Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D)
Elected: 1992, 9th term.
Born: Sept. 2, 1952, Valley City .
Education: U. of ND, B.A. 1974, J.D., 1979.
Family: Married (Mary Berglund); 2 children.
Elected office: ND House of Reps., 1980–84; ND insurance commissioner, 1984–92.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1979–84; Natl. Assn. of Insurance Commissioners., V.P. 1989, Pres. 1990.
Earl Pomeroy, North Dakota’s lone House member, is a Democrat first elected in 1992. Pomeroy grew up in Valley City and after college served as Byron Dorgan’s driver during Dorgan’s unsuccessful bid for a House seat in 1974. After law school, Pomeroy practiced law in Valley City. In 1980, when Dorgan and Kent Conrad won statewide elections, Pomeroy, at age 28, won a seat in the Legislature. In 1984 and 1988, he was elected insurance commissioner. In 1992, he was planning to retire from politics and join the Peace Corps in Russia. But then, the at-large House seat came open; Dorgan was running for Conrad’s seat in the Senate after Conrad decided not to seek re-election. (Conrad came back to the Senate in a special election after Democratic Sen. Quentin Burdick died in office.) Pomeroy put his overseas plans on hold and decided to run for Dorgan’s House seat. Articulate, cheerful and sincere, a critic of insurance companies yet unabrasive, he was nominated unanimously by the state Democratic convention. He won the general election, 57%-39%, almost exactly Dorgan’s margin in the Senate election that year. The three North Dakotans—Pomeroy, Dorgan and Conrad—are good friends and often band together to defend the state’s interests.
|Earl Pomeroy (D)||194,577||(62%)||($1,795,718)|
|Duane Sand (R)||119,388||(38%)||($1,944,099)|
|Earl Pomeroy (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (66%), 2004 (60%), 2002 (52%), 2000 (53%), 1998 (56%), 1996 (55%), 1994 (52%), 1992 (57%)
Pomeroy has compiled a moderate to liberal voting record, working with Republicans as well as Democrats on issues. In the Republican-controlled Congress, he strongly supported the adoption tax credit and brought his two-year-old daughter, adopted from Korea, onto the floor for the vote. He also strongly supported normal trade relations with China and has pushed for more exports of North Dakota wheat to China. In 2001, he got a coveted seat on the House Ways and Means Committee, where he is considered an expert on pension and insurance policy. During debate over repeal of the estate tax, Pomeroy supported raising the $1 million exemption to $3 million. In 2003, Pomeroy supported the GOP bill to create a prescription drug bill in the Medicare program; the bill increased the Medicare reimbursement rate for rural and small city hospitals, which was worth $48 million to Bismarck hospitals alone and $183 million statewide. In 2005 and 2006, he co-chaired the House Democrats’ Social Security Task Force. And in 2007, he worked to revive the wind energy production tax credit, enacted in 1992 but allowed to expire in 1999, 2001 and again in 2003.The extended credit, popular in windy North Dakota, was part of the $700 billion financial industry bailout enacted in October 2008.
In 2003, Democratic leaders allowed Pomeroy to regain a seat on the Agriculture Committee while staying on Ways and Means, something not permitted for most other members but viewed as important in keeping Pomeroy safe politically. He is often an ally on the committee of Chairman Collin Peterson, a Democrat from adjoining farm-state Minnesota. As the only House member on both Agriculture and Ways and Means, Pomeroy played a key role in the 2008 farm bill in expanding tax credits, including for cellulosic ethanol production. In 1996, when Republicans controlled the House, Pomeroy opposed the GOP’s Freedom to Farm Act, which phased out farm subsidies, and was a booster of the subsequent annual disaster-relief bills that continued to provide hefty government support for farmers. He backed the 2002 farm act that reversed much of Freedom to Farm. In that bill, Pomeroy pressed successfully for country-of-origin meat labeling.
Many of the biggest agricultural issues are related to trade, over which Ways and Means has jurisdiction. When Special Trade Representative Robert Zoellick negotiated an allowance of sugar imports from the Dominican Republic as part of the Central American Free Trade Agreement in 2004, Pomeroy protested vigorously and said that the only way to settle sugar issues was through World Trade Organization negotiations, not regional trade agreements. North Dakota has a thriving sugar-beet industry. He voted against the Australian Free Trade Agreement in 2004, and he led the fight in 2005 against ratification of the Central American-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement, opposed by the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association but backed by the North Dakota Wheat Commission. When Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns sought to allay concerns by saying that the sugar provisions amounted to only two additional small packets of foreign sugar per U.S. consumer, Pomeroy replied, “Those two little packets of sugar cost us $180 million in lost income to farmers.”
During devastating floods in Grand Forks in April 1997, Pomeroy helped man dikes and slept in a nearby Air Force shelter. He later got nearly $500 million in flood relief and has continued to work for a $300 million system of levees and flood walls. Another vital local project for him is federal funding for an emergency outlet for Devils Lake, which has no natural outlet. Water has risen to record levels and flooded more than 100,000 acres. In 2003, the state started work on a channel to connect the lake with the Sheyenne River and through it, the Red River of the North; the first waters started flowing out in 2005.
Pomeroy had a serious challenge in 2002 from Tax Commissioner Rick Clayburgh, who argued that North Dakota would do better with a Republican congressman. He attacked Pomeroy for leaving the Agriculture Committee just before work on that year’s farm bill began. Republicans also hit Pomeroy for voting against estate tax repeal and for backing the partial “privatization” of Social Security. But Pomeroy won 52%-48%, carrying Fargo, Minot and Grand Forks, Clayburgh’s hometown; Clayburgh carried Bismarck.
In 2004, Pomeroy was opposed by Duane Sand, a 15-year Navy officer who in 2000 lost a challenge to Conrad, 62%-38%. Sand was reinforced by a late October appearance by then Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert, who said, “When we’re talking about water policy, when we talk about farm policy, there’s really nobody there to represent North Dakota.” Pomeroy’s campaign shot back that he had delivered on Medicare reimbursement, disaster relief legislation and agricultural policy. The result was Pomeroy’s widest victory yet, 60%-40%, even as Bush carried the state 63%-35%. In 2006, Pomeroy had little serious opposition from political newcomer Matt Mechtel, a Cass County farmer. In a 2008 rematch against Sand, Pomeroy won 62%-38%. He got a dollop of national media attention in August 2007 when, addressing the issue of impeaching Bush, he said: “The people I represent don’t want to impeach this clown.” He got the local media’s attention in 2009, when Pomeroy announced he was going to marry Grand Forks teacher Mary Berglund on July 2. He has two adopted children from his first marriage, which ended in divorce in 2002.