North Dakota Dem: Empowering The People Is "Politics At Its Absolute Worst"

The rest of the state media has picked up on a story I broke about legislation, sponsored by Rep. Roscoe Streyle of Minot, which would change the way the state fills Senate vacancies.

Currently the Governor appoints a replacement. Streyle’s legislation would require an immediate special election.

“Calling Heitkamp the toughest Democrat candidate in North Dakota is a bit like being the smartest kid in a remedial class.”

This is clearly aimed at Senator Heidi Heitkamp who is widely rumored to be considering a run for Governor in 2016. If Heitkamp won, she’d get to appoint her own replacement. Streyle aims to make sure that the race for Governor is only about who is Governor, and not who is Senator too.

Democrats are reacting now, and according to state party director Chad Oban this is a sign that Heitkamp is an almost sure thing in 2016. “But clearly the Republicans are scared to death that she might, if they’re willing to change the rules in order to affect her decision,” he told Mike Nowtazki.

That comment deserves a “lol” or maybe even the lesser-known “lel” which I learned recently stands for “laughing extremely loud.”

Republicans, in a state that hasn’t elected Democrat as Governor since the 1980’s, are afraid of Heitkamp the political powerhouse who won election to the U.S. Senate by less than 1 percentage point against a weak Republican candidate who ran a very poor campaign.

Heitkamp is, to be sure, the most formidable Democrat candidate in North Dakota, but in a state where Democrats are thoroughly marginalized in elected office she’s also about their only formidable candidate as we learned in 2014 when much-touted Democrat candidates like Ryan Taylor and George Sinner got a shellacking at the polls. Calling Heitkamp the toughest Democrat candidate in North Dakota is a bit like being the smartest kid in a remedial class.

But Oban didn’t stop there. He went on to provide an ill-advised civics lesson as well aimed at illustrating what a bunch of hypocrites Republicans are:

Oban said it’s hypocritical that Streyle’s bill applies only to federal seats and not statewide elected offices, several of which are currently held by Republicans who were first appointed to their posts, including Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger and Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm.

Oban also pointed out that Republicans didn’t call for a special election in December 2010 when Dalrymple, then lieutenant governor, was sworn in as governor to replace Hoeven after his election to the U.S. Senate vacated the most powerful seat in state government.

“It’s partisan politics at its absolute worst,” he said.

Uh, right.

Well, first off, there is no such thing as a Lieutenant Senator. Nobody in North Dakota complained when Dalrymple replaced Hoeven in 2010 because Dalrymlpe was the Lieutenant Governor, a position we elect specifically to replace the Governor if he or she vacates the seat. And we do that because a) for the continuity of government because b) there is no other state elected official of higher rank to appoint a replacement.

As for other statewide elected leaders who get appointed by the Governor, I’d point out that the Agriculture Commissioner, the Tax Commissioner, the Insurance Commissioner, etc. are all part of the executive branch of the state government of which the Governor is the chief executive.

The U.S. Senate, on the other hand, is not part of the state government. The U.S. Senate is part of the federal government. If we are going to popularly elect Senators (which we have since the folly that is the 17th amendment was ratified), then it only makes sense that we do that uniformly.

We’ve seen what sort of corruption can take place when Governor’s appoint members of Congress. One need look no further than how former Democrat Governor of Illinois Rod Blagojevic tried to sell former Democrat Senator Barack Obama’s seat to the highest bidder.

The last thing North Dakota needs, should Heitkamp pull off the unlikely feat of becoming the first Democrat elected Governor of North Dakota since 1988, is for her to use her former Senate seat as a bargaining chip to purchase political power and influence.

Maybe Streyle’s reform was inspired by the immediate politics of 2016, but even if that’s true it remains sound reform.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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