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Port: The problem isn't the filibuster, the problem is the people we elect to the US Senate

I say we keep the filibuster and start electing a better class of citizens.

U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp during a visit to the Grand Forks Herald Editorial Board in this undated file photo.
Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald
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MINOT, N.D. — Politics is a business brimming with nonsense, and there is no more reliable source of nonsense than the ever-shifting partisan feelings about the Senate filibuster.

The majority party in the Senate always hates it, and the minority party defends it, and if we could somehow connect the endless flip-flopping to an electric generator we could power the greater Washington, D.C., area with an endless supply of renewable energy.

A lot of people are watching these Republican primaries. North Dakota's government is dominated by Republicans, and there is a pitched battle going on right now for the soul of the NDGOP. These legislative races are the trenches in that battle. So far, based on one of the few objective data points we have, it appears the traditional conservatives are positioned to keep their hold on the party.

Case in point, former U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.

Since getting bounced from elected office by the voters in 2018 she's positioned herself as a rube whisperer for Democrats. An ambassador from fly-over country who, despite having won just one fluke election in North Dakota in the last two-and-a-half decades, presumes to explain to a Democratic Party that has turned its back on the American working class ( as Sen. Bernie Sanders put it ) how they can win back rural voters.

Her primary vehicle, the place she's been directing some of the leftover millions from her last campaign, is the One Country Project. Through that organization, Heitkamp and some other Democrats — including former North Dakota Sens. Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad — are calling for filibuster reform.


"The signers of this op-ed are not in accord on whether to eliminate the procedural mechanism of the filibuster entirely," their message reads. "We do agree, however, that meaningful reform to Senate rules is necessary if the filibuster is to continue and if the Senate is to properly function, especially to protect free and fair elections."

Biden with Heitkamp
Former Vice President Joe Biden shows his support for Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's re-election campaign at the Dem-NPL state convention in Grand Forks in March 2018.
Forum File Photo

You may not be as fluent as I am in Politician, so allow me to translate that into English: "We want to get the filibuster out of the way of our party's agenda right now but we want to retain some wiggle room to support it again in the future."

Heitkamp's history with the filibuster is a pattern of self-serving posturing.

Upon getting elected to her single term in the Senate in 2012 she helped Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid nuke the filibuster for judicial appointees, making the usual mealy mouthed condemnations of "obstruction" from Republicans.

Later in her six-year term, when Republicans took a Senate majority and the White House, she voted for dozens of filibusters to obstruct Republican policies and appointments.

Because, again, when you cut through the smog of self-righteous posturing on obstruction and dysfunction and blah, blah, blah, the filibuster is only a problem for the party in charge that wants to ram-through policy without making enough concessions to win at least a few votes from the minority party.

Somehow the Senate functioned for centuries with the filibuster as a tool for the chamber's minority.

The problem isn't the filibuster.


The problem is politicians who propose policies that can't earn enough support to get past the filibuster. More than that, the problem is we voters who elect hidebound politicians to pursue uncompromising policy agendas in Washington, D.C.

We tell our political leaders not to bend. We tell them to have stiff spines. We reward them with attention and votes and campaign contributions for scoring cheap points on the opposition.

Is it any wonder, then, that we are governed by factions of politicians who can barely speak to one another? Let alone make reasonable policy compromises that can earn the support of a large enough consensus to make it past the super-majority requirements of the filibuster?

I say we keep the filibuster and start electing a better class of citizen to the Senate.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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