Former longtime North Dakota Rep. James Kerzman died in a tractor accident on his farm near Mott. He was 68 years old.
Hettinger County Sheriff Sarah Warner confirmed Kerzman's death but declined to release details Monday, saying the incident was still under investigation. Kerzman's wife of nearly three decades, Jill, told the AP that he had been working alone on Saturday.
"A tractor must have slipped into gear. We think he was run over by a tire," she said.
Kerzman, a Democrat, served in the state House from 1991 through 2009. He was defeated in his re-election bid in 2010.
"He had a deep concern about agriculture and social issues," said Darrell Dorgan, a former journalist from Regent, near Mott, who covered many legislative sessions during Kerzman's time in office.
"He was a genuinely very good guy," Dorgan said. "He didn't have any enemies that I know, no politically harsh adversaries. He just genuinely cared about people. He got along with everybody. He was a very fine gentleman."
Kerzman was an advocate in the Legislature for human services, and pushed for aid for farmers and country schools. He served on the appropriations committee and worked on the state Department of Human Services budget every session.
"For the Democratic caucus in the House, he was the go-to person for that," said Aaron Krauter, also from Regent, who served 20 years in the Legislature with Kerzman before moving on to head the state office of the federal Farm Service Agency.
"Agricultural issues — he knew them just like the dirt under his nails or the calluses on his hands," Krauter told the AP. "He was a strong proponent of the Extension Service and research at NDSU (North Dakota State University)."
Gov. Jack Dalrymple, a Republican who served in the House with Kerzman in the 1990s, issued a statement to the AP on Monday saying he and first lady Betsy Dalrymple were saddened by Kerzman's death.
"He was a true statesman who served many years in the House of Representatives with love and devotion for his state," Dalrymple said. "It was nothing but a pleasure to serve with Jim in the House, and he will be greatly missed."
Kerzman also was active in his community, serving on the board of a rural electric cooperative and was active in Farmers Union and Knights of Columbus.
Kerzman never forgot the lessons he learned from the monks at Assumption Abbey High School in Richardton, his wife said.
"I think he will be remembered for serving those who were less fortunate — trying to make legislation that met the needs of those less fortunate," she said.
He leaves behind 10 children and 21 grandchildren, with two more grandchildren on the way.
"He was the most wonderful husband, the most wonderful father, and he loved his grandbabies with all his heart," Jill Kerzman said.
His funeral is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Mott Armory.