North Dakotans Are Fed up With the Status Quo


The headline above is not exactly breaking news, I know. Anyone who observed the results of Fargo businessman Doug Burgum’s upset, lopsided victory over Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem in the Republican gubernatorial primary earlier this years knows it’s true.

Burgum’s campaign focused mostly on fiscal accountability. He accused the state’s current leadership (a “good old boys club” of people he helped elect, ironically enough) of soft peddling North Dakota’s post-oil boom fiscal challenges. The voters ate it up with a spoon, and now Burgum is set to be our next governor.

But the desire for more accountability from our state government doesn’t end with fiscal policy.

Last week a report from the state auditor’s office revealed jaw-dropping realities about the way early childhood services were being handled by the Department of Human Services. I wrote about the report in my Sunday newspaper column, noting that after I had posted the audit here on the blog I was contacted by multiple friends and readers who a) are solid Republicans and b) thought Dalrymple should resign over the audit report:

After I wrote about this audit at I got unsolicited emails from three different readers—solid, involved Republicans all and one a significant contributor to Dalrymple’s past campaigns—who told me they thought the governor should resign over this audit.

I’m not sure I’m ready to go that far, but I am more than a little weary of Dalrymple being a lame duck on autopilot in the closing months of his tenure in office.

Calling for Dalrymple, specifically, to resign over the audit report is a bridge too far I think, but that people – again, involved Republicans at least one of which is a past Dalrymple supporter – are having that reaction is another illustration of the frustration among voters that Burgum tapped into.

A vast swath of the state’s electorate perceive the state as having real problems, from budget struggles to issues like those at DHS, and they perceive state leadership as doing very little to change things.

It’s worth noting that, on the DHS issue, the governor’s office has so far done nothing publicly. An audit revealed that one of the largest agencies in the executive branch was allowing child care facilities to operate after evidence of drug use and inappropriate sexual conduct surfaced and his office has said not a word to the public about it.

That’s the sort of thing that has voters frustrated.

In other states those feelings might manifest itself at the ballot box in the rise of the opposition party. But North Dakota is a deeply Republican state, and the Democrats here are a) incompetent and b) moving further to the left all the time so that’s not happening.  Yet.

But Republicans should be careful.

Democrats could wise up. Or voters could get so fed up with perceived Republican indifference that they vote for incompetent ideologues anyway.