A Fargo representative says he's proud to be North Dakota's first openly gay lawmaker but that his most important cause is helping to craft good legislation for all people.
Democratic Rep. Joshua Boschee is among a freshman class of 17 House members and eight Senators who began work Tuesday on the 2013 session's opening day. Although Boschee adds rare diversity to the assembly of North Dakota politicians, he believes he was elected because of his platform.
"I'm proud, I guess, to wear that banner, but for the most part I was elected by my people to legislate, to be a lawmaker, not because I was gay or because I wasn't gay, but because they thought I was the best candidate," Boschee said from his seat in the House chambers.
Boschee said he didn't make his background an issue during the race, nor did the opposition.
"That was nice," he said. "That's something I was prepared for, knowing that could be a wedge issue."
Democrat Mac Schneider, the Senate minority leader, said Boschee's election should show lawmakers that citizens no longer tolerate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. A law that would have protected the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender population from housing discrimination under the state's human rights act passed the senate in 2009, but failed in the House.
More people are ready to accept that idea, Schneider said, and Boschee's election should be people's exhibit No. 1.
"I think it means a lot that Josh was judged by his constituents based on his ideas, based on his policies and his work ethic, rather than his sexual orientation," Schneider said. "I think most people even in North Dakota could (not) care less about how people spend their private moments. What they want is someone who is thoughtful, compassionate and effective at what they do here in Bismarck."
Boschee, 30, a student leadership adviser at Minnesota State University Moorhead, used to write a column for the High Plains Reader, an alternative weekly newspaper in Fargo. His piece, he said, was "wittingly called" the Gay Agenda.
He said his agenda in Bismarck will include supporting bills on day care regulations, tax relief, nutrition in schools and another run at the bill that would ban discrimination in housing, employment and credit.
Boschee's committee assignments are agriculture, industry, and business and labor. There will be plenty of spending decisions to be made in those and other categories. Thanks primarily to oil production and commodities, the state's surplus is climbing toward the $2 billion mark.
"I think it's a balance between looking at our needs, not only today, but 100 years from now," Boschee said. "We know we're always going to have to educate our population, we know we're going to have roads to take care of. But at the same time, how do we give money back to local communities?"
Page 2 of 2 - Schneider and Rep. Jerry Kelsh, a fellow Democrat, believe that Boschee will be a leader in both the party and the Legislature.
"I've asked him questions about how the attitudes have changed so quickly," Kelsh said. "Five or six years ago opposing gay marriage was on the ballot and there was a tremendous yes vote on it. Now I'm not even sure if it would pass."
Boschee said his election to the House isn't the only sign of change, pointing out several new lawmakers in the room who are younger than 40 years old, and several rookies who are women.
"There's a shift in age and gender. I think that's a fact that voters are looking at, that we need to change the way we're doing business," Boschee said. "Once again, stop maintaining and holding on to all these resources and look at how can we been innovative and entrepreneurial with our opportunities."