As a fairly politically active Democrat in ND, it has been interesting watching all of the hand-wringing by many North Dakota Republicans regarding the exceptionally high rate of increased spending by ND’s state government.
At the same time that some in the Party are pulling out their hair about this spending, they’re pointing fingers at the Democrats and making noise about the dearth of statewide and legislative candidates Dems have not put up for election this year.
We’re still early in the process, and spots that are empty now will have candidates by the deadline. Finding candidates to run (for either Party) is not an easy task. Many folks don’t have personal political ambition, but instead are motivated by anger at how things are currently run. It’s tough these days to anger Democrats much with ND state government. Removing the terrible conditions in western ND, things are pretty good right now for Democrats.
Spending is increasing at a level Dems would never have hoped for, and income taxes are staying stable at a time when Republicans could easily eliminate the tax altogether.
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Republicans and Democrats have John Hoeven to thank for the current state of affairs. He has almost completely removed the contrast between Dems and Reps in ND, and without contrast voters don’t really have a choice. Republicans in North Dakota have made the choice that winning at all costs is the most important thing, even if that cost is the identity and principles that party was built on.
Prior to 2000, there was actual debate between the parties. Ed Schafer provided a different vision than Democrats, and because of that there was more balance in the Legislature and statewide offices. Republicans, upset with the stronghold that Conrad, Dorgan and Pomeroy had on the federal seats, decided to go another direction. They had a choice for Governor between a well-known established conservative in Gary Nelson or a young leader in John Hoeven who had announced his affiliation with the Dem-NPL party a few years earlier.
They chose the Democrat to carry their banner. When choosing a candidate to run against Kent Conrad, they went with a newcomer named Duane Sand over established legislator Al Carlson. They figured that if they had done what they always did, they’d get the same results, so they went a new direction instead. If the goal is winning elections, this direction has been wildly successful for the party.
Hoeven was incredibly ambitious and saw what North Dakota’s congressional delegation had done for years to gain favor with voters: send as much money as was possible back to ND. Voters were willing to forgive almost anything as long as the money kept flowing. Hoeven, who was never really a conservative, had no moral qualms increasing spending at a dramatic level. He built an exceptionally strong team around him who were more committed to winning than governing as conservatives.
Jack Dalrymple and the Republicans in the Legislature saw that the more they spent, the less competition they received from Democrats. If your number one goal is to win, and you don’t think your ideals are enough to win by themselves, you co-opt the ideals of your opponent and make them your own.
Welcome to your new North Dakota Republican Party!
Republicans may have to sacrifice some legislative seats in the more moderate/liberal districts in the cities in order to get their soul back. If they’re being honest, they will find a way to decrease spending (not just decrease the rate of increase) and make sharp cuts to all taxes. However, with John Hoeven leading the party, and feckless legislators mainly concerned about keeping their jobs as his loyal troops, the conservative wing of the party will continue to make some noise on blogs, letters to the editor and the party platform but have absolutely no impact where it counts: at the ballot box and in the Legislature.
Conservatives are even more powerless than Democrats in a Legislature with a Democrat-lite super-majority.
North Dakota Democrats will start putting more and stronger candidates out there when Republicans stop governing like Democrats. North Dakota by its nature is a Republican state. For the foreseeable future Republicans will have an easier time getting elected than Democrats. For Democrats, this isn’t all bad news.
We have yet to adopt the John Hoeven “win at all costs” mentality. We still have the “let’s change public policy” mentality. And in that campaign, we’re winning.