This report from Valley News Live regarding former Agriculture Commissioner Sarah Vogel continuing her consideration of a run for governor is very interesting, given the historical context.
“I’m sure that every once in a while there should be a shift, a change. It’s kind of been one party for a while and that may not be the healthiest way of approaching issues,” said Vogel.
Vogel says some issues that will influence her decision are the economic future of the state and energy regulation.
A short report, to be sure, but it is dense with portent.
Why is Vogel considering the economic future of the state? Because historically bad times for North Dakotans means good times, politically, for Democrats. Vogel knows that better than most.
The last time Democrats found success on the statewide ballot in North Dakota – when Vogel was first elected on the statewide ballot, in fact – was around the tume the previous oil boom went bust in the mid-1980’s.
In the 1984 elections Democrats took four statewide offices from Republicans (Governor, Attorney General, Treasurer, and Insurance Commissioner). In the 1986 elections Democrats took two more (Secretary of State and Agriculture Commissioner, the latter Vogel’s victory).
They grabbed control of a U.S. Senate seat and the state Senate that year, too.
They wouldn’t be in power long. By 1992 Republicans had taken back three of the statewide offices, and in 1994 they took back the state Senate as well, all on the way to the current Republican supermajority which holds every single statewide office and wide majorities in both houses of the Legislature. Not to mention two of the state’s three seats in Congress.
But when times got tough for North Dakota after the 1980’s oil bust, voters put Republicans on the bench for a while. Democrats are no doubt hoping that happens again.
There is a lot of anxiety in the state these days. The oil prices which brought so much prosperity to the state have tumbled over the last year. Overall the economy remains strong. For now, anyway. There are still plenty of job openings and the unemployment rate remains low. Yet there’s a general unease over what the future might hold.
North Dakota Democrats are probably hoping for things to get ugly again, because that would be great for them politically. And it’s not just Vogel’s revealing comments about her potential candidacy we can base this conclusion on. This tweet from then-Democrat state party chairman Bob Valeu posted shortly after the 2014 election results came in was also revealing as I noted back in January:
There will be hell to pay when the Bakken bust shoe drops!
— bob valeu (@bobvaleu) November 8, 2014
Obviously Valeu was feeling a little butthurt after the shellacking his party took at the polls, and was in part blaming the outcome on the state’s oil-driven prosperity. As long as things are going well, as long as jobs and opportunities are plentiful, a shift in the political winds seems unlikely. That’s what Valeu and Vogel see, no doubt, and they’re probably right.
Which seems a little ghoulish, no?