As an observer of North Dakota politics it always interests me how people – particularly the politically engaged – react to a given situation. As such, I found today’s column from former Grand Forks Herald publisher Mike Jacobs to be instructive.
“North Dakota’s gubernatorial race grew interesting again last week, after a month or so of disappointment,” Jacobs writes. What made the race interesting? The controversy over nearly $100,000 in bonuses given to five members of Governor Jack Dalrymple’s staff.
“Extensive coverage on the state’s front pages, criticism from editorial writers and bloggers and the outcry from Democrats and Republicans alike may resonate with North Dakotans,” says Jacobs. “Expect more of ‘Bonusgate’ as the campaign develops.”
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]Will Democrats try to make “bonusgate” an issue in 2016? Perhaps, but what of it? None of the Republicans who might be on the gubernatorial ticket next year – be it Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem or state Rep. Rick Becker, etc., etc. – had anything to do with Dalrymple’s bonuses.[/mks_pullquote]
There are a couple of points to make here.
First, Jacobs is right that Dalrymple’s bonuses were a blunder. You can talk about the need to retain key staff in jobs that have, given that Dalrymple isn’t running for another term, an expiration date. You can also talk about how the money was not a new appropriation, but rather funds already appropriated to the governor’s office. But those things are going to fall on deaf ears among the public who have little patience for big spending on government salaries.
But second, and much more importantly, Jack Dalrymple isn’t going to be on the ballot in 2016.
Will Democrats try to make “bonusgate” an issue in 2016? Perhaps, but what of it? None of the Republicans who might be on the gubernatorial ticket next year – be it Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem or state Rep. Rick Becker, etc., etc. – had anything to do with Dalrymple’s bonuses.
Dalrymple blundered when he approved those payments to staffers – if they were so justifiable he should have proactively explained them to the public – but that was Dalrymple’s blunder. And Dalrymple isn’t likely to ever be on the statewide ballot again.
Thus, if Democrats make “bonusgate” a 2016 issue, it’s going to be less an effective message than an indication of how little Democrats have to campaign on.
If they’re leaning on profligate bonuses approved by someone not on the ballot, and manufactured outrage from an HBO comedian, to win elections they aren’t likely to convince a lot of North Dakotans that change is needed. The politics of gotcha may work at the national level, but in state campaigns it’s likely to be met with a collective shrug from voters.