As bills were getting passed back and forth in the first hectic week of the 2013 North Dakota legislative session, Democratic Rep. Lois Delmore of Grand Forks approached Republican Rep. Kim Koppelman of West Fargo for a signature on a proposal.
Koppelman took the opportunity to introduce Delmore to his son, freshman Rep. Ben Koppelman, also of West Fargo, and explained to Ben that Delmore's sister is married to his cousin.
"Not only that, Kim was the ring bearer and I was the junior bridesmaid in the wedding," Delmore said.
"This is how small North Dakota is," Kim replied, smiling.
The 94-member House chamber got smaller this year with the election of Ben Koppelman, who lives less than three miles from his dad and ran for office in a new district that was created in West Fargo, which grew by 73 percent in the last decade. More so, the Koppelmans are the second father-son duo in the House, joining Democrats Jerry Kelsh, of Fullerton, and his son, Scot, of Fargo.
"People have said that North Dakota is really a medium-size city with really long streets," Kim Koppelman said.
Kim Koppelman, 56, who owns an advertising and public relations firm, has been in the Legislature since 1994. His first taste of politics came in 1984, when he was elected to the city council of Riverside, a town of 500 that bordered West Fargo and is now part of that city.
Kim first ran for the state Legislature in 1992. He and his running mate, Ralph Erickson, lost by narrow margins. Erickson is now a federal judge in Fargo. Kim took another run at the House in 1994 and has been serving the state since then.
Ben Koppelman, 33, debated running for the Legislature more than a decade ago, but his dad advised against it and Ben admitted he was more interested in running to make a name for himself rather than creating public policy. He decided the time was right in 2008 when he ran successfully for the West Fargo School Board.
"I've always been the type of person who wants to fix something. If I see something that's wrong, I don't want to know why it's wrong, I just want to fix it," Ben said.
Ben said "once in a while" he and his dad will disagree.
"I probably have a little more energy to buck a trend, so sometimes we disagree on process," he said. "But I think philosophically we totally agree."
Said Kim, laughing, "Ask that question at the end of the session."
It's not clear whether Ben's children — ages 10 and 6 — will continue in the family business, but he notes that they both have strong Republican names. His daughter is Madison and his son is Reagan.
"I like to tell people that I named my kids — one after the president who was known for authoring a lot of the constitution, and the second one for the last president who paid any attention to it," Ben said.
Page 2 of 2 - The Kelsh family has been involved in North Dakota politics for decades. Jerry Kelsh's grandfather served in the Legislative in the 1920s.
Jerry, 72, was elected to the Senate in 1984 and served until he lost his seat in 2002 when the district boundaries were changed. Six years later, he was elected to the House.
Scot Kelsh, 50, has been a member of the House since 1996, when his father was in the Senate and the two of them were busy with separate legislative business. He said their reunion in the House has been a bonding experience. The two of them share a residence during the session.
"As you would expect, oftentimes our votes are going to match up, but we do represent different constituencies," Scot said. "So once in a while we agree to disagree. He lets me know how he sees it, I let him know how I see it, and we go our separate ways."
The Kelsh political tradition lives on. Andrew Kelsh, Scot's son, is actively involved in his high school DECA club and has said he's interested running for office someday. Through DECA, he and his fellow members are advocating for tougher drunken driving laws this session.
Ben Koppelman is the only family member to follow his dad's political path. It hasn't interested his two siblings.
"It's kind of like being a pastor's kid. Either you want to be in the family business or you don't," he said. "There isn't much in between."