James Kerian: District 10 GOP Leadership Should Be Emulated


District 10 (in the most northeast part of North Dakota) had its Republican endorsing convention in Park River on Saturday, February 20th.  There, in a four-way race, Janne Myrdal won the endorsement of the District 10 Republicans for the ND Senate with 207 out of the 364 ballots cast.  That’s right, there were 364 voters at a district convention.  That’s a significant increase over the turnout of over 250 at their district endorsing convention four years ago.

Democrats are lucky to get 16 people together when a single legislative district meets.  They could barely scratch together 100 people when all the districts in Fargo met together.  North Dakota Democrats were able to get just 460 delegates into their last statewide convention.

Even in the Republican party, however, 364 voters at a single district convention is an amazing (perhaps record breaking) accomplishment.  Thirty to forty voters is typical.  In a rural area such as District 10 it is extraordinary news if the crowd exceeds one hundred.

Voter participation on this level is an extraordinary credit to District Chairman Paul Henderson and to the other members of the District 10 Executive Committee.  It is a credit to the current legislators from the District: Senator Joe Miller, Representative Dave Monson and Representative Chuck Damschen.  And, of course, it is a credit to all four of the candidates who were seeking the party’s endorsement for the District’s seat in the ND Senate.

One might expect the district’s success to be held up by both the media and the state party as an example to be emulated.  But Chairman Paul Henderson is an unabashed conservative, so such expectations would be doomed to disappointment.  Instead, Henderson has been peppered with petty and misleading allegations from members of the good-old-boys club who resent having to deal with active voters.

Last Spring Paul Henderson was reelected as chairman by a vote of 63-22.  Rather than graciously accept defeat, however, Henderson’s opponents filed complaints with the state party because the district had not used an arcane precinct caucus system that no other rural district in the state uses either.

Former state chairman Robert Harms (now a mouthpiece for the Burgum campaign) publicly toyed with the idea of forcing the district to hold a second organizational meeting.  Henderson, armed with a legal opinion, threatened a lawsuit and the state party quickly backed down.  It was one thing to heap silly allegations at Henderson but none of his critics had any interest in trying to make their nonsense stick in court.  A few months later the state GOP committee showed just how seriously it took these complaints by not only seating Henderson as the District 10 chairman but also electing him as one of the four regional chairmen in the state.

Just before the endorsing convention on February 20th the Grand Forks Herald threw another smear at Henderson by parroting accusations that he had been “unethical” by telling people in the district that he preferred one senate candidate over the others.  The accusation came from “a self described independent voter” (so not even a self-described Republican) who was nevertheless deeply distraught that a man who volunteers hundreds of hours of his time for a political party might share his political opinions.

There is, of course, absolutely nothing in either state law nor in party rules to preclude a chairman from supporting or even publicly endorsing a candidate.  The allegation that Henderson was being unethical was pure nonsense.  One of the other candidates (not rumored to be the one Henderson was supporting) had to explain this for the Herald.

“As a citizen and a voter of District 10, (Henderson) has a right to endorse whatever candidate he wants,” Bata said

No one from any of the four campaigns has made any complaints of how the endorsing convention was conducted.  Despite the huge crowd the verification of voters credentials and the counting of the ballots was handled professionally, transparently and to the satisfaction of all present.  But two days after the endorsing convention Henderson’s critics were back in the Grand Forks Herald repeating allegations of “ethically challenged” behavior because the meeting was held in Park River.

It is unclear why it would be unethical to hold the convention in the district’s second largest town.  Such conventions are typically rotated around the larger towns in rural districts and the last endorsing convention had been held in the district’s third largest town.  Some of Henderson’s critics complained that it was the hometown of one of the four senate candidates but that isn’t even true.  The only politician in the district who lives in Park River is retiring Senator Joe Miller.

District 10 is a success story for the Republican party of grass roots involvement and voter engagement.  It is also, unfortunately, a showcase of the sour grapes that one can expect from the good-old-boy cronys when the voters don’t do what they want.  These men have something to learn from one of the three senate candidates who lost during the endorsing convention on the 20th:

Adamson said he does not intend to appear on the June primary ballot.

“The people made a decision,” he said. “It’s the democratic process.”

Well said Mr Adamson.  With class and realism like that the Republicans of District 10 can move on to electing the three candidates they endorsed (Janne Myrdal for the Senate, Chuck Damschen and Dave Monson for the House).  The rest of the Republicans in the state can get to work trying to emulate District 10 leadership so that turnout of over 350 voters at a district convention can become normal.