In my newspaper column a couple of weeks ago I opined that North Dakota Democrats seemed less interested in advancing their agenda in the state Legislature than they are in crafting political talking points.
Democrats often gripe about the “Republican supermajority” in North Dakota, but here’s some truth about that talking point: Being the “supermajority” party means having an obligation to actually govern. Republicans have nowhere to hide. They’re in charge. They get the blame and the credit.
Democrats, marginalized as they are, have no such obligation to govern. They can stand on the sidelines and throw rocks at those making tough decisions.
Which may be why we’ll probably go yet another cycle with few electoral gains for Democrats in the state. They don’t seem to get it. North Dakotans want policy, not politics.
Today former Grand Forks Herald publisher Mike Jacobs makes a similar point about Democrats in North Dakota, comparing them to their counterparts in Montana:
In other words, Republicans form a more cohesive bloc in North Dakota than in Montana.
This leaves Democrats more isolated in North Dakota than in Montana
Why should this be?
One reason is that Montana Democrats actively sought alliances with Republicans in order to influence legislation. They succeeded, as we’ll see in a moment.
In North Dakota, Democrats, perhaps because there are so few, consistently are hostile to Republicans — just about all Republicans. They are more interested in making points than in making laws.
Evidence of this was abundant in the North Dakota session just adjourned. The oil tax debate showed this most starkly, but it was evident in other areas, too, including the failure — once again — of gay rights legislation.
I would suggest that Democrats at the national level suffer from this same problem, though the political dynamics on the national stage are much different. Regardless, there is an attitude among North Dakota’s Dems – particularly the younger ones recently elected to office – that you’re either with them 100 percent or you’re their enemy.
They are thoroughly partisan and increasingly shrill, and that doesn’t seem likely to change in the 2016 political cycle with lightly-experienced, single-term state Representative Kylie Oversen serving as the chair of the state party.
Oversen is the poster child for emerging intransigence of state Democrats. She’s about as far left as you can go and still be elected in North Dakota politics (see our recent legislative rankings) and to the extent she’s allowed to make any grownup decisions as party leader (I suspect she’s little more than a figurehead) we can expect Democrats to bring the sort of nasty national politics we’ve grown accustomed to home to North Dakota.