You’ve probably heard this one before, usually attributed erroneously to someone like Albert Einstein: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
There is truth in the statement, I think, whatever its provenance. I think it may end up applying to Democrat Sarah Vogel’s gubernatorial campaign which now seems certain given that she’s announced the formation of an exploratory committee so that she can begin to keep political contributions she says people are sending her.
Consider these facts, and a key name which keeps recurring for Democrats in one cycle after another.
In 2012 former lawmaker Ryan Taylor was the Democrat nominee for governor. He campaigned against Republican handling of the state’s energy issues. He did rather badly, losing by 19 percentage points to Governor Jack Dalrymple. Taylor’s running mate in that race? Former university president Ellen Chaffee.
In 2014 Taylor ran for Agriculture Commissioner, a position which like the governor has a seat on the North Dakota Industrial Commission which regulates oil and gas development in the state. Taylor did rather badly in that race too, losing by 14 percentage points to not-particularly-inspiring incumbent Republican Doug Goehring (who faced a primary challenger backed by the North Dakota Farm Bureau) and actually managing to pull in almost 4,000 fewer votes than he did in 2012.
A key volunteer and advisor to Taylor’s campaign who at one point made headlines when she instigated an open records dispute with the Industrial Commission? Ellen Chaffee.
Since the 2014 cycle Chaffee has kept herself busy, chumming around with a reporter for the New York Times who wrote a hit piece on North Dakota’s handling of oil-related issues that was, in turn, the basis for that John Oliver skit that had the state’s progressivists all atwitter a few weeks ago. One key facet of that story? The idea that Chaffee’s good friend Taylor was somehow punished for his campaign against Dalrymple with the elimination of his legislative district.
One problem with that accusation, however, which the Times was forced to correct when I pointed it out is that redistricting was completed during a special session in 2011 before Taylor even announced his campaign. The new district lines were drawn long before even that.
Still, it was easy to see Chaffee’s hand in the Times reporting. She and her husband were even referenced in the article as mineral rights owners.
And now, as Sarah Vogel shakes off the dust on her political career for a 2016 run, who is heading up her exploratory committee? “The eight- to nine-member exploratory committee is being chaired by Ellen Chaffee, who was the running mate for former state senator Ryan Taylor in his unsuccessful bid for governor in 2012,” the Forum reports. And already we can hear Vogel echoing Chaffee’s agenda:
Vogel said she believes there’s “quite a bit” about Stenehjem’s record that is vulnerable, including his service on the state Industrial Commission with regard to how the panel has regulated the oil and gas industry, including the flaring of natural gas and suspension of fines for violations.
I wonder what makes Democrats think they’ll be successful with this strategy in 2016 when it didn’t work in 2014 or 2012?
Who knows. But maybe they ought to rethink letting Chaffee use their statewide campaigns to prosecute her personal vendetta against the oil and gas industry, because the evidence tells us it’s not a winning issue for the liberals. Even with some tough sledding ahead for the oil and gas industry, what with prices tanking, I think North Dakotans are largely satisfied with how the state has handled oil and gas development.
Where Democrats could have an opening is on fiscal issues. I say could because, let’s face it, as spend-happy as Republicans have been the principal complaint from Democrats was that we weren’t spending more.