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Platform debate covers guns, marijuana, abortion

Values or voters? Members of North Dakota Democratic-NPL debated its platform on Friday in a long, evening discussion at its statewide convention at Grand Forks' Alerus Center. Ranging from marijuana to guns to abortion, the discussion at one mom...

Briana Bohm sings the National Anthem Friday as the North Dakota Democratic convention opens at the Alerus Center. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
Briana Bohm sings the National Anthem Friday as the North Dakota Democratic convention opens at the Alerus Center. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Values or voters?

Members of North Dakota Democratic-NPL debated its platform on Friday in a long, evening discussion at its statewide convention at Grand Forks' Alerus Center. Ranging from marijuana to guns to abortion, the discussion at one moment became a discussion about strategy-should the Democrats stick to their philosophy, or should they appeal to rural, gun-owning North Dakota?

The drafted platform, which was compiled over the past seven months, includes support to raise the "semi-automatic" purchasing age from 18 to 21, to require "certified firearm safety training" for first-time gun buyers, and stricter background check requirements for gun show and private gun purchases.

"Hunting is a way of life for a lot of us. It's definitely a way for me," Brandon Delvo, who ran for the Legislature in far-western North Dakota in 2016, said while addressing the convention. "I can't campaign on this out there. I know for a lot of candidates in rural areas, you can't do it either."

But proponents of those provisions, likely prompted by the shootings from Texas to Las Vegas to Florida, questioned if the platform was the problem. As one delegate wondered, is the party here to defend kids, "or are we about pandering to the electorate and trying to get votes?"

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After lengthy discussion and a vote, the party had its answer: All the gun-related provisions in the platform were left intact.

The debate was one of numerous moments in the evening when the party sought its ultimate direction on a range of issues, and will resume on Saturday morning before a final platform is passed. It currently offers support for a range of basic items, including North Dakota's anti-corporate farming law, a $15 per hour minimum wage, net neutrality rules and an initiated measure to create a state Ethics Commission. The party backed the legalization of marijuana, and voted down a vaguely pro-life suggestion that some delegates saw as coded language opposing abortion.

The party's positions often directly support or oppose policies that even casual political observers will recognize. The party supports the Affordable Care Act, for example, as well as the law that gives undocumented immigrant minors a legal way to stay in the U.S. North Dakota Democrats also support keeping the U.S. in the Paris Climate Accords, but oppose the recently passed Republican tax overhaul-which has been blasted in recent weeks by the party as primarily benefiting the corporations and the wealthy.

The Dakota Access Pipeline and the related protests are not directly mentioned, but they appear to have influenced the position that new pipeline work is done "in an environmentally and culturally responsible manner." The party also passed a position to take "science-based actions" to fight climate change and create a state commission to study its economic impact.

Other items include support for universal health care, for efforts to close "the income inequality gap," and for more funding for higher education "to mitigate the escalating costs of a college education."

"The plan is to continue this discussion first thing when we gavel in tomorrow morning," state party Chairwoman Kylie Oversen said.

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