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Milton Who? Norman Who? Redux. PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jim Fuglie   
Monday, 05 November 2012 20:09

[Cross-posted, with permission, from "The Prairie Blog"]

I’ve been pretty quiet here about the 2012 election. My team is losing, generally, and I don’t have much to add to the debate, except to point out the betrayal of the state and its values by the current Governor. It’s going to end badly for my team Tuesday night, I’m afraid. I’ve been poised to write an obituary for the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party, but I’m going to wait a bit and see how North Dakota Democrats react to another ass-whupping.

I want to return to something I wrote here on August 24, 2011:

The last time North Dakota had two Republican U.S. Senators was 51 years ago this month. August 1960. Milton R. Young and Norman Brunsdale. Young had been in office since 1945, when he was appointed to fill out the term of Democrat John Moses, who died in office that year after serving only two months as our Senator. Brunsdale was appointed in November of 1959, to replace longtime Senator William Langer, who also died in office. A special election was called in June of 1960 for that Senate seat, and Brunsdale was defeated by Democratic-NPL Congressman Quentin Burdick. Burdick took office August 8, 1960, and since then, there has been at least one Democrat representing North Dakota in the U.S. Senate, and for almost half of the fifty years between Burdick’s election and Dorgan’s retirement at the end of 2010, both our Senators were Democrats. (And that just drove North Dakota Republicans batty!)

Well, that shit is about to come to an end. Likely, when the Senate convenes in January of 2013, North Dakota will finally have two Republicans in the U.S. Senate again. Because Rick Berg is probably—no, likely–going to be the next United States Senator from North Dakota.

Burdick, elected in that special election in the summer of 1960, served until he died in office in 1992. Mark Andrews succeeded Young in 1981, served one term and was defeated by Kent Conrad in 1986. Conrad has been in the Senate since. And since then, North Dakota has had all Democrats in the Senate until John Hoeven was elected to succeed Byron Dorgan last year.

That will all change next year, when Berg joins Hoeven after the 2012 election. Sorry, Democrats. Get over it. Now. Focus on something else, because in spite of some really bad votes in his first term in the U.S. Congress, Berg is going to have all the money he needs to move to the Senate. Enough money to get elected. That’s one of the rules that hasn’t changed in Washington.

North Dakota is finally going to finally fully live up to its reputation as a Republican state. The rest of the country is going to say “Geez, what took you so long?”

Berg’s election next year will be a mixed blessing. I can’t say I am either excited or disappointed about it, but his legislating will probably improve as a Senator. He’s been caught up in the whole Tea Party thing this year and has come off as something of an ideologue, voting with his party’s majority to cut for the sake of cutting, including funds for some things that are pretty important to North Dakotans. He’ll mellow over there in the Senate, especially under the watchful eye of moderate John Hoeven. He’ll be a much better Senator for North Dakota than he has been a Representative. So we’re better off having him in the Senate.

Well, we’ll see. Something unexpected (at least by me) happened on the way to an all-Republican delegation, in the form of Heidi Heitkamp. Six months earlier, in February 2011, I had written this:

Somebody, pretty soon, is going to do a poll showing Heidi with really strong numbers. Beating, or at least being really competitive against Dalrymple for Governor and Stenehjem, or maybe even Berg, for Senate. She’s said publicly that if she runs for anything, it will be Governor. But a good showing in a Senate poll will bring the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee to her door with its checkbook wide open. They desperately want to hold Conrad’s seat. In the years since she last ran for Governor, she’s converted a lengthy Rolodex of donors to her Blackberry. And Emily’s List will open its doors the moment she makes an announcement. No matter what she runs for, money won’t be a problem. Finally, Kent Conrad is her best friend. What he advises will be key to her decision. She’s going to be pressed to make a decision soon, probably as soon as the Legislature adjourns, so that Democrats can find candidates for the offices she doesn’t choose, and begin raising funds for that candidate. She’s been accused in the past of being indecisive, of waiting too long. This year, she knows that to win, she needs to move early to start the fundraising process.

As pretty much every national news outlet has reported, on the U.S. Senate race story of the year, Heidi did indeed get some good early poll numbers, entered the race, and changed the game. And she might win. We’ll know either Tuesday night or in December, when the recount is done. I think it’ll be close, but there’s just no way to tell whose ground game was more effective until the votes are counted. Still, I won’t be surprised if my prediction was accurate.

Sadly, for those of us who still vote for Democrats—there are fewer and fewer of us each election—it’s about the only competitive race on the ballot this year. In that August 2011 blog post, I also wrote:

The North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party is not at an historic low when it comes to elected offices held and party strength at the grass roots level, but it is close. Their only elected officials are Conrad, who’s leaving, and School Superintendent Wayne Godfrey Sanstead, who’s 76 and may be ready to retire. That’s the fewest offices they’ve held in modern political history. In 1981, the only Democrats in the State Capitol were Bruce Hagen at the Public Service Commission and Tax Commissioner Kent Conrad, but Dorgan and Burdick were in Washington. Republicans had two-thirds majorities in both houses of the state Legislature that year, as they do now. But the Democrats came back as a party starting in 1982, and ran the Capitol for a dozen years into the ‘90s, thanks to a spirited intra-party race for Governor in 1984. That year, four candidates criss-crossed the state, generating enough publicity and enthusiasm among party faithful to sweep Bud Sinner into the Governor’s office and take over most of the elected offices in the Capitol. And at the next election, in 1986, Conrad knocked off Andrews, giving North Dakota its first-ever all Democratic-NPL Congressional delegation. The party was at an all-time high.

But they began pissing it away in 1992, when Attorney General Nicholas Spaeth ran a lackluster campaign for Governor and was trounced by Republican Ed Schafer. Other than holding on to the three Washington posts, it’s been all downhill for the Democrats since then. What the Democrats have found is that it is hard to build a party when the other side controls the Governor’s office for 20 years.

And so I urged the Democrats to put their 2012 focus on the Governor’s race, with this logic:

Governor Jack Dalrymple is the least known Governor in recent history. Not the worst governor, just the least known. (Note: my position has changed in 2012. He is the worst.)The only publicity he’s gotten in his brief stay in office is as a flood fighter, and we lost that fight. Hardly anyone knows him, or anything about him, and he’s not charismatic. Nor is he as single-minded as his predecessor. Hoeven was able to stay on message unwaveringly for ten years, and I saw him on TV the other night and he’s still on it. Dalrymple hasn’t yet had the opportunity to focus on a message that works. And his time as Dalrymple the Governor is short before he becomes Dalrymple the Candidate. Not much time to build a record to run on, or to even create an impression that he fits in the office. North Dakotans know where their governor lives, and they expect to see him regularly. In just the short 22 months between taking office and facing the voters, Dalrymple is at a distinct disadvantage going into the 2012 election. Especially if the Democrats zero in on that race. Which is what they should do. Now.

Well, so much for my advice. There’s been less focus on the North Dakota Governor’s race this year than in any election I can ever remember. Heidi chose the Senate race, and Democrats settled for a cowboy from Towner, Senate Minority Leader Ryan Taylor, as their Governor candidate. If he can muster more than 40 per cent against Dalrymple Tuesday, Senator Taylor might still be the party’s future. He’s got enough Art Link in him to be a good leader. He just has to get tough enough to get elected. Today’s generation forgets that Art Link was one tough SOB. He stared the coal industry in the eye and said “Slow down. I won’t have you running amok in my state.”

I suggest what Ryan Taylor should do this winter is read Mike Jacobs’ book One Time Harvest: Reflections on Coal And Our Future. And then decide if he really wants to be Governor. It’s apparent, to me at least, that he decided sometime in the summer of 2012 that he did not want it right now. If he changes his mind, and keeps his hand in, he could be a formidable opponent for Drew Wrigley in 2016.

So. Election Day 2012 in North Dakota is about Heidi. Not about Berg. Everyone conceded the race to him a year ago. If Heidi had chosen to run for Governor—her stated preference a year ago—she might well have defeated Jack Dalrymple, and set about the task of rebuilding the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party and bringing two-party government to her state once again. But when Kent Conrad turned the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee loose on her last year, and they were able to convince her that she had a higher calling—to save our country from an all-Republican government, forsaking her state to an all-Republican government—she became a much bigger player in a much bigger picture. For better or for worse. There are four possible scenarios that could play out Tuesday.

  1. Heidi wins, and the margin of Democrat control in the U.S. Senate is just that one seat, hers. She’s a hero.
  2. Heidi wins, and the Democrats retain control of the U.S. Senate by more than one vote. In this case, she gets to be a U.S. Senator, but she will have survived (the correct verb) the most mean, vicious campaign in state history and gained nothing much for her party, or her state.
  3. Heidi wins, but Republicans still gain control of the U.S. Senate because other candidates in key races around the country fail to hold up their end.  Refer to the last nine words in number two.
  4. Heidi loses. Refer to the last nine words in number three.

Good luck Tuesday, Heidi. You’ve done your job. You’ve run a great campaign. I hope it is number one.

Comments (9)add comment

Chet said:

For the record...
This is one of those blog posts by Jim that I don't entirely agree with. But I've posted it anyway.
November 05, 2012
Votes: -1

nimrod's brainstem said:

Proof of Dalrymple's effectiveness: Four years of off-the-chart oil-driling and production, and his administration is just now figuring out that maybe there should be someplace to bury oilfield waste (besides ditches and farm fields when the Department of Health isn't looking). Laughable, if not so pathetic.
November 06, 2012
Votes: +2

big jake said:

I'll remind Chet that many of us feel that you should post things you do not agree with. That is the essence of our system---when it is working.

I do not agree with the whole post either but the parts I liked needed to be said. I am not sure that we will see the light. "but I’m going to wait a bit and see how North Dakota Democrats react to another ass-whupping."
A reminder here is in order. It was the failure of Andrews and the entire Republican party and the Reagan administration that just ignored the farm disaster which had already begun in 1979 that elected democrats and that includes Conrad. Not only did the Democrats do only marginally better with dealing with the crisis, in the end they just offered production agriculture up to the bankers. The sting of that had and still is having the effect of many folks just concluding that nobody really gives a damn.
The right wing juggernaught is in full field dress and will remain so after this election no matter who is elected. They have a goal. We don't.

The goal is a complete takeover of the White House, the Senate, the House and the Supreme Court and they have been steadily moving in that direction since Goldwater. In 1984, the Democrats made a fateful decision to become more Republican ===the DLC---- and we have yet to recover. Many of our fellow democrats subscribe to that nonsense. If we are to begin to fix the massive problems that confront us, we will have to figure out what we believe, and formulate a plan to start the process. We have not as yet. I firmly believe that if we do that---stand for something===we will discover that those who should be with us will return and we can engage the enemy. It has always been our choice.
November 06, 2012
Votes: +1

nimrod's password said:

ND Dem-NPL needs to be taken apart and rebuilt from the ground up.
November 07, 2012
Votes: +0

big jake said:

An election post scrip. The ass-whupping was even more than Jim thought. Heidi has been elected by the women of ND----and that is fine with me.

What we should be reflecting on is just why we did so predicably poorly and begin to think about doing something about it. I tend to agree with nimrod---rebuild the party---skip the part about tearing it apart, that has already been done.
As the nation gets poorer and more and more of us find that we are in that group of have-less or now have nothing, and we discover that Obama's solutions will not work, perhaps we can summon up the courage to admit that we have been wrong. That is the first step in solving any problem. A reminder here---Roosevelt's new deal did not fix the problem but it did give the people the confidence that somebody was working in their best interest and they were. The solution came out of necessity----Dec. 7. And a new policy was put in place by Jan. 1942 that basically changed monetary policy and raw materials were monetized and the war was won and the prosperity delivered lasted by law until 1952. With much searching to find any answer, the solution implemented at that time with modern updates, appears to be the only one that will work. I hope that we do not need to experience a deep depression before we become willing to take some action.
November 07, 2012
Votes: -1

nimrod's brainstem said:

Big Jake - The ND Dem-NPL cannot be re-built on a platform of a change in monetary policy. It has to be based on the Taylor-Chaffee platform of integrity, stewardship of natural resources, educational opportunity, and a responsive government that is not in the pocket of big oil.
November 07, 2012
Votes: +0

Marty2 said:

Couple thoughts:

1) Thank goodness Heidi didn't listen to Jim, because I'm not sure she would have won the governorship. While Dalrymple might not have had quite as much name recognition, I think he truly does come across as someone who is basically well-intentioned, somewhat competent and probably a decent enough guy. In other words, Heidi might not have had as signficant of a "likeability" advantage in the governor's race as she had in the Senate race; and the likeability advantage was key for her.

2) With regard to the future of the party: be sure to look at the broader landscape. Think about what Measure 3 was about. Ask why Measure 5 went down so overwhelmingly. Think of all our conversations about oil development and pollution. These are all closely related. Specifically, they show how our ND elections and our public policy both are being shaped by paranoid fantasies of extremist boogeymen -- boogeymen coming to shut down our oil and our farming and our hunting.

Sadly/pathetically, the majority of ND voters both believe in these boogeymen threats and also view the Dem-NPL as the party that can't be trusted to protect us from those boogeymen. That is now the party's brand in ND. Yes, Jake, some Republicans will leave the GOP each year and vote for the party that admits these boogeymen threats don't exist, but I'm afraid the migration will remain too slow.

What about Heidi? Like I said, Heidi's likeability was critical - it kept the race close. But it was Clinton's endorsement that won the election for her, when he cited how Heidi beat "his forest service." Through that message, Clinton credibly addressed enough people's fears of whether Heidi would help protect us from the EPA boogeymen.
Heidi didn't BOTHER trying to convince people that the boogeymen threats aren't real; she just rolled with it - false premise and all - and made the case for how she would protect us from those boogeymen.

Brilliant to behold. But I don't know if can be replicated, nor that we would want to.
November 07, 2012
Votes: +0

big jake said:

Of course you cannot rebuild or attract the new majority with a platform of monetary policy, it won't work. However, the effects of bad policy such as a declining middle class, unaffordable health care, a continued declining rural ND, tax policy that has favored and helped create an emerged elite will attract those who need representation. Not platitudes but discussing the real lives of most of us will attract those without representation and most feel it but for a variety of reasons have not articulated it. That is the job of a functioning Democratic party--to speak to those need a restoration of the American Dream. Obama gets close to this but has not yet figured out what to do. With some help, Heidi can represent us very well. We need to encourage her to open up and consider alternatives to the standard Democratic stuff. The people are waiting for someone to do that. It must be us and not them.
November 08, 2012
Votes: +2

star said:

Marty 2 - you are so right. But look at the history of the Republican party. The modern day Republican party is built on the fictitious "boogeyman" coming to get us. Listen to AM radio. Across the state, you have AM nut-bags who preach this crap to their lemmings every day. Watch Fox news, which has got to be the most watched channel in the state from my discussions with some of these lemmings, there is always the a boogeyman, whether it is Russia in Reagan's day, or Bush's nuclear cloud coming from Iraq. Hell, even Romney tried to gin up the old Russia threat during the campaign. Whether it is true or not, does not matter. Keep telling the lemmings and eventually they will all believe it.
Don't forget, Karl Rove (Bush's Brain) was placed in the Norwegian Hall of Fame at Norsk Host Fest a couple of years ago. This is a man who helped lead us into a war over "weapons of mass destruction", was chin deep in the outing a CIA agent (treason), and a melt down on Fox News over the call of Ohio that will live forever.
The point is the only way for the Democratic party in ND to regain its footing, is to present the facts. And keep the facts in front of the people. And we have to be ready to call out their BS when we hear it. Unfortunately, at least for me, our candidates are practicing ND nice. Don't want to create waves. We all knew that Cramer was vunerable on several fronts, yet did we take it to him. Nope. We allowed to sit there and not have to answer where he money was coming from. We did not demand that our news media investigate all these charges, we did not demand that our Attorney General do his job and investigate these charges.
Maybe we have turned into lemmings ourselves?
November 10, 2012
Votes: +3

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