Steve Swiontek’s Return to North Dakota Legislature Sets New Record – InForum

FARGO — Almost four decades had passed since Steve Swiontek last entered the chambers of the North Dakota House at the State Capitol in Bismarck.

This week, the chairman of Gate City Bank returned and attended pre-session meetings there after being elected to the legislature on Nov. 8 after more than 38 years. He will represent a district in South Fargo.

“It was a bit emotional just thinking about it,” Swiontek said in an interview by Bismarck with The Forum.

Swiontek served as a Republican in the State House from 1976 to 1984 before resigning to focus on his growing family and banking career.

His return to the legislature is not only unusual but record-breaking.

According to North Dakota Legislative Council records, this is the longest time that a legislature dating back to the Dakota Territory has been away and returned to serve.

Next was John Hobart, who lived in the area now known as Egan, South Dakota. He served as territorial legislature in 1855, returning 32 years later for another year of service in 1887.

John M. Anderson had a period of 31 years between his legislatures, serving in the North Dakota House from 1907-08 when he was a resident of Grand Forks, and again from 1939-1940 as a resident of Minnewaukan.

Swiontek, a native of Edgeley and a graduate of North Dakota State University, was first elected to the 45th Legislative Assembly in 1976 at the age of 22.

He then pursued a 42-year banking career while he and his wife, Mary Anne, had two daughters, followed by three grandchildren. They will soon be celebrating their 47th wedding anniversary.

Swiontek, now 68, will be sworn in alongside other lawmakers in December at the 68th Legislative Assembly, which convenes on January 3, 2023.

Old photo, couple looking at printed materials
Steve Swiontek and his wife Mary Anne are shown in the chambers of the North Dakota House in Bismarck in 1977, where he served until 1984. Swiontek will return to the legislature in 2023.

Contributed photo

Friends and colleagues reminded him that coming back would be like riding a bike.

β€œIt’s exciting to be back here. I would never have dreamed of that,” he said.

In fact, Swiontek had no intention of returning to politics, but the phone calls came after Cass County gained another legislative district in late 2021 due to population growth and a redrawing of political boundaries.

District 10 runs west of Interstate 29 to portions of Veterans Boulevard and straddles Interstate 94. Swiontek and his wife happen to live at the southern end of this new neighborhood.

Other lawmakers asked him if he would be willing to serve again. “My immediate answer was, ‘No, we’re not. I was there, did that, thanks,” Swiontek said.

He had retired as President and CEO of Gate City Bank but remained Chairman of the Board. Despite this, the phone calls continued and four days before the application deadline, Swiontek and his wife decided that he would try again.

Fast forward to Election Day when Swiontek received 40% and Democrat Hamida Dakane 32% of the vote, both earning the right to represent District 10.

Dakane is believed to be the first black Muslim woman elected to the North Dakota House. Swiontek said the two have had several friendly visits during the campaign and will be having lunch in a couple of weeks.

He said he would do whatever it takes to help Dakane gain a foothold in the Capitol, but acknowledged that they disagreed on certain things. “It just is. But you know, you can do it in a respectful way and with a civil discourse, and I think that’s how it should be done,” he said.

Swiontek said North Dakota Republicans cover a wide spectrum of views, from “very conservative” to moderate. He said he was a “traditional” Republican in the Bush-Reagan-Eisenhower sense.

Swiontek initially had concerns about the current political climate and the proliferation of social media, but decided not to let them dictate whether he would return to the legislature after all these years.

“I want to go out there and set an example of how it used to be,” he said.

When the legislature starts in January, he said he will focus on behavioral and mental health, human resource development, childcare and property taxes.