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Changing economy led to political shift, Kevin Cramer says

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., addressed a variety of topics, including federal granting entities and programs for sexual assault survivors, at a UND open session Tuesday night.

The presentation, titled "Issues Facing North Dakota in the New United States Congress," consisted of Cramer recounting his political career in the context of North Dakota political history before opening the floor to questions from the audience.

In the first half of the presentation, Cramer discussed why he believed Republican politicians had found an increasing amount of success in state elections.

"I think part of it is that the Democratic party of the state, they didn't see something happening right in front of them," he said. "The party core was shifting from this singularly agricultural economy ... to a very dynamic economy."

In Cramer's estimation, the increasing savvy and widening focus of the state's agricultural producers prompted a new political push to greater deregulation.

"They were building their own bins, they were storing their own products, they were tapping into new crops and breeds and technology," he said. "They weren't waiting for the local elevator to tell them what the prices were for crops or when they had to sell. They wanted less government intrusion and more freedom to do what they wanted to do."

From there, Cramer shifted to his support for President Donald Trump and his appointment to the Congressional Steering Committee, a posting Cramer attributed to his connection to Trump. The mention of the president began the stream of questions from the audience, which probed at Cramer's feelings toward freedom of expression and the role of a free press, his support for a controversial bill determining how internet service providers are regulated and his thoughts on the cyclical oil economy's impact on state coffers. More than one questioner raised the issue of last week's Trump-ordered airstrike in Syria launched as response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Perhaps most relevant to UND were questions related to Cramer’s support for funding for the National Institutes of Health and the National Endowment for the Arts, the former of which provides considerable grant funding each year to the university.

Of all the budget cuts prescribed in an early proposal by the Trump administration, Cramer said, the "one that bothered me the most" was the suggested reduction to the NIH, a topic which he had discussed with campus leaders. Though he said the NEA may be unlikely to be considered a high priority to lawmakers, he said the NIH can make a "business case for research and development."

Toward the end of the question and answer session, a woman asked Cramer if he would support funding for the Office on Violence Against Women, a Justice Department initiative, in light of proposed Trump budget cuts to the department as a whole. The office provides grants that fund services to survivors of sexual assault and victims of stalking and domestic violence.

Cramer, who voted in favor of the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, said he would continue to support the office's mission and "suspected we'll be successful" maintaining it as a "much higher priority" for funding than other areas in the budgeting process.

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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