When North Dakota Representative George Keiser’s family gathered for Christmas dinner, they participated in his favorite holiday tradition: Each guest at the table got to choose a favorite dish to be part of the meal.
“There’s a lot of negotiations taking place,” Keiser told his good friend Brian Patrick Kennedy, NCSL’s vice president and Rhode Island speaker pro tempore.
Keiser was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, in 2019. He died at age 75 on Dec. 22, a date his family recalled he always celebrated as “the first day of summer.” A Republican, Keiser represented Bismarck, N.D., since 1993.
“He was one of a kind,” Kennedy, a Democrat, said. “He had a great sense of humor, an amazing intellect from reading without exception every word of a proposed piece of legislation or policy, a love of prime rib or a great steak, and always a sense of optimism even as he faced a difficult road ahead after being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease.”
The two lawmakers, both experts on insurance policy, worked together for more than 20 years, often comparing notes about how each of their states was dealing with specific insurance proposals.
“When NCSL created the Executive Committee Task Force on Insurance, I sought out Representative Keiser as a co-chair, knowing that his expertise would help us to bring instant credibility to the task force,” Kennedy said. “We worked together on creating robust agendas that would attract state legislators and insurance industry professionals to attend and participate at NCSL.”
Dedicated to Insurance Policy
Each served a term as president of the National Conference of Insurance Legislators and Keiser served on the Federal Advisory Committee on Insurance in the U.S. Department of Treasury, offering state legislators’ perspectives to help avoid federal preemption of state insurance authority.
“Representative Keiser served as one of the inaugural co-chairs for the NCSL Insurance Task Force, sharing his expertise in insurance and setting priorities for the task force’s insurance policy discussions,” said Heather Morton, a senior fellow in NCSL’s Fiscal Affairs Program and liaison to the task force. “He cared deeply about insurance policymaking and protecting consumers. His knowledge, wisdom and wit will be missed.”
Keiser participated via Zoom in NCSL’s Insurance Task Force meeting in November during the NCSL Legislative Summit in Tampa, Fla.
“I called him that evening to thank him for participating and to tell him how happy I was to see him on the big screen and for offering up some fine points of commentary during our discussion,” said Kennedy.
The two lawmakers’ friendship extended far beyond the legislative arena, including sharing great seats behind the Red Sox dugout on the first base side at Fenway Park for a Red Sox-Yankees game in 2018.
“We left the game with the Red Sox behind 4-1 in the ninth inning,” Kennedy said. “By the time we walked back to our hotel, the Sox had tied it up and eventually won 5-4 in 10 innings.”
Keiser, who was a smoke jumper in the U.S. Forest Service and an Army veteran, taught psychology and statistics as an adjunct faculty member at Bismarck State College.
“He donated his body to the University of North Dakota School of Medicine, to allow the students to continue to their research on ALS,” Kennedy said.
“Until the end, he proved to be a true representative of the people and a real statesman.”
Mark Wolf is a senior editor at NCSL.