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OUR OPINION: Hoeven for Senate

The New York Times has an interesting chart on Tuesday's election prospects. The "Senate Takeover Chances" chart notes the odds that a party will lose a given Senate seat.

The New York Times has an interesting chart on Tuesday's election prospects. The "Senate Takeover Chances" chart notes the odds that a party will lose a given Senate seat.

At the top of the list is North Dakota -- the seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan. The chances that Republicans will pick up this seat?

One hundred percent.

And so begins another chapter in the life of John Hoeven, one of the most remarkable politicians in a great many years to call North Dakota home.

Anyone who thinks extremism now is the key to political success in America hasn't studied Hoeven's career. Only a few years before he ran on the GOP ticket for governor, Hoeven was a Democrat. And it shows: Hoeven counts among his signature achievements boosting teachers' salaries, funneling more money to higher education and taking other steps that would make Minnesota's arch-Republican candidate Tom Emmer weep.


But despite these focused spending initiatives, Hoeven coasted to a second term with 71 percent of the vote. That was in 2004, by the way -- an important election for two reasons: First, because North Dakota's economy was nowhere near as strong as it is today, thus refuting critics who say Hoeven owes his popularity to the oil boom.

Second, because Hoeven's budget and spending plans in his first term represented a calculated but real risk.

Remember, North Dakota didn't have a budget surplus when Hoeven took office. The higher education system still was recovering from a 5 percent budget-cut exercise then-Gov. Ed Schafer had commanded in 1998.

And "at the end of the year, five rigs were drilling for oil in North Dakota," a Herald story reported in 1999. "That's the fewest in almost half a century, since oil was discovered near Tioga in 1951."

That was the atmosphere leading up to 2001, when newly elected Gov. Hoeven proposed spending $50 million on boosting teachers' lowest-in-the-nation salaries. That same year, Hoeven signed the Roundtable reform bill, a landmark measure that gave universities more flexibility in return for a tight focus on economic development.

Thanks to the reforms, "We have a more responsive and accountable university system that can leverage world-class education, research and innovative programs to meet market needs and help drive economic growth," Hoeven said at the time.

That's classic Hoeven. He has said much the same thing on many different issues and dozens of other occasions over the years.

But the key is that the plan worked. North Dakota's economy recovered nicely in the early 1990s and has grown steadily since then. That positioned the state to take full advantage of the oil boom -- a position not enjoyed by other states: After all, California and Louisiana have oil, too.


Like Nixon in China, it took a GOP governor to persuade North Dakotans that targeted spending could grow the economy. But Hoeven may have even greater Nixon-in-China challenges ahead. If elected to the Senate, he'll be one of very few moderate Republicans. Will he be marginalized, or will he be able to persuade his colleagues to accept businesslike compromises?

In that effort, Hoeven will have two great strengths. The first is his record: He'll join the Senate as one of America's most successful governors, judging by approval ratings. That's solid evidence for a senator to point to when he argues, "Listen to me."

The second simply is his intelligence and charm. After a decade in office, Hoeven has remarkably few enemies. Even his Democratic opponents seem half-hearted in their critiques; can you remember the substance of even one anti-Hoeven ad?

Those are powerful assets; and in an era of extreme discord, America as well as North Dakota needs them in the U.S. Senate. Vote for Hoeven on Nov. 2.

Endorsements represent the views of Forum Communications, the Herald's parent company. The endorsement above was written by Herald editorial page editor Tom Dennis.

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