Bismarck Tribune Editorial Board Seems Confused


A bill sponsored by Rep. Roscoe Streyle to change the way North Dakota fills Senate vacancies is getting all sorts of attention.

There’s no question it was inspired by the politics of 2016. It’s been widely rumored that Senator Heidi Heitkamp may attempt a run for governor in that cycle (her Senate term doesn’t end until 2018). If she won the governorship – assuredly an uphill battle for a Senator who won by less than 1 percent of the vote in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat governor since 1988 – she’d get to appoint her replacement in the Senate.

If Streyle’s bill passes any U.S. Senate vacancy would be filled by a vote of the people through a special election.

When I spoke to Streyle he voiced concerns over this, pointing to the corruption surrounding the appointment of then-Senator Barack Obama’s replacement in 2009. While this reform to the law might change the trajectory of the 2016 elections, its sound reform going forward.

Sometimes even partisan politics can produce good policy.

But today theĀ Bismarck Tribune attacked the reform, with the editorial board working itself into a lather about partisan politics and…a lack of trust in the people?

An excerpt (emphasis mine):

Streyle has indicated that the possibility Heitkamp might run in 2016 for governor and potentially win was “on my mind” while drafting the bill.

In a state so dominated by Republican leaning voters (all 12 partisan state officers are GOP; Senate 70 percent GOP; House 75 percent GOP; holding the governor’s office since 1992) we are wondering why they have so little trust in those voters that they would need to bow to such an obvious partisan tactic.

How can Streyle’s bill be an indication of a lack of trust in voters when his bill calls on voters to fill Senate vacancies? If anything, Streyle’s bill increases the level of trust put in voters asking them to fill Senate vacancies instead of a political appointment by whoever happens to be governor.

TheĀ Tribune’s position might have more credibility if they didn’t have, at the center of their thesis, a glaring bit of cognitive dissonance.

Setting questions about the 2016 election cycle aside, if you asked most North Dakotans how they thought Senate vacancies should be filled – through political appointment or special election – I’d bet a majority would say special election.

And they’d be right.

I understand that newspaper types have this knee-jerk aversion to anything that seems even superficially partisan (it’s part of their overweening fetish for bipartisanship which could be the topic for a whole other post), but let’s admit that good reform is good reform whatever the motivations might be.