In Letter Former North Dakota Candidate Warns Fellow Democrats About Focus on Identity Politics


TOM STROMME/Tribune North Dakota Democratic-NPL party chair Rep. Kylie Oversen (D-Grand Forks) speaks to delegates attending the 2016 state convention in Bismarck on Friday afternoon.

Yesterday I wrote a post about fracturing among North Dakota Democrats which became evident at the state party’s recent reorganization meeting.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp, the only Democrat to win an election on the statewide ballot since 2008, apparently got heckled when she addressed party members. “She looked fairly shocked,” an active Democrat who attended the event told me, adding that it was “rather embarrassing.”

I’m also told that many local Democratic leaders wanted the party to take up a more rural-friendly message in the coming election cycle, and a more nuanced position on fossil fuel energy development. “A number of districts wanted an economic message coming out of the party,” my source said, adding that there was also a desire to communicate to voters that “not all Democrats are against oil.”

“They were completely ignored.”

In response to that post I was forwarded a letter written to the attendees of the reorganization by Brandon Delvo.

Delvo was a candidate for the Democrats in 2016 in District 2 (one I flagged as someone who could have potentially been a rare winner for the Dems in western North Dakota).

He ended up losing pretty decisively, but he sees some changes needed for his political party to be competitive in our state.

His letter called out the party for too much focus on identity politics. LGBTQ issues, refugee resettlement and other staples of progressive, liberal politics which he says rural North Dakotans don’t prioritize.

You can read the full letter below, but here’s an excerpt:

We need to remember that much of our political principles are the same, but with that agreement, we need to stop fighting amongst each other over issues that we already agree on. I am referencing such issues as LGBTQ and refugee resettlement. People in rural areas don’t have a vested interest in much of these issues. Now, I am not saying that we need to stop talking about these issues, but we need a strong economic and personable message that hits home with everyday North Dakotans. We need to share our stories and share how these dangerous Republican policies affect peoples’ checkbooks, pensions, marketing their crops, roads, bridges and having reliable and affordable healthcare. These are things everyday North Dakotans rely on.

He also called on Democrats to promote a better relationship with the state’s energy industry:

We need a message that addresses more of our states biggest commodities: Agriculture and fossil fuels. We may not always agree on all energy policies, but we have failed miserably at addressing issues of recognizing responsible energy development in Western North Dakota. We need an open dialogue with the numerous organizations and companies in these industries. We need to show that we are open and recognize all of our commodity industries, their products and their workers. With that, we can still uphold our principles of ensuring landowners are treated fairly and recognizing and addressing when spills take place that will affect water, cattle etc.

And he called on North Dakota Democrats to move their politics back to the center:

We also need to move much of our policies back towards the center of the spectrum if we are to bring back moderates and leaning Republicans back into the fold. Now, some who have supported Bernie Sanders may disagree with me, this argument ends now. Reiterating my previous statement, we are on the same side of the aisle. We all lost something between the National Convention and Election Night. As we argue with each other over this very old argument, the Republicans are making things happen, they are passing legislation that will affect all of our lives. We need to look ahead to the future and quit the bickering over who was right or who would have won. This doesn’t help us win elections when we are fractured. No one has any higher moral standing on this over the other. We all lost something. This argument ends now.

Delvo said Democrats should eschew focus on identity politics – including LGBTQ and refugee resettlement issues – and stop swallowing the national Democratic policy platform whole:

The Dem-NPL has suffered from the “copy & paste” effect of passing bad policy and platforms over the election cycles that has led us into the Identity Politics spectrum. We need to go back into our Policy & Action and really have a good, constructive, conversation on the issues and totally rehash where we stand in regards to our state’s rural, agricultural, energy and semi-urban demographic. We can no longer take the whole DNC platform and expect to win elections. We need to remember our history. We also need to incorporate that history into developing that strong platform.

Again, you can read the letter in full below. I’ve tried to reach Delvo for comment about it, but he hasn’t responded to me.

I think he nailed it for Democrats though.

If there were any indication that the Democrats would be willing to move toward taking up his suggestions I’d say that Republicans – who haven’t exactly been covering themselves in glory of late what with their mishandling of the budget in recent years – should be very, very worried.

But it doesn’t seem Democrats are interested in this sort of advice. They re-elected Kylie Oversen – one of the most far-left lawmakers in the state Legislature until she lost her seat last year – as their party chair. A majority of the party seems hostile to the more moderate approach to state politics that Delvo proposes.

And because of that, I’m afraid they’ll continue to lose.

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