, not to the point of being parochial but seeing the big picture," Clara Sue Price said. "He was just a champion for everything he took on and did such a good job."

She said the biggest challenge for new legislators often lies in handling the gray areas of issues and that was no different for Klein, who as an engineer was used to dealing in black or white.

A retired electrical engineer, Klein had worked on the Apollo Spacecraft Program in California, the Minuteman Missile program at Minot Air Force Base, for the U.S. Army in Germany, as deputy base civil engineer at Minot AFB and with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in managing construction projects. He served in the Air Force during the Korean War. More recently, he worked five summers for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, doing post-disaster inspections, mostly involving utility companies.

Klein said the main take-aways from his legislative experience are that you need to respect others whether you agree or disagree and also take responsibility for yourself and do what's right.

"You have to have your homework done. You have to work behind the scenes. You have to do some trading off," he said.

Klein also felt it important to put in the time necessary to do the job well. He would arrive early in the morning to study bills or visit with other legislators to better understand bills.

Price said she never hesitated to go to Klein if she had questions about a bill in one of his committees, or even a bill in another committee, because she knew he would have done his research. He didn't just rely on information presented on the House floor, she said.

"I always appreciated his opinion and I never ever doubted that what he told me was the truth, and that's critical down there," she said. "I always trusted him for the facts."

"He's a very bright guy, knows his stuff," House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said. "He's very good at defending the interests of Minot."

Respect from his colleagues led to Klein's selection as Speaker of the House in 2005.

"What was so interesting is you could sit up front and when different people got up to speak on a bill, you could look at the faces of the people and see if they were picking up or losing votes. You could tell by the expressions," he said.

As Speaker, he managed the floor speeches, queuing the House members based on the order in which they lit their call lights.

He recalls one particular vote on a human services bill that was preceded by a steady stream of House speakers. With each speaker, the matter became more confusing, and Klein was growing weary with eight to 10 lights still lit. So he called on Price, chairwoman of the Human Services Committee, even though her light was not lit. Price spoke so knowledgeably on the topic, Klein said, that all the lights on his board went out and he was able to call for the vote.

During his 12 sessions, Klein was prime sponsor of only about two dozen bills.

"I think we have enough laws," Klein said. He also couldn't justify introducing spending bills when there wasn't the money.

"When we have money, everybody has great ideas on how to spend it. I put in a bill that was going to help the veterans on their property taxes. I ended up having to vote against my own bill because as we were going along, we found out we would not have all this money," he said.

Klein, who has served several years on the Capitol Grounds Planning Commission, worked for three sessions to get legislative funding approval for a new governor's mansion, finally seeing success in 2015. The project will be state and privately funded.

A new governor's house has been so important to Klein that it led him to do something highly irregular last session give a long floor speech.

In addition to working on the state's bigger issues, Klein has stories to tell about helping constituents navigate government bureaucracy with their personal concerns.

"It really feels good when you can help somebody," he said.

Both Klein and District 40 Rep. Bob Frantsvog have decided not to run this year. Replacing them on the ballot are Republicans Randy Schobinger and Matt Ruby, who are being challenged by Democrats A.J. Schultz and Heidi Rintoul.

Carlson, who came into the Legislature the same year as Klein, said Klein's absence will be felt in the Republican caucus next session.

"Matt was always one that was dead set on making sure that our Republican message got sent out. He was always a good defender of that, and I am going to miss him," he said.


Information from: Minot Daily News, http://www.minotdailynews.com

This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Minot Daily News

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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