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North Dakota lawmaker resigns over suspicious child porn text messages


BISMARCK, ND (AP) — North Dakota’s longest-serving state senator announced Monday that he will step down following a report that he exchanged dozens of text messages with a man jailed for child pornography.

Republican Ray Holmberg, who became one of the state’s most powerful lawmakers over a 46-year career, said he would step down beginning in June. 1. His term was due to end on November 30 and he had already announced in November that it would be his last.

“Recent news stories have become a distraction from the important work of the Legislative Assembly in its interim meetings,” Holmberg, 79, said in a statement announcing his resignation. “I want to do what I can, in my power, to reduce those distractions.”

It does not immediately return messages from the Associated Press.

GOP Governor Doug Burgam said in a statement that he “supports Senator Holmberg’s decision to resign.” He did not specify.

Republican legislative leaders did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Days after the report about his text messages was released, Holmberg announced he would step down as head of a powerful panel that oversees Legislature business between sessions.

The Fargo Forum reported on April 15 that Holmberg exchanged 72 text messages in August with Nicholas James Morgan-Derosier. Prosecutors allege that Morgan-Derosier possessed several thousand images and videos depicting child sexual abuse. He is also accused of taking two children under the age of 10 from Minnesota to his home in Grand Forks, with intent to sexually abuse them.

When he announced on April 20 that he was stepping down from his leadership role on the executive committee, he referred questions from the AP to his lawyers.

Holmberg first told the Forum that he read a newspaper article about the accusations, then in a later interview said he didn’t, the Forum reported.

He told the Forum that his text messages with Morgan-Derosier related to “a variety of things,” including the deck work that Morgan-Derosier did for him. He also told the newspaper that he no longer had the text messages.

“They just left,” he said.

Democratic Party Chairman Patrick Hart had called on Holmberg to step down from legislative leadership and release the text messages.

Holmberg was one of the most powerful legislators in the Legislative Assembly for decades, serving as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He chaired the Legislative Management Committee, which decides committee assignments and selects study topics that often inspire legislation, on four occasions.

He also served on the State Emergency Commission, which allocates funds and resources for emergencies, and served on or chaired several GOP-led redistricting committees.

When he announced in March that this would be his last term, he said the stress of a session and a campaign “would only exacerbate an impaired ability to focus on the issues at hand and to remember events efficiently”.

Many North Dakota Republicans, including Burgum, praised Holmberg at the time.

Holmberg will remain on the Legislative Assembly’s state-funded health insurance plan through July, a benefit worth about $1,425 a month.

Legislators are paid $526 per month and $189 per day while in session or if they meet for a committee hearing. Legislative Majority and Minority Leaders and Legislative Management Chairs receive an additional $377 per month. Holmberg and other committee leaders also receive an additional $10 per day during a legislative session and $5 per day for an interim committee meeting.

Holmberg will be paid until May.

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