BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum on Wednesday appointed a coal company executive to fill a state House seat left open by a Republican candidate who died last month due to complications from COVID-19.

Burgum’s decision to appoint of BNI Energy President Wade Boeshans runs contrary to the attorney general’s recent opinion that the party should choose a replacement for the dead candidate.

David Andhahl, 55, died on Oct. 5 after he had been sick with COVID-19 for several days. Andahl and fellow District 8 House candidate Dave Nehring won the Republicans endorsements and voters’ nominations in the June primary.

Nehring and Andahl were top vote-getters for the two open House seats Tuesday over a pair of Democratic candidates in the sprawling rural district north of Bismarck.

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Andahl and Nething knocked off one of North Dakota’s most powerful lawmakers, Republican Rep. Jeff Delzer, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee in the June primary. Burgum gave more than $1.8 million to a political action committee that successfully targeted Delzer, who had clashed with Burgum over policy and spending priorities throughout the governor’s first term. Burgum was reelected Tuesday.

GOP House Majority Leader Chet Pollert said Burgum “overstepped his boundaries” by funding a campaign against an incumbent member of his own party.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s opinion last month said if Andahl was elected to the post, the office would be deemed vacant. Under state law, a committee representing the party of the previous officeholder would fill the opening by appointment, potentially putting Delzer back in the seat he had held since 1995. Voters within the district also are allowed to petition for a special election, Stenehjem’s opinion said.

But Burgum said in a statement that “the only legal and constitutionally viable way to fill the District 8 seat is through gubernatorial appointment.”

Stenehjem did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

The sprawling rural district north of the capital city.

Boeshans, 49, has headed BNI Energy since 2013 and has worked for the company since 2005. He also is the chairman of the Lignite Energy Council, based in Bismarck.

Boeshans will be sworn in during the Legislature’s organizational session next month.

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