By Bryce Martin
Published January 24, 2014
District 39 is poised in the middle of the Bakken oil boom and encompasses a wide stretch of western North Dakota, including cities such as Bowman, Watford City, Killdeer, New England, Scranton and Hettinger. Its present elected officials include Sen. Bill Bowman, Rep. Keith Kempenich and Rep. David Drovdal, whose term expires in 2014 and will not seek reelection.
Zubke, 59, is presently the CEO of Dakota West Credit Union and lives in Watford City. He seeks the Republican nomination to be placed on the ballot and, thus far, he is running unopposed. Though it is still early in the election season and an opponent may file at any time in the coming months. The North Dakota Republican Convention is scheduled for March 8 in Belfield, with a primary election in June and general election in November.
Question: What inspired you to seek election?
Answer: I have served as the chairman of Western Area Water Supply Authority in northwestern North Dakota and through that process, I’ve spent quite a bit of time at the capital in the last couple sessions. I’ve always had an interest in government and through those two sessions, I guess I just developed more of an interest in all the behind-the-scenes things and the legislation.
Q: You said in a release that ‘we assume that the Legislature will make the best and fairest laws in the best interest of the state and all the citizens.’ Do you believe that the legislature truly has been fair for western North Dakota?
A: No. I think that western North Dakota needs a little more attention from the state government. I don’t believe that a lot of people are really cognizant of what’s going on here on a day-to-day basis. And I don’t think they are cognizant of the stress and the impacts on some of our local government and the infrastructure.
Q: Obviously you have your own ideas and opinions for what should be changed, do you think Drovdal voted and operated in the district’s best interest?
A: I think David’s heart was certainly in the right place, but it’s a difficult process in Bismarck – you have to form a lot of relationships. This first session, I’m going to do a lot of listening and learning.
Q: District 39 is a very large district. How would you prioritize your time to ensure representation over the entire district?
A: I think that the north side of District 39 and the south side of District 39 have a lot of commonality. Basically we were all agricultural industry with a mix of tourism and that’s what’s driven the economy out here for the last 100 plus years. The oil that hit in McKenzie County back in the 1950s also hit in the Bowman area. When you get over into the Rhame and Marmarth area, they’ve had oil for quite an extended period of time, too. Now oil has obviously foreshadowed everything at this point in time. I don’t know if it’s a matter of splitting my time between the two areas or anything like that, I think it’s simply a matter of representing our interests. I do think that District 39 is too large for the amount of people and the activity that’s going out here and certainly sometime in the near future, we need to consider carving that up into separate districts also.
Q: How would you reach out to the district to ensure visibility?
A: Technology is great and I intend on using the email platform for corresponding with a lot of people. We do have regular forums in Watford City and Bowman, so I will be visiting all the communities. I’m very accessible and I do keep up with what’s going on. I’ll need to acquaint myself with more of what’s going on as far as Bowman County is concerned and the other three counties that are represented in this district.
Q: Because the district is so large, what would you say to those people who aren’t familiar with you in our area or around Hettinger?
A: I would tell them that my background has been western North Dakota all of my life. I’m not a foreigner; I’m not someone who has moved into this community in the last three, four years – I was born and raised in Grassy Butte.
Q: Being CEO of a major credit union is definitely a full-time job. How would you balance that with working in the state legislature?
A: I anticipate taking a leave of absence for a few months so that I can serve in the legislature.
Q: You’re seeking election in the epicenter of the Bakken oil boom. It would be a large undertaking to work with the legislature to ensure focus of key problems from the boom. How would you ensure these issues facing western North Dakota are addressed?
A: That’s where I think it becomes key what kind of relationship you develop as you take on something like this. It’s important that you get to know some of the majority leadership and minority leadership and there are a lot of individuals in state government that impact the things that we do out here.
Q: How familiar are you with the oil industry?
A: Probably better than most. When I first got out of high school, I worked in the oil industry for a little while. Having lived in Watford City for as long as I have, I’ve become very familiar with the oil industry and a lot of the oil companies and people that work there.
Q: Do you think you’re suited to be the voice of the people and, at the same time, the oil industry?
A: I think we all can exist and can survive out here, but it requires everybody willing to take some progressive steps forward. I would not characterize myself as anti-oil at all. I’m very progressive. I like to drive cars, too. We need oil. We need gas. We need jobs. It is possible that oil and residents and schools and cities can exist. The oil industry produces a huge amount of tax revenue to the state of North Dakota and it requires that revenue to keep infrastructure going.
Q: The negative effects indirectly and directly associated with the oil boom are widespread. How do you think that you can best address those specific problems?
A: The state needs to be a regulator also of the oil industry. I think it changes as we mature in this industry. I think right now, housing is a serious issue and I think schools are a serious issue. I don’t think either one of them have had the opportunity nor the resources to catch up. But those kinds of things don’t get resolved overnight.
Q: What do you see are the three main issues you see facing the district other than those that are oil boom-related?
A: That’s a difficult question to answer when oil right now is taking such a big piece of the pie right now.
Q: You said that your banking background would make you an asset, how so?
A: It’s no secret that the federal government is spending a lot more dollars than they have and it is not lost on most people that you can’t do that repetitively year after year. The financial background that I have should play pretty well in state politics as far as some of the formulas that are used for returning tax revenue to the local entities and making sure that we don’t overspend. Twenty years from now, you may see where the tax revenue starts heading the other direction and may start heading down. I am fiscally responsible and I’m also conservative.