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Mike Jacobs: Quickly the news blows by

These days the news moves so quickly that a weekly column can't keep up, so today's column is a mash-up of references meant to call attention to a number of intriguing items.

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These days the news moves so quickly that a weekly column can't keep up, so today's column is a mash-up of references meant to call attention to a number of intriguing items.

To start, the Republican Party's search for a strong candidate to oppose U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp appears to have foundered. True enough, Gary Emineth, the former party chair, said he is in, but his announcement came with a whiff of resignation from Republicans. Earlier four highly touted candidates turned down the opportunity to run.

Emineth joins state Sen. Tom Campbell. Both are good Republicans - Campbell a vocal Trump supporter, Emineth not so much, at least in the last campaign - but neither has the experience, dynamism nor popular appeal that a successful campaign requires. Campbell may have the money, and he's been spending plenty on television.

The biggest obstacle for Republicans is Heitkamp's careful cultivation of an independent image. Statistician and pundit Nate Silver refers to this as her "individual brand." Silver is behind FiveThirtyEight, a highly regarded oddsmaking website now owned by ESPN. He correctly called all but two Senate races in 2012.

Most political oddsmakers are improving Heitkamp's chances, moving the race from a toss-up late last year to a likely win for her. Like all election speculation, this comes with stipulations. There's still time for other Republicans candidate to emerge, these are unsettled, even chaotic times politically, and Heitkamp's narrow victory in 2012 is one that Silver missed.

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Here's the North Dakota election calendar: Democratic state convention March 15-18, Republican convention April 6-8, both at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks; filing deadline for the primary election, April 9; primary election June 12; general election Nov. 6.

Last week's forum in Grand Forks on good government attracted about 40 people, a pretty good turnout under any circumstances, I thought, and more impressive because President Trump delivered his State of the Union address at the same time as the forum was under way. The discussion was wide-ranging. Dr. Paul Sum, chair of UND's Department of Political Science and I will reprise the conversation on Prairie Public later in the month.

Participants in the discussion expressed a hunger for more information about government, especially locally. That's always hard for a journalist to hear, knowing the effort and expense that goes into local government coverage. In response, I always emphasis that in today's media environment it's just as important for citizens to seek information for themselves as it is for media outlets to provide it.

In a look-ahead column early in January, I suggested that the proposed Davis Refinery would be an important issue during 2018, and so it has proven. Meridian Energy continues to bypass the state's siting review process, on the grounds that its initial project doesn't reach the state's threshold even while acknowledging that it plans to double capacity in the future, bringing the whole project within the state's siting jurisdiction. The issue is a volatile one; the proposed site is within a few miles of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota's Badlands. Members of the Public Service Commission have expressed concern about Meridian's attitude, especially Julie Fedorchak, who has the commission's siting portfolio. Jim Fuglie, former North Dakota tourism director, follows this issue in The Prairie Blog, which appears in Area Voices on Forum Company websites.

A new film examines the impact of oil and gas development on wildlife and other resources in the Badlands. A story about the 15-minute film from the Badlands Conservation Alliance and the North Dakota Wildlife Federation appeared in the state's newspapers last week. You can see the film, called "Keeping All the Pieces," at www.badlandsconservationalliance.com .

Higher education online has been drawing increased attention, partly because of Doug Burgum's enthusiasm for it. The governor speaks of the "digital disruption" facing colleges and universities, and he's made online education one focus of his task force on higher education. Several of the state's 11 campuses have online programs; UND's is probably the most advanced. The university has said it plans to contract with Pearson, a British academic resources company to manage its online offerings. This has raised some alarm among UND faculty. Jacob Notermann, a staff writer for the campus newspaper, The Dakota Student, has written about the issue. You can read more at www.dakotastudent.com or on social media sites. Search for Dakota Student.

Finally, last March, I wrote about Berzelius Windrip, the fictional president in Sinclair Lewis' 1935 novel "It Can't Happen Here." Now I'm reading David Frum's new book, "Tumpocracy," which argues that it can. A respected conservative thinker who worked for President George W. Bush, Frum subtitled his book, "The Corruption of the American Republic."

Mike Jacobs is a former editor and publisher of the Herald. He can be reached at mjacobs@gfherald.com

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