North Dakota’s longest-serving GOP lawmaker quits after texting a convicted child abuser

North Dakota’s longest-serving GOP lawmaker quits after texting a convicted child abuser

One of North Dakota’s most powerful lawmakers announced his plans to resign Monday after reportedly exchanging texts with a jailed man facing child pornography charges. According to the Associated Press, the Republican senator identified as Ray Holmberg is the state’s longest-serving senator. His career spanned more than 46 years. While his term was expected to end on Nov. 30 and he had no intentions to rerun, he said Monday he would resign effective June 1.

"Recent news stories have become a distraction for the important work of the legislative assembly during its interim meetings," Holmberg wrote in an email announcing his resignation. "I want to do what I can, within my power, to lessen such distractions. Consequently, in respect for the institution and its other 140 members, I shall resign my Senate seat effective June 1, 2022.”

He added: "This date will give District #17 leaders enough time to go through the process and select a replacement."

The decision comes days after a report was published about his text message exchange with an imprisoned man. Initially, Holmberg had announced that he would step down on April 20 from his role as head of the panel that oversees the legislature’s business between sessions. His decision to resign from office comes less than a week later.

The text message exchange was first reported by the Forum of Fargo on April 15. According to that investigative report, Holmberg exchanged at least 72 text messages in August with Nicholas James Morgan-Derosier. Morgan-Derosier is serving charges of possessing thousands of images and videos of sexually abused children. Prosecutors allege that Morgan-Derosier not only possessed pornographic images of children, but also took two children under the age of 10 from Minnesota to his Grand Forks home with intention of abusing them.

While Holmberg first told the Forum he was aware of a local story about the charges, in an interview later he denied this.

When asked about the text messages, he told the Forum that his text messages with Morgan-Derosier were related to “a variety of things,” including patio work Morgan-Derosier did for him. He also claimed he no longer had the messages. He said: “They’re just gone.” The Forum obtained the jail log that recorded the text message exchange through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request—the text messages themselves were not public.

But this isn’t the first time Morgan-Derosier’s text messages have made headlines. Pulling from a transcript of proceedings, the Forum of Fargo reported comments made by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Puhl during a Jan. 4 detention. In that hearing, Puhl referenced text messages from August to a “77-year-old man from Grand Forks.”

While the man was not identified in court, the text messages requested Morgan-Derosier to bring his boyfriend over for a massage. Since Holmberg was 77 at the time and represents that area, questions were raised if he could be the man in question.

Following the report, Democratic Party Chairman Patrick Hart called for Holmberg to step down from Legislative Management and release the text messages. According to the AP, Holmberg chaired the Legislative Management Committee, which decides committee assignments and chooses topics that often inspire legislation. Amid chairing this committee, he served on multiple others, making him a powerful legislative.

But while some called for his resignation, GOP state Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner defended Holmberg and told the AP that he is only guilty of bad judgment.

”He sent 72 messages to a bad, bad person," Wardner told the AP. “That’s not illegal, and until there is more information, I think [his committee resignation] is a step in the right direction… If there is any evidence of any wrongdoing, we will act, and we will act quickly. Right now, all we have is that it looks bad.”

Prior to announcing his resignation, Holmberg planned to retire this year due to medical reasons.

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