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ND GOP Sen. leader Bob Stenehjem killed in Alaska

By Dale Wetzel

Associated Press

Published: Monday, July 18 2011 9:10 p.m. MDT

In this photo taken March 4, 2011, Bismarck state Sen. Bob Stenehjem, the Republican majority leader of the North Dakota Senate, sits for a photo in his state Capitol office. Stenehjem was killed Monday, July 18. 2011 when the SUV he was riding in overturned during a fishing trip in Alaska, family members said.

Dale Wetzel, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. — Bob Stenehjem, the Republican majority leader of the North Dakota Senate for a decade, was killed Monday when the SUV he was riding in overturned during a fishing trip in Alaska, family members said.

Stenehjem, 59, of Bismarck, had been on a halibut fishing vacation near Homer on the state's southern coast. He had been visiting his older brother, John, and his son, Rob, both of whom live in Alaska, said Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, Bob Stenehjem's brother.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple called Bob Stenehjem "a great asset to the North Dakota Legislature" and said in a statement Monday night that his "warmth and friendliness will be sorely missed."

"He was the glue that held (the Senate) together," said Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, the House majority leader.

Bob Stenehjem was an avid hunter and fisherman, Carlson said. "He had been up doing one of the most favorite things in his whole life, and that was going to Alaska fishing," Carlson said.

Wayne Stenehjem said the accident occurred just before 3 p.m. Bismarck time north of Homer, which is more than 120 miles south of Anchorage.

The sport utility vehicle Bob Stenehjem was riding in went off the road and overturned, said Megan Peters, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Public Safety. Peters said she did not know who was driving the SUV, and said few details of the accident were available late Monday. She said she was unaware of any adverse driving conditions on the road, known locally as the Sterling Highway.

Bonnie Nichols, a spokeswoman for the Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna, Alaska, said Rob Stenehjem, 34, was being treated for a broken right wrist and facial injuries. Rob Stenehjem's son, Daniel, 11, who is Bob Stenehjem's grandson, was treated at the hospital and released, Nichols said.

Wayne Stenehjem said another man was in the vehicle, but he did not know his identity or condition.

Bob Stenehjem was the city of Bismarck's road and streets foreman, and his legislative interests reflected his background. He was chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, and intimately involved in legislative debates about how the state should pay for road construction and upkeep.

He sponsored legislation that set out a proposed tax and regulatory framework for oil drilling on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, where oil exploration in a booming area had been tepid. The bill led to an agreement between the tribe and state that touched off a rapid expansion of oil production.

Bob Stenehjem was first elected to the North Dakota Senate in 1992. He represented District 30, which includes parts of south Bismarck and rural Burleigh County.

He was elected the Republican majority leader in 2001, after his predecessor, Casselton Sen. Gary Nelson, resigned to accept a federal appointment as state director of the federal Farm Service Agency. He was up for re-election in 2012 and had said he intended to seek another term.

State law allows party activists in a deceased legislator's district to appoint his or her successor until an election is held. The job of choosing Stenehjem's successor as Republican majority leader will fall to the Legislature's group of Republican senators, who outnumber Democrats 35-12.

The job of picking Stenehjem's Senate successor, and a new GOP majority leader, is made more urgent because the Legislature is expected to hold a special session in November to debate legislative redistricting and how to compensate North Dakota communities for flooding damage.

Wayne Stenehjem said funeral arrangements for his brother were pending. Bob Stenehjem is survived by his wife, Kathy, and four children.

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