Lloyd Omdahl: The saga of the Dem-NPL Light Brigade

So in 2022 the Dem-NPL is now groping for candidates in the face of a dominant Republican Party that passes voting laws that will shrink the Dem-NPL even more.

Lloyd Omdahl, use online, horizontal.jpg
Lloyd Omdahl
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In 1854, when the United Kingdom was engaged in the Crimean War, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote the “Charge of the Light Brigade” to describe the slaughter in the Battle of Balaclava against the Russians.

It is somewhat descriptive of the recent Democratic-NPL state convention in Minot where a maximum of 200 people attended in person and online and failed to nominate candidates for all of the offices on the November ballot.

This is not a once-in-a-lifetime historic event. If you live long enough, history will flaunt its facts for you.

History repeated

A similar situation occurred in the 1964 Dem-NPL convention when some nominations attracted no envious eyes and others just screwed up. Remember this was the year of the Johnson landslide that re-elected Sen. Quentin Burdick, Gov. Bill Guy and swept a majority of Democrats for the House of Representatives and coming only three votes short in the Senate.


Nevertheless, the delegates to the 1964 convention were unaware of the approaching groundswell and struggled to convince candidates to run. A number of legislative candidates were promised they would never have to serve but they were needed to fill the ticket.

1964 scramble

At the state level, the anticipated ticket got scrambled. Instead of running for attorney general as planned, Charles Tighe decided to run for lieutenant governor, a position everyone thought would go to Rep. Walter Christianson.

Christianson had to be convinced to run for state treasurer which he did and won. Rep. K.O. Nygaard was convinced to take the nomination for insurance commissioner.

While 1964 turned out to be a banner year regardless of the complications involved in planning a full slate, the 1966 backwash was great and the legislators who didn’t expect to win in 1964 were home during the 1967 session.

NPL-Dem bright years

The Dem-NPL had some bright years after 1966 – Bill Guy and Quentin Burdick kept winning. In 1976, Democrats ran the legislature into a tie with Republicans in the House. Then Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan won seats in the U. S. Senate and Earl Pomeroy was elected to the U.S. House. Gov. Art Link was elected in 1972, followed by Gov. George Sinner in 1986.

(When the Conrad-Dorgan-Pomeroy trio represented North Dakota in Washington, the pork barrel was reported on the internet. The trio poured so much money into North Dakota colleges and universities and funded so many other public projects that it was actually embarrassing even for Democrats.)


ND transformed

Following the departure of the Sinner administration and the Washington trio, the Dem-NPL faded and North Dakota, measured by election returns, became the second most conservative state in the Union.

So in 2022 the Dem-NPL is now groping for candidates in the face of a dominant Republican Party that passes voting laws that will shrink the Dem-NPL even more. In the Crimean War, the Russians gave no quarter, either.

It is time for the Dem-NPL to look at the limited options. The only one that makes sense is the use of the citizens’ right to initiate and refer laws. Lacking in cognitive flexibility, the organization hasn’t been able to get out of the conventional rut.

So here is Tennyson’s take of the situation, modified somewhat:

“Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death


Rode the Dem-NPL nominees

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!

Charge for the guns,’ he said.

Into the valley of Death

Rode the Dem-NPL nominees

Cannon to the right of them,

Cannon to the left of them,

Cannon in front of them

Volleyed and thundered;

Stormed at with shot and shell,

Boldly they rode and well,

The Dem-NPL nominees fell.”

Lloyd Omdahl is a former state lieutenant governor and professor at UND.

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