OUR OPINION: Clark's position makes him a poor choice

They seem as inevitable as the tides, these cycles of politics, cycles in which one party gains the upper hand and then promptly begins to overreach.

They seem as inevitable as the tides, these cycles of politics, cycles in which one party gains the upper hand and then promptly begins to overreach.

It happened in Congress after the Republicans' triumphs in the 1990s; in 2008, the public said, "Throw the rascals out." It happened to congressional Democrats in 2009 and 2010; come November, Democrats seem sure to lose plenty of Capitol Hill seats.

Could the same thing happen to majority Republicans in North Dakota state government?

Not this year, given the state's rousing economic success. But GOP leaders should be alert lest a few signs of political tone-deafness spread.

The election of state Public Service Commissioner Tony Clark as party chair probably belongs on that list. There's nothing illegal, immoral or unethical in the choice; the party can choose whomever it wants as its leader, and Clark has every right to serve.


But ...

Does the choice of a sitting commissioner really boost the party's standing? And did Clark do the right thing by accepting the post?

The answers may well be "no." Remember, while North Dakota state government has been a GOP encampment for years, the state retains a bedrock respect for nonpartisanship. It's in North Dakotans' DNA, columnist Lloyd Omdahl wrote in 2001:

"North Dakota became a state in the late 1800s, when the Progressive movement was in its heyday," Omdahl wrote.

"People drawn to the Progressive banner were paranoid when it came to political parties. They believed that parties subverted the will of the people and should be banished from the face of the Earth. North Dakota bought the whole agenda, and provided for nonpartisan election of all township, city and county officials, as well as state judges.

"The nonpartisan tradition has rooted in the state like leafy spurge in McHenry County, and continues to be a major factor in the new century."

And as a result, party leaders in the state should "curb the yen to make everything about government political," Omdahl declared.

That remains good advice today -- especially where the Public Service Commission is concerned, given the commission's straightforward regulatory role.


It's true that commissioners run for election as party nominees. It's also true that when Democrats win similar offices, Republicans expect them to curb their partisan impulses. After organizing a bipartisan Commission on the Future of Agriculture, then-Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson indiscreetly touted that fact on a Democratic campaign brochure. Republicans objected, so loudly and so long that few of the "politicized" commissions' recommendations made it through the Legislature.

Johnson eventually resigned from the chairmanship of the group.

"Public Service Commissioners are the closest thing we have to judges in the executive branch of government," and commissioners should be expected to "apply the law in an objective, transparent and nonpartisan fashion." The lines belong to Brad Crabtree, Democratic commissioner candidate. But they could have belonged to Republicans, if the GOP had thought a step or two ahead and behaved with that rarest of virtues for any majority party: self-restraint.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

What To Read Next
Get Local