By DALE WETZEL
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A month after a top Minnesota lawmaker belittled the North Dakota Capitol, one of his fellow GOP House members proclaimed it an "amazing structure" on Thursday after getting a personal tour from Gov. Jack Dalrymple.
Trailed by several reporters, Minnesota state Rep. Michael Beard said the Depression-era Capitol is nothing like an insurance company headquarters — no matter what Minnesota Republican House majority leader Matt Dean had said.
"I'm a pilot. I'm a map guy, so I love heights. Your 18th floor just blows me away," Beard, a Republican from Shakopee, Minn., said after visiting the top floor of North Dakota's 242-foot Capitol tower.
Beard, who was in North Dakota for an oil industry conference, said if he worked in the Capitol, he'd ask for a 16th-floor office "just so I could enjoy the view."
During debate last month on legislation to finance renovations to Minnesota's Capitol in St. Paul, Dean called the North Dakota building "embarrassing."
"It's like State Farm Insurance called, they want their office building back," he quipped.
Beard said Dean's intent was to tease the Minnesota House's speaker, Kurt Zellers, who is a North Dakota native. Beard described the majority leader as "a 30-something guy who says anything that comes into his head."
Dalrymple said he was surprised by the national attention the remark generated.
"At first, I didn't see the great importance of it all," the North Dakota governor said. "We got over it pretty quickly."
With three reporters and a television photographer joining in, Dalrymple on Thursday took Beard on a tour of his own office, the North Dakota House chamber, a legislative committee room, the Capitol's 18th-floor observation deck and Memorial Hall, where a 440-pound bronze replica of North Dakota's Great Seal hangs. Dalrymple carried a pamphlet used by tourists for self-guided tours.
The building is undergoing its own $2.8 million restoration project, which includes washing and repairing its limestone exterior.
North Dakota's Capitol — one of the state's tallest buildings — was constructed shortly after the state's original Capitol burned in December 1930. It was finished in 1934 for $2 million, or about $34 million in today's dollars.
It was designed by Holabird and Root, a Chicago architectural firm that helped design St. Paul's City Hall.
The observation deck features several photos of the Capitol's construction, including an aerial image showing it surrounded by open farmland.
Beard noted the Minnesota's only observation deck features four golden horses, "and since gold is $2,000 an ounce now, nobody gets there without having an escort with a gun."
Beard is a member of Minnesota House energy committees and chairman of the Minnesota House's Transportation Policy and Finance Committee. He said he was in Bismarck to attend an oil industry conference, and is also exploring potential business opportunities in western North Dakota's oil-producing region.
He said Dalrymple offered the tour after the pair met at the conference.
"It is more interesting than the State Farm insurance building," Dalrymple told Beard during the tour. "You would not be able to build this today."