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North Dakota’s Youngest Senator Gives Young People a Voice

March 14, 1995

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) _ Randy Schobinger still drives the dilapidated red 1972 Toyota he bought for $100 a year ago. It’s easy to spot _ it’s the one with ``Vote Schobinger″ stenciled all over it.

He sings country music at local bars. He loves watching bull riding at rodeos, and has even been bucked off a bull once or twice himself.

``I’ll try anything once,″ he says.

Like politics. At 25, Schobinger is the youngest member of the North Dakota Senate and one of the youngest state lawmakers in the nation.

A former used car salesman who works as a motel clerk and for Movers Inc., a moving company his grandfather founded, Schobinger is learning the political life.

It’s not all pretty, he admits, noting a particularly grueling debate last month over a death penalty bill that the Senate ultimately rejected.

``When I decided to run, I had no idea what politics was about,″ said Schobinger, a Republican. ``As a 25-year-old and someone who hasn’t been in politics before ... the death penalty really tore at me.″

He finally voted in favor of the bill.

``You never understand how much power you have, and that you’ll ever have to make those decisions, until you’re sitting in the chair (to vote),″ he said.

North Dakota’s senators must be at least 18. Schobinger says a belief that young people aren’t involved enough in government motivated him to run for office.

There were a few bumps along the way.

When he decided to run last year at age 24, Schobinger couldn’t find the building where the convention was being held. When he found it, the District 3 Republicans _ who had never seen him before _ picked someone else as their candidate.

Undaunted, he filed petitions to run in the June primary _ and won.

The next day, he kept a promise to local Republican officials and cut his curly, dark brown hair, which hung between his shoulder blades.

The move was consistent with the quirky style that led to his surprise win over Democrat Kari Lee Conrad, a county commissioner and cousin of U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad.

Schobinger went door to door soliciting votes, turned his car into a traveling billboard, and entered the North Dakota State Fair’s demolition derby, using a 1978 Chrysler painted like an American flag and pulled by a 1948 Chevy.

He even mowed one man’s lawn in exchange for permission to put up a large campaign sign that he painted himself.

``It was a good location,″ Schobinger said.

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