OUR OPINION: The fall and rise of North Dakota Democrats
Maybe we're all making it too complicated. Maybe there's an easy way for North Dakota Democrats to gain seats in the Legislature and regain their statewide popularity: They should take their lead from the state's most popular Democrat, Heidi Heit...
Maybe we're all making it too complicated.
Maybe there's an easy way for North Dakota Democrats to gain seats in the Legislature and regain their statewide popularity:
They should take their lead from the state's most popular Democrat, Heidi Heitkamp.
Because it's all a matter of triangulation-and Heitkamp has the key angles down.
Heitkamp's formula for political success is the same as the one used by former Democratic senators Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan:
First, support those policies of your party that succeed and are popular, while jettisoning those policies that don't and aren't. (Well, most of those policies, anyway.)
Second, never forget that "success" in this instance means what's best for North Dakota, even when that conflicts with the interests of other states.
By the way, this philosophy is not unique to Democrats. It's the same one that successful Republicans such as John Hoeven, Jack Dalrymple and Kevin Cramer follow, too. More about that in a minute.
And just because that formula sounds like common sense doesn't mean it's either universally accepted or easy to carry out. Just ask State Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, who got nowhere in his bid to become a conservative governor, mostly because supposedly conservative North Dakotans have little interest in being governed along rigid conservative lines.
(In the past few months, Republican voters taught Texas Sen. Ted Cruz the same lesson on a national scale.)
But back to Heitkamp: Where North Dakota needs her, she's with North Dakota. That's especially clear on energy issues, where Heitkamp has advocated for pipelines and coal-based energy, positions that put her in conflict with her party's left wing.
The same is true on fracking, which both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have denounced. Heitkamp strongly supports fracking-especially in North Dakota, where the sheer depth of the oil wells mitigates the concerns that have been voiced elsewhere about fracking's effects on earthquakes and groundwater.
As columnist and blogger Rob Port points out, this still leaves Heitkamp in the awkward position of having to support her party's hostile-to-fracking leadership, including Clinton and President Obama. But while that position hurts Heitkamp, it hasn't destroyed her. North Dakotans may be skeptical of Democrats, but not so much that they'll refuse to vote for anyone with a "D" after their name. Democratic Party leaders in the state, take note.
Heitkamp also opposes many gun-control initiatives as well as the Waters of the United States rule and other intrusive, Democratic Party-favored plans. So, why is she a Democrat at all?
Because North Dakota also has a Nonpartisan League, pro-New Deal, pro-Farm Bill, pro-public schools and state universities, anti-corporate-farming side, and that side matters in state politics, too.
Hoeven, Dalrymple and Cramer know all about this side. In fact, they cater to it, to the dismay of hardline conservatives in the North Dakota Republican Party.
And elsewhere: Both Hoeven and Cramer get F's from ConservativeReview.com, which grades congressmen on conservatism.
Meanwhile, both Hoeven and Cramer are shoo-ins for re-election.
The fact that both statements are true is not a coincidence.
North Dakota Republicans triangulate. North Dakota Democrats can, too. They have done so in the past. They can do so again. And that's where they'll find political success.
-- Tom Dennis for the Herald