Obama's Anti-Pipeline Stance Hurting Democrats In North Dakota As Union Backs Republicans


Labor unions are normally the staunch political allies of Democrats, but in North Dakota one union is throwing its weight behind Republican candidates.

The reason? Pipelines.

“We believe the North Dakota Public Service Commission is working hard to address oil production issues affecting the state and to balance the needs of landowners, producers, and other state residents,” states North Dakota Laborers Union Business Agent Cory Bryson in a press release sent out by Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk’s re-election campaign this morning. “We see strong action from Chairman Kalk and the PSC regarding pipelines and pipeline safety and want that to continue through Chairman Brian Kalk‘s work.”

Last week Julie Fedorchak, running to have her appointment to the PSC confirmed by voters this year, was also endorsed by this union.

“The Laborers endorsed Julie Fedorchak because of her hard work addressing the oil production and infrastructure issues in North Dakota including her concern for safe and efficient pipeline installation,” a press release from Fedorchak’s campaign stated.

Both Kalk and Fedorchak are Republicans, facing challenges from Democrats Todd Reisenauer and Tyler Axness respectively. But it’s not like Axness and Reisenauer are anti-pipeline. Heck, the only Democrat elected to statewide office in North Dakota is US Senator Heidi Heitkamp who makes much of her support of the Keystone pipeline and enjoyed a $10,000 contribution from this union to her 2012 campaign.

And the Laborers International is generally a pro-Democrat union. In the 2012 cycle the organization gave over $1.5 million to Democrat candidates and just over $230,000 to Republicans. The same trend is holding for the 2014 cycle so far with Democrats raking in over $849,000 from the group and Republicans getting just $130,000.

So what have Democrats done to make the Laborers union jump ship in these local races? It’s gotta be the pipelines.

“This is once again politics at its worst,” Laborers Union boss Terry O’Sullivan said in a public statement regarding President Obama’s most recent delay of the Keystone XL pipeline earlier this year. “In another gutless move, the Administration is delaying a finding on whether the pipeline is in the national interest based on months-old litigation in Nebraska regarding a state level challenge to a state process—and which has nothing to with the national interest.”

“It’s not the oil that’s dirty, it’s the politics,” O’Sullivan said. “Once again, the Administration is making a political calculation instead of doing what is right for the country.”


President Obama’s on-going obstruction of the Keystone XL pipeline project is often seen as a national issue, but the fallout from that decision is clearly impacting local Democrat candidates here in North Dakota which is now second in the nation in oil production and is in desperate need of pipeline capacity.

We should remember that Obama’s roadblocking of Keystone has an impact on other pipelines as well.

Activists taking aim at the Sandpiper line, for instance, which would run from Tioga here in North Dakota to Superior in Wisconsin and could carry as much as a quarter of North Dakota’s oil production, no doubt feel emboldened as they watch Obama halt the Keystone project. The message Obama is sending them is that they can politicize the regulatory process and delay these projects indefinitely.

No wonder a group like the Laborers International, representing men and women who build things like pipelines for a living, would jump ship from Democrats. At least on this issue.

Update: Meanwhile Axness, Reisenauer and Democrat Agriculture Commissioner candidate Ryan Taylor are calling Republican oversight of pipelines a disaster:

“Try as they might, the Governor’s Pipeline Summit cannot cover up the fact that under one-party rule, North Dakota’s pipeline oversight system has become a confusing bureaucratic disaster.