North Dakota Democrats Face Fraction as Upstart Progressives Want a Split

Illus. in: Nonpartisan Leader, April 1, 1918, cover. nstitute for Regional Studies, NDSU, Fargo

You wouldn’t think it would be possible for North Dakota’s Democratic-Nonpartisan League to become less relevant to governance. The party holds not a single state elected office, while Republicans hold roughly 85 percent of the seats in the Legislature.

Yet a faction of progressives want to split the Nonpartisan League from the party and make it a separate political entity. The Dems and the NPL merged in the 1950’s (here’s a history of the NPL, and its roots in socialist activism, if you need to catch up).

That split was to be a topic at a meeting in Dickinson this weekend, and indeed a representative of the aforementioned faction read a letter requesting the split with titular Democratic party chairwoman Kylie Oversen looking on:

The letter was sent to columnist and former Lt. Governor Lloyd Omdahl who is the last person to be elected secretary of the NPL all the way back in 1968. The last chairman of the NPL, Buckshot Hoffner, died in 2015. That same year Omdahl declared in a column that the NPL was dead. “[T]he last nail in the NPL coffin was driven by the Democratic Party this year when it failed to acknowledge in any significant way the 100th anniversary of its founding,” he wrote.

I’m not sure how this all works in terms of procedure. Can Omdahl just decide on the split, unilaterally, even after he declared the organization dead? Are there remnants of NPL leadership around to hold some sort of a vote?

And what is really being requested? The letter read in the video says the new NPL people want to stay with the party. But they have to know that this looks like a split.

Procedural specifics aside, this is a poor time for Democrats to face even the appearance of fracture. The new NPL wannabes say they’re out to support the Democrats – they specifically talk of wanting to use the NPL brand to back some initiated measures, including a hike in the minimum wage – but c’mon. This is yet another manifestation of a big split in the Democratic party.

This split is why Senator Heidi Heitkamp, the only Democrat to win on the statewide ballot since 2008, was heckled earlier this year at a party organizational meeting.

This split is why Heitkamp berated in a “harsh resolution” by delegates to last year’s Democratic National Convention who were upset for her support for Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders (Heitkamp ended up not casting her superdelegate vote).

This split is why Heitkamp has a primary challenger in the current 2018 election cycle.

There is an element in the base of the North Dakota Democratic Party which feels the party isn’t far enough left. So they want to take the Nonpartisan League brand and go play in their own sandbox.

The impact on the chances of Democrats making electoral gains this cycle will not be good if that happens.

Not that they were very good anyway.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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