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Amber Hunt, Associated Press
BÃ…rd Ludvig Thorheim, left, a first secretary for the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Washington, talks with Jon Lauck, a representative with U.S. Sen. John Thune's office, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011, in Sioux Falls, S.D. Thorheim stopped in Sioux Falls on his way to Des Moines, Iowa, to learn more about the caucuses.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Norwegian diplomat BÅrd Ludvig Thorheim is still learning about the United States' political system, but he says he likes what he has seen so far.

As one of the first secretaries to Wegger Chr. StrØmmen, Norway's ambassador to the United States in Washington, Thorheim focuses on keeping up to date with Congress and domestic policy issues in the United States. He was heading to Iowa for the Republican presidential caucuses and stopped in South Dakota for the first time Saturday to meet with Michael Paulson, the state's honorary consul to Norway, and Jon Lauck, an adviser to Sen. John Thune.

They discussed politics and South Dakota's large Norwegian-American population at a Sioux Falls restaurant.

"I think it's just a fantastic system — that one state like Iowa can get all this attention," he said of the Iowa caucuses. "I think it's a fascinating system that they stick to these traditions."

In Norway, there are seven parties in parliament, he said, and people vote for the party over the candidate.

"But here you get the blessing of the people. It's much more focused on the candidates and policy," he said as he sipped a Crow Peak beer, which is brewed in Spearfish, during the informal get-together.

He said traditions are important in Norway, where royals are very symbolic but carry little political power. He added that the royal family helped unite Norway after the country experienced two tragedies in July — a car bomb explosion that killed several people and an attack on a summer camp that left more than 60 people dead.

"It's like the flag is to Americans," he said of the country's royals.

Thorheim, who is traveling with his wife and three children to Iowa, also discussed the large Norwegian-American population in the Dakotas and Minnesota. More than 33 percent of North Dakotans identify themselves as having Norwegian ancestry, the highest of any state. Minnesota is second in terms of percentage, at 20 percent, while South Dakota is third with 17 percent.

South Dakota is one of 38 states that has an honorary consul as a way to keep abreast of issues pertaining to Norwegians, said Paulson, a Sioux Falls lawyer who took over the title of South Dakota's honorary consul from his father in 2009.

"It's changed a lot over the year. It's lessoned somewhat," he said, adding that his role mainly focuses on legal issues and elections now.

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